Recently found fossils in a cave in northern Laos may indicate that modern humans arrived in Southeast Asia over 80,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years earlier than previously believed.
Cave of Monkeys: An international research team led by Fabrice Demeter from the University of Copenhagen found bone fragments that are estimated to be between 68,000 and 86,000 years old in the cave, known as Tam Pà Ling (Lao for “Cave of Monkeys”).
The cave, situated in the Annamite Mountain range, has been the site of several modern human fossil discoveries since 2009, with previous fossils dating back between 46,000 and 70,000 years.
Published in Nature on June 13, the discovery pushes the timeline of Homo sapiens’ arrival in the region back by at least 18,000 years.
Finding evidence: According to Demeter, one of his colleagues first spotted a fragment of a human skull before later finding a piece of a human tibia, or shinbone, during a recent excavation. By utilizing radioactive isotopes to analyze the surrounding sediment, the researchers were able to estimate the age of the fossils.
“This discovery is helping us better understand the distribution of our direct ancestors at a time when we know other populations of humans, now extinct, existed,” Filipino researcher Vito Hernandez said in a press release.
According to the geoarchaeologist, the findings challenge the prevailing notion that early humans primarily migrated along coastlines and islands.
Further research needed: While the analyses suggest that modern humans were part of an immigrant population, it remains to be determined whether their genetic lineage has survived in present-day populations.
Laura Shackelford from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, another co-author of the study, noted to New Scientist that further research is needed to investigate the possible connections between the fossils found in Tam Pà Ling and the ancestors of Indigenous Australians, whose presence in Australia dates back much earlier than 50,000 years ago.