Parts of a modern human skull found in Laos are the earliest skeletal evidence of human occupation of Southeast Asia. Dating of the skull and surroundings suggests the remains may be up to 63,000 years old.
The research, which was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides direct support to the "Out of Africa" hypothesis. The finding of the skull is the first direct skeletal evidence of human occupation of the region so early. It is significant in that it fits perfectly with genetic and archaeological evidence that has also indicated human settlement as early as 60,000 years ago.
The skull was found in a limestone cave known as Tam Pa Ling (Cave of the Monkeys); although, as Medical Daily reports, it is thought that the remains were washed into the cave. As Sci-News reports, Dr Laura Shackelford, a co-author of the study, said:
No other artifacts have yet been found with the skull, suggesting that the cave was not a dwelling or burial site. It is more likely that the person died outside and the body washed into the cave sometime later.
As ABC reports, Dr Kira Westway, who led the dating of the skull, said:
Despite abundant limestone caves, there has been uncertainty about the arrival of modern humans in Southeast Asia because of a lack of dateable evidence.
Prior to the latest finding the earliest human remains in the region was a skull found at Sarawak's Niah Cave dated at 40,000 years ago. The finding of the current skull fills a gap in the fossil record, and, in doing so, substantially supports the "Out of Africa" hypothesis by demonstrating its predictive capacity.
Researchers are currently attempting to extract DNA from the remains in order to identify how closely it matches with people currently living.