The Atlantic

Ancient Humans Lived in China 2.1 Million Years Ago

The discovery of stone tools—the oldest ever found outside of Africa—dramatically shifts the story of hominin migration, researchers say.
Source: Zhaoyu Zhu et al / Nature

For hundreds of thousands of years, small bands of ancient humans ranged across a sandy, hilly grassland. They survived on the mammals around them—perhaps hunting them, perhaps scavenging for their carcasses—and their tools were rudimentary, razor-sharp blades formed from chipped stone. They lived in fear of the big cats and large predators that stalked their children.

And they were isolated. They likely rarely encountered other creatures who looked like them, beyond the 25 or 50 with whom they lived.

This was the strange existence of early-human ancestors on the savannah. It’s a classic scene—the image of hunter-gatherers roaming grasslands is just as at home in a biology textbook as it was in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But according to new research, this scene did not play out only in Africa.

Our ancient ancestors lived in China, too.

Ancient humans appear to have reached northwestern China about 2.1 million years ago, and they lived there for hundreds. It suggests that hominins migrated out of Africa much earlier, and spread much farther east, than once thought.

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