Ancient DNA and multimethod dating confirm the late arrival of anatomically modern humans in southern China

Xue Feng Sun, Shao Qing Wen, Cheng Qiu Lu, Bo Yan Zhou, Darren Curnoe, Hua Yu Lu, Hong Chun Li, Wei Wang, Hai Cheng, Shuang Wen Yi, Xin Jia, Pan Xin Du, Xing Hua Xu, Yi Ming Lu, Ying Lu, Hong Xiang Zheng, Hong Zhang, Chang Sun, Lan Hai Wei, Fei HanJuan Huang, R. Lawrence Edwards, Li Jin, Hui Li

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46 Scopus citations


The expansion of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) from Africa around 65,000 to 45,000 y ago (ca. 65 to 45 ka) led to the establishment of present-day non-African populations. Some paleoanthropologists have argued that fossil discoveries from Huanglong, Zhiren, Luna, and Fuyan caves in southern China indicate one or more prior dispersals, perhaps as early as ca. 120 ka. We investigated the age of the human remains from three of these localities and two additional early AMH sites (Yangjiapo and Sanyou caves, Hubei) by combining ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis with a multimethod geological dating strategy. Although U–Th dating of capping flowstones suggested they lie within the range ca. 168 to 70 ka, analyses of aDNA and direct AMS 14C dating on human teeth from Fuyan and Yangjiapo caves showed they derive from the Holocene. OSL dating of sediments and AMS 14C analysis of mammal teeth and charcoal also demonstrated major discrepancies from the flowstone ages; the difference between them being an order of magnitude or more at most of these localities. Our work highlights the surprisingly complex depositional history recorded at these subtropical caves which involved one or more episodes of erosion and redeposition or intrusion as recently as the late Holocene. In light of our findings, the first appearance datum for AMHs in southern China should probably lie within the timeframe set by molecular data of ca. 50 to 45 ka.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019158118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 23 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank Guan-jun Shen, Jun-yi Ge, Qing-feng Shao, Hua Tu, Xiong-xin Yang, Wei Liao, Cheng-yun Xiao, Xu-bin Liu, Sheng-ming Qu, Qiong-xuan Zeng, Deng-ke Liu, You-feng Ning, Hong-yan Zhang, and Lu-peng Yu for their continual support, which made our work possible. X.-f.S. and H.-y.L. were supported by the Global Change Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2016YFA0600503) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41690111 and 41972185), S.-q.W. and H.L. were supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (91731303), and D.C. was supported by the Australian Research Council (FT120100168).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Anatomically modern humans
  • Ancient DNA
  • Dating
  • East Asia
  • Late Pleistocene


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