Spread of Hominins in Asia


Asia is known for its extensive paleoanthropological history beginning with the discovery of Trinil skullcap by Eugène Dubois in 1891. For most of the twentieth century, it was thought that hominins first arrived in Asia from Africa in Middle Pleistocene, evolving into Homo erectus. It is now understood that the earliest hominins in Asia are almost as old as the first appearance of the genus Homo in Africa. Most fossil materials from Asia are without reliable dates, a situation that is quickly being improved in the twenty‐first century with a focus on securing reliable radiometric dates. New and exciting developments have taken place surrounding the issue of modern human origins in Asia as well, namely, the question of whether the Late Pleistocene Asians, often called anatomically modern humans, contributed directly to the ancestry of modern Asians.

Key Concepts

  • The origin and timing of early hominin migration into Asia is complicated by new discoveries in the field.
  • Homo erectus fossils dominate the Asian Pleistocene record.
  • The Asian hominin fossil record is extensive, with antiquity second only to Africa.
  • The development of new dating technologies has improved the accuracy of known Asian hominin fossil dates.
  • The hominin evolution in Asia is characterised by a general gracilisation and encephalisation of the cranium.
  • Studies on ancient human Denisova DNA reveal admixture with modern humans in Asia.
  • Further evidence is given to support a revised multiregional continuity and assimilation model over a complete replacement model.

Keywords: hominin; pleistocene; Homo erectus; Homo floresiensis; Homo sapiens; trinil; sangiran; zhoukoudian; denisovan; flores

Figure 1. Map of the major Asia fossil hominin sites mentioned in the text. The blue triangles indicate the occurrence of Homo erectus, the yellow triangle indicates Homo floresiensis and the orange triangles indicate Homo sapiens. The base map was created using the GeoMapApp software (http://www.geomapapp.org/) and the geographic references using Google Maps (https://maps.google.com/).


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Further Reading

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Swisher CC III, Curtis GH and Lewin R (2000) Java Man: How Two Geologists' Dramatic Discoveries Changed Our Understanding of the Evolutionary Path to Modern Humans. New York: Scribner.

Wu X and Poirier FE (1995) Human Evolution in China: A Metric Description of the Fossils and a Review of the Sites. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Lee, Sang‐Hee, and Khorasani, Dänae G(May 2017) Spread of Hominins in Asia. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027064]