The Maba cranial vault fragment (PA 84) was discovered in 1958 during the collection of fertiliser at Shizishan cave, near Maba Village, in Guandong Province. Most often allocated to archaic Homo sapiens, Maba consists of several large fragments which can be articulated. There is a large part of the frontal and parietals, as well as most of the right orbit and nasal bones. Rodent gnawing has removed most of the left section of browridge and exposed the frontal sinus over both orbits. Maba was initially described by Wu and Pang (1959) and is further discussed in Wu (1988) and Wu and Poirier (1995). A uranium series date of 135,000 - 129,000 has been reported for Maba (Yuan et al., 1986) and Han and Xu (1989) describe the Late Pleistocene fauna which includes Stegodon orientalis and Ailuropoda.

   
   

Viewed laterally the Maba frontal has much greater curvature throughout its length than Zhoukoudian Homo erectus. The browridges are prominent, with a curved outline, but without pronounced thickening medially (glabella). In some respects browridge shape is similar to European Neandertals, for instance La Ferrassie. The reasonably complete right orbit has a circular profile. The superior orbital margin is smooth and rounded but the inferior lateral margin is sharp. The preserved orbital segment, nasal bones and fronto-maxillary pieces indicate that Maba was longer faced than either Dali or Jinniushan. While the nasal bones are narrow and pinched, the interorbital distance is relatively broad. There is a slight median ridge on the anterior third of the frontal, though it is more of a rounded boss. Superior temporal lines are neither particularly pronounced or high on the side of the vault. Despite reports to the contrary the antero-lateral surface of the of the right fronto-sphenoidal process of the zygomatic does not have a particularly forward (East Asian) orientation.Viewed superiorly there is marked postorbital constriction in combination with an inflated parietal region. Cranial vault bone thickness is similar to modern male East Asians and thinner than East Asian Homo erectus. Some dimensions of Maba are provided below.

Recently there has been a tendency to link a group of Chinese hominin fossils, including Maba, Xujiayao, Dali, and Jinniushan, previously considered by some researchers to be "archaic Homo sapiens", with the Denisovians (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 Maba

Maba is housed in the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, China. Research workers interested in access to Maba should write to Professor Wu Xinzhi, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Academia Sinica, PO Box 164, Beijing, Peoples Republic of China. The IVPP may also be able to provide a cast of Maba in exchange.

References

Han, D. and Xu, C. (1989). Quaternary mammalian faunas in south China. In R. Wu, X. Wu and S. Zhang (eds.): Early Humankind in China. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 338-391.

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. and Pang, R-C. (1959). Fossil human skull of early Paleoanthropic stage found at Mapa, Shaoquan, Kwantung Province. Vertebrata Palasiatica 3:176-182.

Wu, X. and Poirier, F. E. (1995) Human evolution in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Yuan, S., Chen, T. and Gao, S. (1986). Uranium series chronological sequence of some Paleolithic sites in south China. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 5:179-190.

Table 1. Dimensions of Maba

nasion-bregma 116.0
frontal arc 134.0
bregma-lamba 107.0
parietal arc 114.0
orbital breadth 44.5
orbital height 39.0
interorbital breadth 21.0
thickness at bregma 6.3
thickness at vertex 5.7
thickness at lambda 8.6
thickness at parietal eminence 6.4