Halloween Story: Shades of Peking Man

Scary Findings in Guangxi Region
In a report published in the October 30 number of Science, Chinese paleoanthropologists claimed that the jawbone and teeth unearthed by them recently in the southern province of Guangxi represent a form of man 100,000 years old. Their interpretation of the fossil challenges the Western theory that claims our ancestors peopled the world in a migration out of Africa late in the last Ice Age, about 50,000 years ago. But there is more. American and European scientists stand to lose even more face if China’s insistence is true that this early human is a hybrid with H. erectus, a more primitive species also known as Peking Man.

Discoverer Jin Changzhu pointed out that the jawbone curved outward, whereas that of the older species of H. erectus had an inward-sloping chin, and modern human chins generally fut out father than the Guangxi specimen’s. Such an intermediate chin, he said, suggested interbreeding with H. erectus.

In the West, paleoanthropologists and geneticists for the most part vehemently deny that any interbreeding between species of man could have taken place before our type emerged as the sole and supreme species favored by evolution. Neandertals, they claim, were replaced by modern humans in Europe and died out without a trace in the genetic record about 30-40,000 years ago.

“The initial publication makes shaky claims based on preconceptions,” scoffed Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The title of the report is “Signs of Early Homo sapiens in China?” It was written by Richard Stone and published on page 655 of Vol. 326, no. 5953, of Science.

The confrontation reminds many of the battle over Peking Man dated to about 500,000 years old. At first, the Chinese maintained that East Asian people were descendants of Peking Man (and not of Africans or out-of-African humans). Later, they modified their view and held that modern Asians represent a hybridization with Peking Man. Possibly all the “races” or continent-specific forms of modern man are the result of anatomically modern humans interbreeding with more primitive hominids in their part of the world.

We wonder why Western scientists are in such a huff about the conclusions of Chinese paleontologists since there is solid proof of admixture between modern humans and archaic human groups like Neandertals, Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis (the fossils of “hobbits” discovered in Indonesia in 2004). One instance among many of publications demonstrating this possibility is:  Jeffrey D Wall, “Detecting Ancient Admixture and Estimating Demongraphic Parameters in Multiple Human Populations,” Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 26, no. 8 (August 2009), pp. 1823-27.

Perhaps the right hand of genetics doesn’t know what the left hand of anthropology is doing or saying in this country.

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