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Cave of the Monkeys find complicates our Asia story

By Darren Curnoe

Did our Asian story just get more complicated?

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An article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Fabrice Demeter and co-workers describes a new modern human skull from Tam Pa Ling (Cave of the Monkeys) in Laos believed to be between 63,000 and 46,000 years old.

The skull is undoubtedly from a modern human and is claimed by the authors to provide the earliest compelling evidence for modern humans in East Asia.

Well it might, but then again, it might not.

Asia occupies one-third of the planet’s land area and contains two-thirds of the world’s human population. Yet, we still know so little about human origins in the area – it’s almost a crime!

Just when did the founders of modern Asia enter the region after exiting Africa? Who did they look like? Stone Age Africans, or recent Asians?

Disturbing evidence

We know the Cave of Monkeys seems to have been disturbed, as the entire upper half of the soil has been washed out, replaced with a substantially younger soil. Within less than one metre, the age goes from 51,000 years to 2,700 years old (a difference of more than 48,000 years).

Another concern with the dating is that the age estimates are somewhat out of sequence and in conflict.

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Darren Curnoe is a human evolution specialist at the University of New South Wales. This article was originally published at The Conversation.