Homo sapiens may have had several routes of dispersal across Asia in the Late Pleistocene

May 29, 2019

Homo sapiens may have had a variety of routes to choose from while dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene Epoch, according to a study released May 29, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Feng Li of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and colleagues.

After leaving Africa, Homo sapiens dispersed across the Asian continent during the Late Pleistocene, but it isn't known exactly what routes our species followed. Most models assume that the Gobi Desert and Altai Mountain chains of North and Central Asia formed impassable barriers on the way to the east, so archaeological exploration has tended to neglect those regions in favor of seemingly more likely paths farther north and south.

In this study, Li and colleagues use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software alongside archaeological and paleoclimate data to reconstruct the conditions of North and Central Asia over the Late Pleistocene and to identify possible routes of travel. Their data suggest that the desert and mountain regions were likely impassable during cold and dry glacial periods, but that during warmer and wetter interglacial times it would have been possible for human populations to traverse these regions via at least three routes following ancient lake and river systems.

The authors caution that these data do not demonstrate definite routes of dispersal and that more detailed models should be constructed to test these results. However, these models do identify specific routes that may be good candidates for future archaeological exploration. Understanding the timing and tempo of Homo sapiens dispersal across Asia will be crucial for determining how culture and technology spread and developed, as well as how our species interacted with our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Roberts adds: "Our modelling of the available geographic and past climate data suggest that archaeologists and anthropologists should look for early human presence, migration, and interaction with other hominins in new parts of Asia that have been neglected as static voids. Given what we are increasingly discovering about the flexibility of our species, it would be of no surprise if we were to find early Homo sapiens in the middle of modern deserts or mountainous glacial sheets all across Asia. Indeed, it may be here that the key to our species' uniqueness lies".
-end-
Citation: Li F, Vanwezer N, Boivin N, Gao X, Ott F, Petraglia M, et al. (2019) Heading north: Late Pleistocene environments and human dispersals in central and eastern Asia. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216433. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216433

Funding: This study was funded by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (DE) to Nicole Boivin, Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences grant XDB26000000 to Feng Li, and Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences grant 2017102 to Feng Li. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216433

PLOS

Related Vertebrate Paleontology Articles from Brightsurf:

New genome alignment tool empowers large-scale studies of vertebrate evolution
Three papers published November 11 in Nature present major advances in understanding the evolution of birds and mammals, made possible by new methods for comparing the genomes of hundreds of species.

Scientists identify gene family key to unlocking vertebrate evolution
New University of Colorado Boulder-led research finds that the traits that make vertebrates distinct from invertebrates were made possible by the emergence of a new set of genes 500 million years ago, documenting an important episode in evolution where new genes played a significant role in the evolution of novel traits in vertebrates.

Human activity threatens 50 billion years of vertebrate evolutionary history
A new study maps for the first time the evolutionary history of the world's terrestrial vertebrates: amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles.

Jurassic Park in Eastern Morocco: Paleontology of the Kem Kem Group
The Kem Kem beds in Morocco are famous for the spectacular fossils found there, including at least four large-bodied non-avian theropods, several large-bodied pterosaurs and crocodilians.

Promiscuity in the Paleozoic: Researchers uncover clues about vertebrate evolution
By looking at the DNA of living animals, researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, alongside an international team of collaborators, have revealed early events in vertebrate evolution, including how jawed vertebrates arose from the mating of two different species of primitive fish half a billion years ago.

Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.

New sphenisciform fossil further resolves bauplan of extinct giant penguins
New Zealand is a key area for understanding the diversity of the extinct penguins and has even revealed the existence of 'giant' penguin species (larger than living penguins).

Superfood for Mesozoic herbivores? Emerging data on extreme digestibility of equisetum and implications for young, growing herbivorous sauropods
The long-necked, big bodied sauropod dinosaurs comprise some of the largest terrestrial vertebrates to walk the earth.

Paleontology: Diversification after mass extinction
A team led by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich paleontologist Adriana López-Arbarello has identified three hitherto unknown fossil fish species in the Swiss Alps, which provide new insights into the diversification of the genus Eosemionotus.

Fossilized slime of 100-million-year-old hagfish shakes up vertebrate family tree
Paleontologists at the University of Chicago have discovered the first detailed fossil of a hagfish, the slimy, eel-like carrion feeders of the ocean.

Read More: Vertebrate Paleontology News and Vertebrate Paleontology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.