Hello, Dali

209 kya. (The date is a bit iffy. It’s based on associated ox teeth.) This skull, from China, isn’t much like Homo neanderthalensis or modern Homo sapiens. Both Neanderthals and H. sapiens are specialized in different directions, in ways that aren’t just an automatic consequence of increasing brain size. In Neanderthals, the middle of the face is pulled way forward in front of a football shaped braincase. In H. sapiens (us), the face is tucked well under the skull beneath a globular braincase. (We’ll have more to say about these changes later: sapiens skull shape probably has to do with re-engineering the vocal tract.) The Dali skull by contrast looks like a generic transitional late Homo erectus / archaic Homo sapiens (the latter being just a wastebasket, “I dunno. Whaddayou think it is?” category). It wasn’t clear where Dali belonged phylogenetically, but we now have a pretty good suspicion that it’s part of an East/Southeast Asian group called Denisovans. Denisovans have come to be known by their genes, which have been found in an ancient Siberian fingerbone, and (at low levels) in some modern Melanesians and Australian aborigines. What we don’t yet know for certain is whether Dali (and similar finds like the less securely dated Jinniushang skull) had these Denisovan genes.

For a long time, Chinese scholars argued that Dali was ancestral specifically to East Asians. This fit with the Multi-Regional Evolution theory advocated by some Western paleoanthropologists, according to which African Homo erectus evolved through stages into modern Africans, and Neanderthals evolved into modern West Eurasians. This theory hasn’t fared as well as the Out Of Africa theory, that modern humans evolved in Africa and replaced other humans (albeit with a little interbreeding).

2 thoughts on “Hello, Dali

  1. donaldhtaylor

    Love the report. One small thing: please don’t use the term “football shaped”. Unless I know whether you’re American or not I don’t know what shape you mean!

    Really small point. Keep up the good work.


  2. Charles T.G. Clarke

    I laugh when people compare a fossil to a genome. It’s absurd at the very least. There is more merit in comparing fossils to fossils. This fossil seems to share many affinities with Homo heidelbergensis. I have given more meaningful information in the last sentence then in this entire article.



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