A multi-proxy approach to exploring Homo sapiens’ arrival, environments and adaptations in Southeast Asia

Anne Marie Bacon, Nicolas Bourgon, Frido Welker, Enrico Cappellini, Denis Fiorillo, Olivier Tombret, Nguyen Thi Mai Huong, Nguyen Anh Tuan, Thongsa Sayavonkhamdy, Viengkeo Souksavatdy, Phonephanh Sichanthongtip, Pierre Olivier Antoine, Philippe Duringer, Jean Luc Ponche, Kira Westaway, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Quentin Boesch, Eric Suzzoni, Sébastien Frangeul, Elise Patole-EdoumbaAlexandra Zachwieja, Laura Shackelford, Fabrice Demeter, Jean Jacques Hublin, Élise Dufour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The capability of Pleistocene hominins to successfully adapt to different types of tropical forested environments has long been debated. In order to investigate environmental changes in Southeast Asia during a critical period for the turnover of hominin species, we analysed palaeoenvironmental proxies from five late Middle to Late Pleistocene faunas. Human teeth discoveries have been reported at Duoi U’Oi, Vietnam (70–60 ka) and Nam Lot, Laos (86–72 ka). However, the use of palaeoproteomics allowed us to discard the latter, and, to date, no human remains older than ~ 70 ka are documented in the area. Our findings indicate that tropical rainforests were highly sensitive to climatic changes over that period, with significant fluctuations of the canopy forests. Locally, large-bodied faunas were resilient to these fluctuations until the cooling period of the Marine Isotope Stage 4 (MIS 4; 74–59 ka) that transformed the overall biotope. Then, under strong selective pressures, populations with new phenotypic characteristics emerged while some other species disappeared. We argue that this climate-driven shift offered new foraging opportunities for hominins in a novel rainforest environment and was most likely a key factor in the settlement and dispersal of our species during MIS 4 in SE Asia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21080
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In relation to original isotopic data of Coc Muoi (Lang Son Provincial Museum, Vietnam), and Duoi U’Oi (Hoa Binh Provincial Museum, Vietnam), Dr. Nguyen Gia Doi from the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Archaeology, provided a research permit to AMB on 17 November 2017. The Department of Heritage, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, issued research permit for the isotopic analysis of Tam Hang South fauna to AMB on 28 November 2016 (letter n°495). Funding came from the research laboratory BABEL (FRE 2029 and UMR 8045) CNRS/Université de Paris, France, to AMB, the Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, to NB (contract number 0117/037). F.W. was supported by a Marie Skłodowska Curie Individual Fellowship (n°795569), and a European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement n°948365). EC was supported by VILLUM FONDEN (n°17649). The authors also wish to thank Clément Zanolli for his helpful comments and Catherine Yvon for editing the English of the text.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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