BEIJING, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists
said they have found fossilized remains of a primitive human species that lived
about 2.04 million years ago in the Three Gorges Area in southwest China, the
earliest ever found in the country.
The findings, including a lower jawbone fragment, an
incisor and more than 230 pieces of stone tools, prove that what is called
Wushan man was more than 300,000 years older than Yuanmou man, which was
discovered in southwestern Yunnan Province in the 1960s and previously
recognized as China's earliest human species.
An expert team led by Huang Wanbo, a professor with
the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese
Academy of Sciences, reached the conclusion after more than two decades of
excavation at the Longgupo Site in Wushan County in Chongqing Municipality.
"It's an exciting discovery because it may rewrite
China's history," said Huang.
Huang said his team unearthed the human fossils
during their first excavation, from 1985 to 1988. In the same stratigraphic
interval, they also discovered fossils of 120 species of vertebrates, including
116 mammals, and a large number of stone artifacts.
"Various dating techniques corroborate the geological
layer containing Wushan Man fossils being as old as 2 million to 2.04 million
years, but we think we need more evidence," said Huang.
Huang's team conducted two excavations from 1997 to
1999 and from 2003 to 2006 at the Longgupo Site with partners from Britain,
Canada and France.
They found more stone tools and animal fossils dating
back 2 million years in the same stratigraphic interval in which Wushan Man
fossils were found before, and also in the upper layers.
"The most important findings are the many leg fossils
of animals, such as the elephant, rhinoceros and deer fossils we found in an
area of no more than two square meters," said Huang.
"It is not natural that the fossils, all legs, were arranged
in layers in such a small space. Only an animal with thinking capacity
could do it in that way," he said.
The Three Gorges area was once an expanse of hilly
land with luxuriant vegetation and a warm, humid climate in which various
vertebrates and mammals lived and thrived.
"It was just in such a natural environment that
Wushan Man led a primitive life by hunting and gathering. When night fell, the
inhabitants returned to the Longgupo Cave, enjoying the fruits of their day's
labor," said Huang.
Located in Wushan Mountain, the Longgupo Site is
considered one of the best-preserved Paleolithic sites in China and even in
Asia, with a wealth of primitive cultural relics.
Huang said they plan a fourth excavation at the
Longgupo Site next year, which is expected to yield more evidence of Wushan