Oldest Modern Human Outside of Africa Found

Chinese fossil challenges traditional early-human time line, study says.

A fossil human jawbone discovered in southern China is upsetting conventional notions of when our ancestors migrated out of Africa.

The mandible, unearthed by paleontologists in China’s Zhiren Cave in 2007, sports a distinctly modern feature: a prominent chin. But the bone is undeniably 60,000 years older than the next oldest Homo sapiens remains in China, scientists say.

In fact, at about a hundred thousand years old, the Chinese fossil is “the oldest modern human outside of Africa,” said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Popular theory states that Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, at which point modern humans quickly replaced early human species such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis across the world.

Finding such an ancient example of a modern human in China would drastically alter the time line of human migration. The find may also mean that modern humans in China were mingling—and possibly even interbreeding—with other human species for 50,000 or 60,000 years.

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