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Scientists study 40,000-year-old skeleton

April 3, 2007 at 1:52 PM   |   Comments

BEIJING, April 3 (UPI) -- Scientists have determined a skeleton found in China is that of a 40,000-year-old early modern human and one of the oldest ever found in eastern Eurasia.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing said the discovery suggests the "out of Africa" dispersal of modern humans might not have been as simple as once thought. Eastern Eurasia is the Asian part of the connected landmass extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Erik Trinkaus, a professor of anthropology at Washington University, and Hong Shang and colleagues at the institute examined the skeleton, recovered in 2003 from a cave near Beijing.

The scientists said the skeleton is basically a modern human, but with a few archaic characteristics -- particularly in its teeth and hand bone. That morphological pattern implies a simple spread of modern humans from Africa is unlikely, the scientists said, especially since younger specimens have been found in Eastern Eurasia with similar features.

Trinkaus and Shang said the discovery promises to provide relevant paleontological data of the emergence of modern humans in eastern Asia.

The research appears in the current issue of the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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