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Rick Potts identifies key date in early human migration

A few stone tools and two front teeth, found decades ago, were recently dated by paleoanthropologist Rick Potts and his colleagues. It’s evidence, said Potts, that humans arrived in China from Africa about 1.7 million years ago.

Scientists have evidence that early humans arrived in China from Africa about 1.7 million years ago.

EarthSky spoke to Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution. Potts said that a few stone tools and two front teeth belonging to Homo erectus were found near a stream in Southwest China. These were found decades ago, but never precisely dated. Just recently, Rick Potts and his colleagues were able to date them back to 1.7 million years. Their dating technique used shifts in magnetic poles to date the magnetic particles in the rocks around the artifacts.

Scientists want to know when humans began to move out of Africa. And how did they survive, how adaptable were they? Dating these artifacts tells us that humans were very adaptable to climate and environment. The oldest human remains found outside Africa are one and three-quarter million years old. People are considered to have moved fairly rapidly.

We’ll never know exactly why they wanted to move, but Potts speculated that maybe they just wanted to see what was beyond the next hillside or valley – human curiosity.

Our thanks to:
Rick Potts
Natural History Museum
Director, Human Origins program
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.

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