New research published in in the journal Scientific Reports, has revealed that Homo erectus, an ancient ancestor to modern humans, occupied a vast area in China as early as 1.7 million years ago. The work is part of a government push to investigate traces of early humans in China with the hope that it may identify a new cradle of mankind in the nation.
The now-extinct species of human is said to have evolved in Africa at least 1.8 million years ago and then dispersed out from the continent reaching as far as China. Now scientists are trying to understand exactly when, how and why they moved to other continents in an attempt to better understand what drove human evolution. One possibility is that hominids migrated to East Asia during the early Stone Age as a consequence of increasing cooling and aridity in Africa and Eurasia.
A team of archaeologists were able to determine when the Homo erectus wandered the plains of China by analysing tools and earth samples in the Nihewan Basin, which lies in a mountainous region about 150 kilometres west of Beijing, an area rich with Stone Age sites. Researchers have found more than 100,000 relics in the region including thousands of stone tools including stone blades used for cutting or scraping, which are believed to have been used by Homo erectus.
In order to date the items, Hong Ao, a paleomagnetist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Xi’an, and his colleagues analysed earth samples to look at the way in which different layers were magnetized — since the Earth’s magnetic field has regularly flipped numerous times over millions of years, looking at the manner in which the magnetic fields of minerals are oriented can shed light on how old they are. The researchers discovered this site in northern China might be about 1.6 million to 1.7 million years old, making it 600,000 or 700,000 years older than previously thought.
Artefacts, bones and tools belonging to Homo erectus have also been found in southern China more than 2,500 kilometres away, which suggests that they inhabited a huge territory in China about 1.7 to 1.6 million years ago. Some researchers believe that discoveries showing stone tools dating back up to 2 million years in China draws into question current beliefs that Africa was the sole origin of mankind .