Humans Migrated to Mongolia Much Earlier Than Previously Believed

Ancient tools were found in a site in the western flank of the Tolbor Valley. (Image: Courtesy photo)
Ancient tools were found in a site in the western flank of the Tolbor Valley. (Image: Courtesy photo)

Stone tools uncovered in Mongolia by an international team of archaeologists indicate that modern humans traveled across the Eurasian steppe about 45,000 years ago, according to a new University of California, Davis, study. The date is about 10,000 years earlier than archaeologists previously believed.

The site also points to a new location for where modern humans may have first encountered their mysterious cousins, the now extinct Denisovans, said Nicolas Zwyns, an associate professor of anthropology and lead author of the study.

Zwyns led excavations from 2011 to 2016 at the Tolbor-16 site along the Tolbor River in the Northern Hangai Mountains between Siberia and northern Mongolia.

The excavations yielded thousands of stone artifacts, with 826 stone artifacts associated with the oldest human occupation at the site. With long and regular blades, the tools resemble those found at other sites in Siberia and Northwest China — indicating a large-scale dispersal of humans across the region, Zwyns said, adding:

That technology, known in the region as the Initial Upper Palaeolithic, led the researchers to rule out Neanderthals or Denisovans as the site’s occupants. Zwyns said:

Their findings were published online in an article in Scientific Reports. The age of the site — determined by luminescence dating on the sediment and radiocarbon dating of animal bones found near the tools — is about 10,000 years earlier than the fossil of a human skullcap from Mongolia, and roughly 15,000 years after modern humans left Africa.

Evidence of soil development (grass and other organic matter) associated with the stone tools suggests that the climate for a period became warmer and wetter, making the normally cold and dry region more hospitable to humans and grazing animals.

A sampling of stone tools uncovered at the Tolbor-16 site in Mongolia, with examples of long triangular (bottom row, left) and double-edged blades (bottom row, middle) that resemble those found at other sites in Siberia and Northwest China. The discovery suggests a dispersal through the region of early modern humans who shared a cultural and technological background. The shorter blades, top row, are examples of tool technology known before to researchers. (Courtesy photo)

A sampling of stone tools uncovered at the Tolbor-16 site in Mongolia, with examples of long triangular (bottom row, left) and double-edged blades (bottom row, middle) that resemble those found at other sites in Siberia and Northwest China. The discovery suggests a dispersal through the region of early modern humans who shared a cultural and technological background. The shorter blades, top row, are examples of tool technology known before to researchers. (Image: Courtesy photo)

Preliminary analysis identifies bone fragments at the site as large (wild cattle or bison) and medium size bovids (wild sheep, goat) and horses, which frequented the open steppe, forests, and tundra during the Pleistocene — another sign of human occupation at the site.

The dates for the stone tools also match the age estimates obtained from genetic data for the earliest encounter between Homo sapiens and the Denisovans. Zwyns said:

Provided by: Kathleen Holder, UC Davis [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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