|The skull of Dali Man 大荔人 (Dàlì rén) was discovered in 1978 at Tianshuigou in Dali County, Shaanxi by Liu Shuntang. The skull is of premodern Homo sapiens and shows significant changes from Homo erectus. The parietal lobe is much more developed, giving the skull a rounder appearance. The temporal lobe is well developed and the occipital lobe (visual area) has enlarged in comparison to Homo erectus. There is a bit of a forehead, reflecting the general enlargement of the cranial capacity in comparison to Homo erectus.
Dali Man is dated as 210,000 years old by the Shaanxi History Museum and as between 180,000 and 230,000 years old by Etler (1998). These dates overlap those given for Peking Man at Zhoukoudian, Beijing (220,000 to 580,000 years old). Peking Man is classed as Homo erectus. However, Guanjun Shen, Xing Gao, Bin Gao & Darryl E. Granger (2009) used a dating procedure based on isotopes of aluminum and beryllium to estimate the age of the lower layers in the Zhoukoudian Site 1 cave to be from about 680,000-780,000 years ago. That would correlate with other data to indicate that the Peking Man of the Zhoukoudian site survived through a mild glacial period. It would also place the Peking Man at a significantly earlier period than the Dali Man. Zhoukoudian to 680,000-780,000 years ago using a new radiometric method based on the decay of aluminum and beryllium isotpes (26Al and 10Be) found in quartz grains. These dates place Homo erectus at Zhoukoudian around 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. It also establishes that they were present at the time of a mild glacial period.
The significance of Dali Man lies not only in his age but in the possibility of independent evolution of Homo sapiens in China and in Africa and the West. While that is considered unlikely, some Chinese scientists believe that present day Chinese have their roots in Dali Man and other indigenous premodern Homo sapiens. See Pope (1988) for a discussion of the problem. Biometrical evidence in the form of mtDNA does not support the hypothesis, although some scientists assert that cranial features do. However, Sautman (2001) describes the research on the origin of a skull found in Zhoukoudian Upper Cave, 101 and scientists who have examined the skull for morphology have found no evidence of continuity between this example of Homo erectus and modern Chinese based on head shape and features. Since many of the claims for an independent evolution in China are based on continuity with Peking Man, both morphology and dating make it even less likely that this occured.
Dr. Xing Song, from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, in an interview with China.org (November 24, 2009) pointed out that one of the problems with the idea of continuous evolution in multiple locations is that there have not been finds made in the same location from different time periods.
That kind of evidence, if it existed, would suggest continuous habitation. As it is, the humanoids could have been walking back and forth between the East and West in a continuous flow. Only when they put down roots and started agricultural communities would there have been any reason to stay put. It is as reasonable to assume that both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens independently started wandering.
Pope, Geoffrey G. (1988). Recent Advances in Far Eastern Paleoanthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 17, pp. 43-77.
Sautman, Barry. (2001). Peking Man and the Politics of Paleoanthropological Nationalism in China. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 60, No. 1, February, pp. 95-124.
Shen, Guanjun; Gao, Xing; Gao, Bin; & Granger, Darryl E. (2009). Age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus determined with 26Al/10Be burial dating. Nature, 458, pp. 198-200, March 12.
Last update: March 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2010