The Jinniushan skeleton was excavated in 1984 from a collapsed limestone cave near Sitian Village, southwest of Yinkou in Liaoning Provence by students from Peking University under the direction of Professor Lu Zun'e. Original reports and preliminary descriptions of the Jinniushan skeleton were presented by Wu (1988a, 1988b) and Lu (1989), however, little else has been published. There are a number of Uranium series dates from the cave which range from 310,000 to 200,000 years. Lu (1989) argued that layer 7 where the hominid fossils were found was dated to approximately 280,000 years. Research by Huang and You (1987)and Chen et al. (1994) indicates a date of closer to 200,000 might be more appropriate.

The skeleton consists of a skull, left ulna, left innominate, 6 vertebrae, ribs and numerous bones of the hands and feet. The cranium was originally in one piece but was unfortunately damaged during excavation. Reconstruction of the skull was undertaken at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing by Wu Rukang and his assistant Zhao Zongyi (Wu, 1988). This reconstruction was subsequently altered after the skeleton was returned to the Archaeology Department of Peking University. Both the vault and facial skeleton are heavily reconstructed, with extensive bone loss in the frontal, parietal and occipital regions.

   

Similar to Dali, Jinniushan has a combination of Homo erectus and H. sapiens anatomical features. An endocranial volume of approximately 1400 cc, combined with relatively thin cranial vault bone, some parietal expansion, rounding of the occipital region, the position of maximum cranial breadth, and overall facial morphology have resulted in Jinniushan being allotted to archaic Homo sapiens. Compared with Dali the brow ridges are less robust and not thickened mid-orbit, the supraorbital sulcus is shallower but there is greater post-orbital constriction. Jinniushan has a median frontal ridge which extends on to the parietals. Like Dali the mastoid process is small. The occipital and nuchal planes do not meet at as sharp an angle as in Dali and the occipital torus is not particularly robust. The posterior profile of the parietals is similar to Dali, as is the location of maximum cranial breadth. Derived traits, similar to H. sapiens, are apparent in the relatively delicate facial skeleton.

While anterior tooth wear is marked there is relatively little wear on the molar teeth. Comparison with prehistoric Australian dentitions suggest that Jinniushan was a young adult, 16 to 20 years of age, but this would depend upon broadly similar rates of tooth wear. Lu's (1989) age estimate of around 20 years is probably closer than Wu's (1988) estimate of 30.

Recently there has been a tendency to link a group of Chinese hominin fossils, including Jinniushan, Xujiayao, Dali, and Maba, previously considered by some researchers to be "archaic Homo sapiens", with the Denisovians (Reich et al. 2010) (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7327/full/nature09710.html). However, apart from a few teeth, the Denisovians are only known from palaeo DNA. There is also a great deal of anatomical variation in the Chinese "archaic Homo sapiens" group. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next decade, or so.

Access to Jinniushan

Research workers interested in access to Jinniushan must write to Professor Lu Zun'e, Archaeology Department, Peking University (Beida), Beijing, China.

References

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

Huang W, and You Y (1987) On the problem of the karst cave and the deposits of the site of Jinniushan man. Carsologica Sinica 6:61-67.

Lu Z (1989) Date of Jinniushan man and his position in human evolution. Liaohai Wenwu Xuekan 1:44-55.

Reich D, Green RE, Kircher M, Krause J, Patterson N, Durand EY, Viola B, Briggs AW, Stenzel U, Johnson PLF et al. . 2010. Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature 468(7327):1053-1060.

Wu R-K (1988a) The reconstruction of the fossil human skull from Jinniushan, Yinkou, Liaoning Province and its main features. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 7:97-101.

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