The Tam Pa Ling skull would be of similar age to the Liujiang skull from China if the latter's 68ka age is accepted. So, now the case is much more secure for the presence of modern humans in the Far East in the interval between the 70ka Event, and the post-50ka symbolic revolution associated with the MP/UP transition. If we add to the equation the presence of an UP European-like skull at Qafzeh in Israel at ~100ka, and of the Nubian Complex in South Arabia at ~106ka, it is becoming increasingly difficult to accept ideas about either a 60ka coastal migration, or a late Out-of-Africa migration associated with the Upper Paleolithic that somehow replaced the people who lived all over Eurasia.
From the press release:
"It's a particularly old modern human fossil and it's also a particularly old modern human for that region," said University of Illinois anthropologist Laura Shackelford, who led the study with anthropologist Fabrice Demeter, of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. "There are other modern human fossils in China or in Island Southeast Asia that may be around the same age but they either are not well dated or they do not show definitively modern human features. This skull is very well dated and shows very conclusive modern human features," she said.
No other artifacts have yet been found with the skull, suggesting that the cave was not a dwelling or burial site, Shackelford said. It is more likely that the person died outside and the body washed into the cave sometime later, she said.
The find reveals that early modern human migrants did not simply follow the coast and go south to the islands of Southeast Asia and Australia, as some researchers have suggested, but that they also traveled north into very different types of terrain, Shackelford said.
UPDATE (Aug 27): Coverage in Hominid Hunting.
PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1208104109
Anatomically modern human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka
Fabrice Demeter et al.
Uncertainties surround the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in East and Southeast Asia. Although genetic and archeological data indicate a rapid migration out of Africa and into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka, mainland Southeast Asia is notable for its absence of fossil evidence for early modern human occupation. Here we report on a modern human cranium from Tam Pa Ling, Laos, which was recovered from a secure stratigraphic context. Radiocarbon and luminescence dating of the surrounding sediments provide a minimum age of 51–46 ka, and direct U-dating of the bone indicates a maximum age of ~63 ka. The cranium has a derived modern human morphology in features of the frontal, occipital, maxillae, and dentition. It is also differentiated from western Eurasian archaic humans in aspects of its temporal, occipital, and dental morphology. In the context of an increasingly documented archaic–modern morphological mosaic among the earliest modern humans in western Eurasia, Tam Pa Ling establishes a definitively modern population in Southeast Asia at ~50 ka cal BP. As such, it provides the earliest skeletal evidence for fully modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia.