A study of early human teeth dated to 120,000 years ago and found in a south China cave is changing our knowledge of early human distribution and could help researchers better understand how modern humans and Neanderthals interacted. Moreover, they're suggesting that humans lived in Asia much earlier than previously thought – long before they made their way to Europe.  

"They are indeed the earliest Homo sapiens with fully modern morphologies outside of Africa," Wu Liu, lead author of the study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Discovery News. "At the Levant (much of the eastern Mediterranean), we also have human remains from the sites of Qafzeh and Skhul (in Israel) with similar ages, but these fossils have been described as retaining some primitive features and, thus, are not fully modern."

Modern humans originated about 200,000 years ago in Africa, researchers explained. However, when and how they dispersed throughout other areas has remained a mystery. For that reason, the 47 human teeth collected from Fuyan Cave in Daoxian, China's Hunan province, could help researchers connect the dots. 

Previous studies indicated that at the same time these newfound Homo sapiens were in China, Neanderthals were living in Europe. Currently, there is no evidence suggesting that modern humans entered Europe before 45,000 years ago, but the youngest of the newfound teeth were dated to be 80,000 years old. To make sense of all of these dates, researchers suggest that Neanderthals might have prevented modern humans (or the owners of the newfound teeth) from crossing into Europe until after Neanderthals began dying off, according to CBS News.

The findings were recently published in the journal Nature

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