Early Erectus Tools Found in China

Early Erectus Tools Found in China

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Early Erectus Tools Found in China

In the January/February issue of Archaeology magazine, the article "Early Homo erectus Tools in China" holds additional, yet questionable information about the foundations of the genus Homo. After recent findings of stone tools and animal bones at Renzidong (Renzi Cave) in Anhui Province, eastern China, Chinese scientists have concluded that Homo erectus may have been established there 400,000 years earlier than formerly believed, almost 2.25 million years ago. Besides this site being one of the oldest for
findings of early hominins, it has fueled, "[…] a debate on the origins of our genus Homo, with some Chinese scientists proposing an evolution of H. erectus in China parallel to that […] in Africa"(14). A limestone cave at Longgupo ("Dragon Hill") in Sichuan Province is also in the spotlight for the "[…] East-West debate […]", over Homo origins (14). This cave has produced a 2 million year old mandible fragments with features supporting both ideas of origins from the Chinese and West, not yielding to a
single, simple explanation. As to where these apes made their signature development onto the open, flat land is debated indefinitely.

Approximately 1.7 million years ago, Homo erectus arose in Africa and shortly thereafter spread to other continents, as most scientists believe. As they expanded their range and increased in population, H. erectus may have exterminated H. habilis. Then transition from H. erectus to H. sapiens occurred about 400,000 years ago, and the dispute is over the place of origin of modern humans. "There is considerable
controversy among scientists as to whether the transition to H. sapiens took place only in Africa, or the evolution of modern humans occurred simultaneously on three continents" (Purves 515). With little information that we have now, a strong, clear hypothesis with support is lacking. But these newly recovered fosiils and tools in Renzidong may change things around.

The "out of Africa" hypothesis suggests a single origin in Africa followed by several dispersal’s.

The "multiregional" hypothesis, in contrast, proposes parallel origins of Homo in different regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia. But the Chinese believe in the "Asian Hypothesis", or Asian origins of the genus.

Both sides agree that plate tectonic movements caused climatic changes from East Africa to East Asia. The weather tended to be more "[…] seasonal and arid", instigating arboreal apes to move onto the savannah and evolve into upright hominins (Ciochon 15).

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A large fissure in Anhui Province has yielded 3,000 bones of animals of 60 species.
Some animals included a tapir and a mastodon. Another one of the species included is the monkey Procynocephalus, determining that that area was open to the environment about 2.5 million years ago. Also found were 50 stones and bones cut to be used as choppers, similar to those found in Africa. Most East Asian tools found tend to be flakes with one side removed, called choppers. The only problem is that sometimes these tools can be confused with rocks formed asymmetrically from wear and tear, including rain, snow ,and years of movement and erosion. These tools were used for digging, cutting wood, capturing animals, cleaning and cutting meat, and scraping hides. Early hominins could have gone into the fissure and butchered the animals for food after they had fallen into the hole. Evidence for this is provided by the findings of the tapir
seemingly to be laid out for butchering and the mastodon skeletons piled on one of the side walls.

Procynocephalus skeletons as well as similar monkeys and H. erectus fossils have been found together both in East Africa and Asia. In Longgupo, a mandible fragment found had two worn out molars from the Procynocephalus monkey. Western scientists believe these “[...] teeth share features with earliest Homo in East Africa-leading us to suggest a direct link, a “dispersal” of African hominins to East Asia about 2 million years ago”(14-15). But the Chinese disagree, seeing similar features in Asian apes, and proposing an Asian Homo origin.

Fossil remains from this genus have been found in Africa, Indonesia, China, the Middle East, and Europe. The Pliocene record of hominins in Africa preceding H. erectus is extensive, “[...] whereas the Asian record holds little information to date” (15). But more recent findings in new areas and techniques have sprouted with hidden information yet to be known.

A newly introduced potassium/argon dating technique was used to redate the Sangiran erectus fossils, found in Java. These fossils were found to be from 1.6 to 1.9 million years ago, twice as old as previously thought and at least as old as the oldest African erectus fossil. This opens up the possibility that H. erectus may have evolved somewhere other than Africa, evidently East Asia. For Westerners, plausible explanations for this include that they first appeared in Africa earlier than any of the fossils that have been found, or that their expansion began shortly after they first evolved. Or maybe erectus evolved in between Asia and Africa and migrated. “{...} [T]hen why haven’t any earlier fossil hominids been found outside Africa?”, asks Matt Cartmill author of the article “The Third Man”(185). If the dates are accurate,
then these explanations are legitimate. But the Chinese scientists see it in a different light.

According to many scientists, (both Chinese and Western amongst others) Homo erectus left the savannah’s to which they were so well adapted because of reproductive success. Their big brains allowed them to exploit their environment and make better and more varied tools. They could learn more and reason out problems that their habitat posed. They also had a more complex social organization. With the population increase, there may have been pressure put on resources and social harmony. Different groups migrated out to find less competition over food, water, and space.

Overall this article has an East vs. West theme, Chinese vs. the Westerners. Who’s to say who’s right or wrong? Here are fossils of great geological age and importance that have been used to back up two different theories on the beginnings of the genus Homo.
Both are plausible, but one is more widely accepted and a more evidence supported than the other. The authors could be racist and want the Chinese to look ridiculous in front of the world, leaning for a Western explanation to be the correct one. The article
portrays a theme of right versus wrong, white versus Asian. Or is it just circumstantial that all the Chinese anthropologists agree with the “Asian Hypothesis” and unlike the Westerners who are divided among the “multiregional” and “out of Africa” hypotheses? This article has made gross generalizations that are not entirely supported with evidence. Ciochon and Larick demean the Chinese because they have found evidence that could support what some of them believe to be their roots, or beginnings. I applaud the Chinese scientists for challenging theories, the way truth is found in science. They have fossils from a very early date that are not corresponding to past records and the lineage of movement of H. erectus. East Asia holds hidden information in its untouched land about our ancestral past and the West should not shun ideas that could one day be supported indefinitely by these new fossil findings.


Park, Michael A. Biological Anthropology/An Introductory Reader. Mayfield Pub. Co.: Toronto, 1999/2000.

Purves, William K, et al. Life: The Science of Biology. Sinauer Assoc.: Sunderland, 1998.
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