Where did early people live?

The first Asians : Early jungle inhabitants on Sumatra

The karst cave "Lida Acer" in the mountains of the Indonesian island of Sumatra is well known to early human researchers. As early as 1888 to 1890, Eugène Dubois had excavated an upper incisor and a molar that resembled those of a modern person. In 1891 the Dutchman found the skull and a femur of the Java man on the neighboring island of Java. It belongs to the species Homo erectus, from which modern humans are descended.

This discovery made Dubois famous, but the two teeth that had been discovered earlier were somewhat forgotten. After all, it was not clear what kind they were, nor how old they were. Until Kira Westaway from Macquarie University in Sydney and her colleagues set out to examine Lida Acer and the teeth found there using modern methods. In the journal "Nature" the researchers report that the teeth come from "modern" people who lived there 68,000 years ago.

This stirs up as much dust among early human researchers as the find of the Java man, who at that time was considered the missing link between man and great apes. Today the researchers know that the cradle of Homo erectus was in Africa and that the species probably set out to explore Asia and Europe 1.8 million years ago. Dubois had found the remains of a descendant of these emigrants who lived in Java about a million years ago.

Modern man arose at least 300,000 years ago

Much later, Homo erectus evolved into modern Homo sapiens in Africa at least 300,000 years ago. He too was drawn to the big wide world. Apart from present-day Israel, where Homo sapiens appeared 110,000 years ago, nowhere in Europe or Asia was there any reliable evidence of modern humans from this era.

However, researchers had found evidence in the genome that Homo sapiens left Africa at least 75,000 years ago and lived on the islands of Southeast Asia more than 60,000 years ago. But there were no concrete traces of these results in the form of remains of these emigrants and their descendants. Maybe these fossils were in the Lida Acer karst cave?

In the cave: teeth of rhinos, pigs - and humans

In September 2015, the researchers set out for the mountains of Indonesia. In the front chamber of the cave, the researchers found the stalactite that Dubois had already described. In the back one they could find teeth of various animals from rhinos to pigs. All of them were deposited there at the same time as the two human teeth.

An exact analysis of the teeth confirmed that they were in a Homo sapiens jaw. This is the oldest evidence of modern people outside of Africa (and Israel) so far. On top of that, the researchers proved that modern humans already lived in the rainforest back then. There the supply of food fluctuates considerably, animals with nutritious fat are rather rare. You can only get by if you plan well. That is what Homo sapiens evidently did. So far, however, many researchers have assumed a life on the food-rich coasts of Southeast Asia.

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