Divorcing Hominins from the Stegodon-Ailuropoda Fauna: New Views on the Antiquity of Hominins in Asia

  • Russell L. Ciochon
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


The distinctive Stegodon-Ailuropoda fauna of southern China and peninsular Southeast Asia is known to include a number of ape species no longer present today. Among these apes, it is becoming increasingly clear, was a medium-bodied genus previously misattributed to the genus Homo. This unidentified ape is known only from dental remains, and is morphologically distinct from any Pleistocene ape or hominin in this region. For two decades, I have supported and promoted the idea that Gigantopithecus and Homo erectus co-existed in the Early and Middle Pleistocene of China and Vietnam. With the discovery of a chimpanzee-sized ape co-occurring with Gigantopithecus at Mohui Cave, I realized that many of the claims for early hominins in the Stegodon-Ailuropoda faunas of southern China and Southeast Asia were likely incorrect. This calls for a reappraisal of the remains from the so-called “human” sites of this time period, namely Mohui, Longgupo, Jianshi, Sanhe, Lang Trang and Tham Khuyen, in the context of irrefutable hominin evidence from elsewhere in Asia. Therefore, the earliest hominin record from Asia is documented in the far north of China in the Nihewan Basin at sites such as Xiaochangliang and in the far south on Java at sites within the Sangiran Dome. By studying the unquestionable Homo erectus sites with significant cranial remains, such as Gongwangling (Shanxi province), Hexian (Anhui province) and Tangshan (Jiangsu province), we see a clear pattern. All of these sites are found north of the Stegodon-Ailuropoda fauna. Early hominins may very well have inhabited parts of southern China, such as in river valleys or areas devoid of forest, but they were not part of the heavily forested, humid-climate adapted Stegodon-Ailuropoda mammalian fauna of the region. Additional hominin research far to the north in China, or far to the south in Java, will provide important information and valuable insights into the potential dispersal routes of early Homo erectus out of Africa or Georgia and the habitats these earliest Asian immigrants preferred.


Gigantopithecus Lufengpithecus Homo ­erectus Hemanthropus” Mohui Longgupo Jianshi Zhoukoudian Nihewan Sangiran 



I thank my colleagues, Dr. Yahdi Zaim of the Institute of Technology Bandung, Java and Dr. Wang Wei of the Natural History Museum of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China for access to specimens, for field collaborations and for many valuable ­discussions. For financial support, I thank the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the Collaborative Interdisciplinary Project (CIP) award program in the University of Iowa (UI), the Human Evolution Research Fund at the UI Foundation, the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the UI, the Dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and UI Vice President for Research. I thank Terry Harrison for useful discussions on Lufengpithecus. Art Bettis and Scott Carpenter of the University of Iowa, Department of Geosciences provided detailed analyses on the paleoecology of the Sangiran Dome. Invaluable ­editorial and research assistance was provided by K. Lindsay Eaves-Johnson. Anna Waterman assisted in proof-reading, while James Rogers, Audrey Cropp and Nathan Totten helped with figures.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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