Scientists found a well-preserved fossilized Homo erectus skull in east China which is estimated to be 150,000 to 412,000 years old. The discovery sheds light in the study of man's evolution and dispersal thousands of years ago.
The fossil was unearthed by a team from the Institute of Vertebrae Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, at the Hualongdong archeological site in Dongzhi County, Anhui Province. The team started the exploration in the heritage site in 2006.
Dubbed as the 'Dongzhi Man', the skull was located along with stone tools, ancient implements, teeth and other bone fragments. Aside from human bones, at least 6,000 bones from animals like giant pandas, stegodons (ancient elephants) and giant tapirs were also found.
"All of this indicates the site is exactly where the Dongzhi men lived as we found the bones of the animals were broken in quite an unnatural way. To put it more precisely, they were cut or chopped with tools into small pieces, meaning the animals were eaten or used as sacrifices," researcher Dr. Liu Wu said.
The skull, which clearly shows the face of the Homo erectus, an extinct species of human lineage, was well-preserved but further testing is needed to determine its exact age. According to the paleoanthropologists, the skull contains more information regarding the origin of the Homo erectus than other parts of the body. With modern technology, they can restore its facial features and determine its age or origin.
Former skulls of Homo erectus were found in China since scientists started their exploration in 1926. However, the skulls found are either deformed or there was no face to allow for further testing and study.
"Together with the animal bone fossils and the stone implements, we assume the site was the home for a relatively mature human community," Dr. Liu said.
Other discoveries were made in Zhoukoudian, Lantian, Hexian County and Nanjing, China. In Oct. 15, Dr. Liu published a study in the journal Nature about their discovery of human fossilized teeth which dates back to about 80,000 and 120,000 years.
This study sheds light in the evidence of 'fully modern humans outside Africa'. They found that Homo erectus travelled into Asia earlier than they previously thought. Furthermore, early humans trekked into Asia far earlier than into Europe and this shows promise in the study of dispersal routes of modern humans.
Together with their most recent discovery of the fossilized skull, their fossils will provide much information about earlier men and how the population dispersed to what the world is today.
Dongzhi province provided guards to protect the archeological site.