The origins of man are a complex jigsaw with many pieces missing. Yet as the pieces continue to be found we are uncovering more and more about the timeline of humanity and how it all began. A new discovery offers further enlightenment on humanity’s journey and is a vital piece in the jigsaw that continues to form.
The leading theory at present is that humanity began in Africa. This is because the oldest artifacts of humankind are found there. There are hominid fossils that date back 3.3 million years in Africa and tools that date back 2.1 million years. Outside of Africa the earliest evidence of human presence was 1.85 million years in Georgia.
The theory was that about 2 million years ago humankind started to move outside of Africa and go to other lands with Georgia the key example. A new discovery in China is adding further complexity to this theory. Some hominin tools have been found dating back 2.1 million years in Shangchen in China. This means that early forms of humans either started to spread from Africa earlier or that a close relative was developing in China at a similar time.
The discovery is incredibly important because until know people always had a view of Africa as the lead nation with Europe the place that was migrated to. This finding in Asia adds a new layer of complexity to the story and demands that Asia be part of the early chapters in the story of man. No fossils have been found with the tools so it is unknown what species of a human actually made them and further digs must take place to uncover this truth.
Leading scientists in the field believe that it is no coincidence that after tools are discovered in Africa we are starting to see signs of life elsewhere in the world. They believe that once the humans in Africa learned how to make tools and could use them to strip the meat from animal bodies, it gave them a license to roam. They were no longer afraid of starving if they left their home territory and so they could go further and further. Professor Robin Dennell from the University of Exeter believes they would have quite enjoyed Asia too.
A population of bipedal with tools may never have been seen before in the region so they likely had an incredibly easy time accessing food. This theory would suggest that there are even earlier remains to be found. If they had to travel all the way to China then between Africa and China there must be a wealth of remains still to be found from millions of years ago.
The reality is that it is incredibly difficult to paint a clear picture of what happened to humanity 2 million years ago. Human life, as we know it today, is believed to have left Africa only 60,000 years ago. This is where most stories of human evolution began. Those dating back to 2 million years ago are far more theoretical as there are only a small number of pieces to put together.
There is strong evidence that 70,000 years ago modern humans (anatomically speaking) migrated from East Africa and started to spread through Asia and Oceania by about 50,000 years ago.
However, the first form of hominins is a different story and it is believed that they started to spread out from Africa around 2 million years ago. This new discovery may indicate that Asia was either an earlier destination than ever realized before or a part of the origin story itself.