An international team of scientists working in the Annamite Mountains in northern Laos have discovered a skull that has pushed back estimates of human migration through Southeast Asia by nearly 20,000 years.
"It's a particularly old modern human fossil and it's also a particularly old modern human for that region," said Laura Shackelford a University of Illinois anthropologist, according to Science Daily. "There are other modern human fossils in China or in Island Southeast Asia that may be around the same age but they either are not well dated or they do not show definitively modern human features. This skull is very well dated and shows very conclusive modern human features."
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This discovery also shows that early modern humans who migrated out of Africa did not simply follow the coastlines, as some other research has suggested, but ventured into the mountains as well.
"This find supports an 'Out-of-Africa' theory of modern human origins rather than a multi-regionalism model," Shackelford said. "Given its age, fossils in this vicinity could be direct ancestors of the first migrants to Australia. But it is also likely that mainland Southeast Asia was a crossroads leading to multiple migratory paths."
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Most importantly — at least for this reader — is the support this find brings to previous research. Genetic studies have suggested that modern humans occupied or migrated through the area over 60,000 years ago, but these studies lacked fossil evidence to support them. With this find, scientists can now confirm those findings and fill in another piece of the puzzle of our origins and development as a species.