Genetic studies show the founders of all living non-African populations expanded from Africa ca. 65 to 45 ka. This “late dispersal” model has been challenged by the discovery of isolated AMHs at caves in southern China suggested as early as ca. 120 ka. We assessed the age of early AMH fossils from five caves in this region using ancient DNA analysis and a multimethod geological dating strategy. We found they were much younger than previously suggested, with some remains dating to the Holocene owing to the complex depositional history at these subtropical caves. Current evidence shows AMHs settled southern China within the timeframe set by molecular data of less than ca. 50 to 45 ka and no earlier."


The expansion of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) from Africa around 65,000 to 45,000 y ago (ca. 65 to 45 ka) led to the establishment of present-day non-African populations. Some paleoanthropologists have argued that fossil discoveries from Huanglong, Zhiren, Luna, and Fuyan caves in southern China indicate one or more prior dispersals, perhaps as early as ca. 120 ka. We investigated the age of the human remains from three of these localities and two additional early AMH sites (Yangjiapo and Sanyou caves, Hubei) by combining ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis with a multimethod geological dating strategy. Although U–Th dating of capping flowstones suggested they lie within the range ca. 168 to 70 ka, analyses of aDNA and direct AMS 14C dating on human teeth from Fuyan and Yangjiapo caves showed they derive from the Holocene. OSL dating of sediments and AMS 14C analysis of mammal teeth and charcoal also demonstrated major discrepancies from the flowstone ages; the difference between them being an order of magnitude or more at most of these localities. Our work highlights the surprisingly complex depositional history recorded at these subtropical caves which involved one or more episodes of erosion and redeposition or intrusion as recently as the late Holocene. In light of our findings, the first appearance datum for AMHs in southern China should probably lie within the timeframe set by molecular data of ca. 50 to 45 ka."