The Evidence from Asia

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for detailed reporting of much of the evidence relating to the emergence of H. sapiens in Asia. Most of the evidence of H. sapiens in northeast and southeast Asia dates to less than 20,000 years ago, though a cranium and maxilla have been recovered from Ziyang that have been dated to around 40,000 years ago (Wu & Poirier, 1995). Also, an occipital bone from Shanxi Province, in China, has been dated to 28,000 years ago (Wu & Zhang, 1983; Kamminga & Wright, 1988; Wu & Poirier, 1995). Indeed, the specimens from the Upper Cave at Zhoukoudian in China, which had previously been considered Late Pleistocene, are now thought to be early Holocene, around 11,000 years old. A special status applies to the Liujiang specimen from the far south of China (Figure 9.8), whose dating has swung back and forth: Formerly thought to be well back in the Late Pleistocene, it was considered by Kamminga and Wright (1988) to represent a Holocene, possibly as late as Neolithic, burial into late Pleistocene deposits. But its dating and stratigraphy have recently been reconsidered, and it has apparently been reconfirmed as at least 67,000 B.P. (Shen et al., 2002).

In southeast Asia, the oldest H. sapiens are burials from northern Vietnam dating to 20,000 years ago (Ciochon & Olsen, 1986). The fragmentary skull from Niah Cave in Borneo was originally thought to date to approximately 40,000 years ago, but the original excavator did not realize that the remains were a burial dug into somewhat (or much) older deposits, so an age for this specimen remains problematic (see Brose & Wolpoff, 1971; Kamminga & Wright, 1988). The Wajak skulls from Java, Indonesia, have been thought to

Figure 9.8 ► Modern H. sapiens specimen from Luijiang, China.

be Late Pleistocene based solely on their robust appearance, but Storm (1995) reports radiocarbon dates of 6,560 B.P. for the human femur and 10,560 for associated fauna (uncalibrated); their purported affinities to indigenous Australians will be discussed in the next chapter.

While there has been some suggestion that there may have been penetration into Europe via Gibraltar because there are some similarities between the North African Aterian and European Acheulean lithic traditions, the human biological evidence does not support any significant exchange between these two populations, and the same applies to possible exchange between endemic Neanderthals and the "pre-Cro-Magnons" of North Africa (Hublin, 2000). The initial movement of modern H. sapiens into Europe must surely have been from western Asia, which would doubtless have been facilitated by the expansion of mixed deciduous/coniferous woodland during the warm interstadial into southern Europe, with associated faunal groups, around 40,000 years ago (Gamble, 1999).

As we have described earlier, there is little evidence for precise coexistence between Neanderthals and modern H. sapiens in western Asia. Rather, there appear to have been time-successive occupations of the southern Levant (see also Hublin, 2000), and the northward expansion of modern H. sapiens into the Levant is associated with environmental changes driving the northern extension of African faunas into the region (Tchernov, 1998; Hublin, 2000). By 40,000 years ago, modern H. sapiens had increased their territorial range to include southern, and eventually, central and western Europe.

With the emergence of modern H. sapiens in Europe around 40,000 years ago, on the contrary, there is some degree of coexistence between them and Neanderthals. The available paleoanthropological and archeological record suggests a dispersal of modern H. sapiens groups from east to west, initially of low demographic density and discontinuous settlements, later with some form of coexistence of central and western Europe by these modern people and Neanderthal populations (see Mellars, 1996; Hublin, 2000). As Mellars (1996) suggests, however, at any one point in time modern H. sapiens and Neanderthals were likely to have been confined to separate economic and demographic territories, which largely avoided any direct competition for the use of specific resources at the same time and place.

By 30,000 years ago, the climatic conditions were again deteriorating and glacial conditions were returning to Europe. It may be this event that triggered the final extinction of the surviving Neanderthal populations. For example, with the coming of the new Ice Age, we know that within 3,000 years, between 30,000 and 27,000 B.P., the last Neanderthal populations disappeared from Spain, perhaps slightly later in Portugal if you accept the "hybrid" child, dated to around 25,000 years ago. Conversely, it is from this time that the European and western Asian paleoanthropologi-cal and archeological record becomes increasingly dominated by the remains and past activities of modern H. sapiens. And the H. sapiens that appear in the record just after the demise of the Neanderthals cannot be said to display any persisting Neanderthal-like features (Hublin, 2000). Even before the start of the deteriorating climatic conditions, the newcomers had laid claim to much of Europe, and as far as the Neanderthals were concerned, the competition for resources was already lost. The likely superior hunting skills of H. sapiens, perhaps assisted by their proto-dogs, may have also contributed to a decline in Neanderthal birthrates and/or increase in infant mortality rates (or maybe compared to H. sapiens, they were already low). And over time, the Neanderthal world was becoming one of increasing populations of moderns and a decreasing population of Neanderthals.

With the final onset of an Ice Age Europe, Neanderthal bands were probably already few and far between and did not represent a viable breeding population. Both H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis groups would need to adapt rapidly to the deteriorating conditions, and there had to have been increased competition between them for finite resources. While the Neanderthals may have been able to adapt and survive another cold climatic shift if they alone occupied Europe, the presence of H. sapiens, with their competitive edge, pushed H. neanderthalensis to extinction (see Mellars, 1996). So the decline of the Neanderthals did not necessarily mean extinction through violence, but extinction through competition, which became even more intense with the onset of the last Ice Age.

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