Hominin teeth from the early Late Pleistocene site of Xujiayao, Northern China.
It is generally accepted that from the late Middle to the early Late Pleistocene (∼340-90 ka BP), Neanderthals were occupying Europe and Western Asia, whereas anatomically modern humans were present in the African continent. In contrast, the paucity of hominin fossil evidence from East Asia from this period impedes a complete evolutionary picture of the genus Homo, as well as assessment of the possible contribution of or interaction with Asian hominins in the evolution of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. Here we present a comparative study of a hominin dental sample recovered from the Xujiayao site, in Northern China, attributed to the early Late Pleistocene (MIS 5 to 4). Our dental study reveals a mosaic of primitive and derived dental features for the Xujiayao hominins that can be summarized as follows: i) they are different from archaic and recent modern humans, ii) they present some features that are common but not exclusive to the Neanderthal lineage, and iii) they retain some primitive conformations classically found in East Asian Early and Middle Pleistocene hominins despite their young geological age. Thus, our study evinces the existence in China of a population of unclear taxonomic status with regard to other contemporary populations such as H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis. The morphological and metric studies of the Xujiayao teeth expand the variability known for early Late Pleistocene hominin fossils and suggest the possibility that a primitive hominin lineage may have survived late into the Late Pleistocene in China.