Peking Man Grows Much Older in New Study

Article excerpt

A group of Chinese fossils known collectively as Peking Man dates to at least 400,000 years ago, considerably earlier than previous estimates, according to preliminary analysis of sediment at the site where the finds first emerged in 1921.

If the revised age holds up, it suggests that Homo erectus-the species to which Peking Man belongs-lived in East Asia before modern humans did. The former age estimate of 200,000 to 300,000 years for the fossils raised the possibility that H. erectus and an early form of H. sapiens existed simultaneously in that part of the world.

Even given a markedly older Peking Man, however, current debates over the nature of human evolution appear unlikely to vanish. For instance, Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City sees no reason at this point to revise his opinion that H. erectus evolved only in East Africa as a dead-end species and that separate Homo species in Africa eventually led to modern humans.

Alternatively, H. erectus may have spread from Africa to Europe and Asia, giving rise to H. sapiens in perhaps one geographic region, argues G. Philip Rightmire of the State University of New York at Binghamton. Rightmire acknowledges that the new Peking Man date will probably get a warm greeting from scientists who contend that modern humans evolved separately in Africa and Asia. …