The Dali cranium was discovered in 1978 embedded in a loess terrace near Jiefang Village, Dali County, Shaanxi Province. Initial reports of the Dali site can be found in Wang et al. (1979) and Wu and You (1979), with the leading Chinese palaeoanthropologist Wu Xinzhi (above) describing the cranium in 1981. Additional comparative information can be found in Wu (1989) and Wu (1988b), with English language descriptions in Wu and Poirier (1995) and Wu and Athreya (2012). Uranium series dating of ox teeth from the site obtained a date of 209,000 ±23,000 years (Chen et al., 1994), however, the nature of the association between the hominid cranium and the ox teeth remains uncertain. Given what is known about the Chinese hominid fossil record, for instance the consistent dating results for Zhoukoudian Locality 1, a date of this magnitude would not seem unreasonable. A number of small stone artefacts, primarily scrapers, were also recovered from the site.

Dali is reasonably complete and well preserved, with damage restricted to postdepositional crushing and displacement of the palate and left maxilla. A large section of the right parietal is missing, as are all of the maxillary teeth and left zygomatic arch. Wu (1981, 1989) found that most of the cranial dimensions and morphological features of Dali were intermediate between Homo erectus and H. sapiens, with Dali assigned to archaic H. sapiens. Wu's interpretation of Dali's anatomy was used to reinforce his long held view of evolutionary continuity between mid-Pleistocene H. erectus and more recent human populations in China (regional continuity model, see Wolpoff et al 1984). Craniofacial anatomy and vault shape are distinct from European Neandertals and earlier European hominins like Petralona and Atapeurca.


The Dali frontal has relatively robust supraorbital development, with the torus particularly thickened mid-orbit and thinning laterally. There is a median ridge which extends into a slight pre-bregmatic eminence and very slight cruciate eminence. When viewed laterally the parietals are long and low. Unlike Homo erectus maximum cranial breadth is located on the posterior-superior temporal, rather than the cranial base. From a posterior viewpoint the parietals do not have a circular profile. The remaining parietal tuberosity is distinct. Most of the vault superstructures in the temporal, occipital and frontal regions are robust. The mastoid process is small. The occipital and nuchal plane form a sharp angle similar to H. erectus and endocranial volume is around 1100-1200 ml.

While Dali's vault is relatively robust, with a mixture of H. erectus and H. sapiens traits, the facial skeleton is much more like those in modern H. sapiens. This is particularly noticeable for the zygomatics, which apart from their thickened frontal processes, are quite delicate. Digital reconstruction of the damaged facial skeleton suggests that facial height was not great, although the alveolar region was well developed. The better preserved right orbit is quadrangular in shape, with smooth and rounded margins. The nasal bones are not particularly broad, but are flattened and the nose of Dali would have been broad and low. The inferior border of the malar region has an angular junction with the alveolar portion of the maxilla as is common in H. sapiens.

What makes Dali, as well as Jinniushan (Lu, 1989; Wu, 1988a), particularly important is that both of their facial skeletons are reasonably complete. This is an unusual situation in China as the only other middle Pleistocene hominids to have faces in China are the Yunxian Homo erectus (Li and Etler, 1992), which are both very distorted. Originating in the pioneering research of Weidenreich (1939a, 1939b, 1943) at Zhoukoudian, there has been strong support by Chinese Palaeoanthropologists for evolutionary continuity between Chinese H. erectus and modern humans in China. It has been argued that this is most clearly expressed in the architecture of the facial skeleton (Wolpoff et al., 1984). East Asian traits have been argued to include lack of anterior facial projection, angulation in the zygomatic process of the maxilla and anterior orientation of the frontal process, pronounced frontal orientation of the malar faces, and facial flatness. While some of these traits may occur at high frequency in modern East Asians (cf Lahr, 1996) they are not present in late Pleistocene East Asians, for instance Upper Cave 101 and Liujiang (Brown, 1999), or more apparent in Dali and Jinniushan than archaic H. sapiens from Africa or Europe.

 Comparison of Dali, Jinniushan and Maba archaic Homo sapiens.

Access to Dali

Access to Dali is restricted. The Dali cranium is housed in the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, China. Research workers interested in seeing Dali must write to Professor Wu Xinzhi, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Academia Sinica, PO Box 164, Beijing, Peoples Republic of China.


Athreya, S. and Wu X. 2017. A multivariate assessment of the Dali hominin cranium from China: Morphological affinities and implications for Pleistocene evolution in East Asia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 164 (4):679-701.

Brown P (1999) The first modern East Asians?: another look at Upper Cave 101, Liujiang and Minatogawa 1. In K Omoto (ed.): Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Origins of the Japanese. Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, pp. 105-131.

Chen T, Yang Q, and Wu E (1994) Antiquity of Homo sapiens in China. Nature 368:55-56.

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Weidenreich F (1939b) Six lectures on Sinanthropus and related problems. Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 19:1-110.

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Wu X (1981) A well-preserved cranium of an archaic type of early Homo sapiens from Dali, China. Scientia Sinica 24:530-539.

Wu X (1989) Early Homo sapiens in China. In X Wu and S Shang (eds.): Early humankind in china. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 24-41.

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Wu X and Athreya S. 2012. A description of the geological context, discrete traits and linear morphometrics of the Middle Pleistocene hominin from Dali, Shaanxi Province, China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 150(1): 141-157.

Wu X (1988b) Comparative study of early Homo sapiens from China and Europe. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 7:292-299.


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