Acta Anthropologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (04): 473-490.doi: 10.16359/j.cnki.cn11-1963/q.2019.0048

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The morphological evidence for the regional continuity and diversity of Middle Pleistocene human evolution in China

LIU Wu1,2(), WU Xiujie1,2, XING Song1,2   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100044
    2. CAS Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, Beijing 100044
  • Received:2019-05-20 Revised:2019-07-08 Online:2019-11-15 Published:2020-09-10


For decades, the Middle Pleistocene human fossils found in China have been attributed into Homo erectus and archaic Homo sapiens; respectively. This classification was mainly based on morphology and chronology of these fossils. Some cranial, mandibular and dental features identified and described on the human fossils of Zhoukoudian locality 1 by Weidenreich have been used as the standard for Homo erectus. According to the chronology of the Chinese Middle Pleistocene human fossils, later period of Middle Pleistocene around 300 ka are usually regarded as approximate border between Homo erectus and archaic Homo sapiens. For the past two decades, more Middle Pleistocene human fossils have been found in Africa, Europe and East Asia. Currently, the understanding for the fossil morphology and evolution of Middle Pleistocene humans has changed a lot. Recent studies of human fossils from Dali, Xujiayao, Panxian Dadong, Xuchang, Hualongdong indicate that in the past 300 ka, the human evolution in East Asia exhibited complicated diversities. Classifying all the hominins of this time period into archaic Homo sapiens cannot accurately reflect the human evolution patterns in East Asian continent. In the present study, with considering the research progress of Middle Pleistocene human evolution in China, the expressions of some morphological features with evolutionary and taxonomic values were analyzed for the Middle Pleistocene human fossils. Based on these analysis, the evolution pattern of Middle Pleistocene humans in China were tentatively explored. Our study indicates that the human fossils of early period of Middle Pleistocene in China including Zhoukoudian, Hexian, Yiyuan, Nanjing exhibit more features characterizing the region pattern and the expression of these feature are relatively stable. In contrast, the morphology expressions of human fossils from later period of Middle Pleistocene like Dali, Jinniushan, Maba, Panxian Dadong, Xujiayao, Xuchang, Hualongdong are more complicated with wide variation ranges. Besides, a number of evidence showing the living activity, healthy status and adaptation to environment have been found in the human fossils of this period. With these findings, the authors propose that the human evolution of early period of Middle Pleistocene in China mainly follows the pattern of morphological continuity. Entering the later part of Middle Pleistocene, the regional pattern of human evolution in China decreased with diversity taking the main place. A series of new human fossil findings and research progresses indicate that several hominins may co-exist in Middle Pleistocene’s East Asia. With available evidence of human fossil morphology and chronology, approximately 300 ka is the key time point for the evolution changes in Middle Pleistocene in China.

Key words: Middle Pleistocene, Homo erectus, Archaic Homo sapiens, Regional continuity, Diversity, China

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