Research directors: Y Coppens (College de France), J Braga (Université de Toulouse)
Ourfield operations in the north of Mongolia are very recent. They resulted in the fortuitous discovery, a few years ago, of a fossilized human calvarium. This discovery was announced in 2008, at the Parisian Academy of Sciences (l’Académie des Sciences de Paris), by professor Y Coppens (Collège de France) in collaboration with Mongolian authorities (Académie des Sciences). This discovery constitutes unique evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens sapiens at a time and place in which such evidence was completely absent up until this point.
The fossil of Salkhit gives us, for the first time, ancient morphological evidence of man labeled as “anatomically modern” (Homo sapiens sapiens), in a region situated at the meeting point of Central Asia and Southern Siberia: the archeological region of Trans-Baïkal. An absolute dating of the Salkhit fossil is in progress. The results of our 2009 field mission allowed us to situate this discovery in a geological framework and to confirm a dating of at least 50,000 years.
Many questions are raised regarding the human populations of this region during this time frame. The first question concerns not only of the origin of the first Homo sapiens sapiens of Trans-Baïkal but, more importantly, the origin of the current populations of Far East Asia. Are these populations, at least in part, originated from even more ancient human populations (around 1.5 million years) of the same region? The representatives of these more ancient populations are Homo erectus of continental Asia, discovered namely by Zoukhoudian, in China. We are thus in the presence of a scenario of genetic continuity between the ancient human populations of the region and the more “modern” populations of Homo sapiens sapiens. Another, completely opposite, question may be raised. Could the populations of Homo sapiens sapiens of this region of the world be originated from much more recent populations, and totally independent of ancient phases represented by Homo erectus? In this scenario of discontinuity, “modern” man of this region has a much more recent origin derived from a phase of settlement coming from Africa little more than 100,000 years ago. This phase would have thus totally replaced the most ancient human populations of Homo erectus. Beyond the question of the settlement of Asia, our field work in Mongolia also raises speculation concerning the settlement of America. Indeed, the human populations of northeastern Asia of around 50,000 years in the past constitute the probable origin of the colonization of America at least 30,000 years ago.
Coppens Y., Tseveendorj D., Demeter F., Turbat T., Giscard P.-H. 2008. Discovery of an archaic Homo sapiens skullcap in Northeast Mongolia. C.R.Palévol. 7, 51-60.
Le Mystère du premier Mongole. National Geographic, Mai 2009