An almost complete human skull dating back 80,000 to 100,000 years has been unearthed in central China, state media reported on Wednesday.
The skull, consisting of 16 pieces, was dug up last month after two years of excavation at a site in Xuchang in Henan province, the China Daily said.
The pieces were fossilised because they were buried near the mouth of a spring whose water had a high calcium content, the report said.
The People’s Daily newspaper said the skull was expected to provide “direct evidence” concerning the origins of human beings in east Asia, as very few human fossils dating back to about 100,000 years ago had ever been found outside Africa.
The skull, with protruding bones over the eye sockets and a small forehead, was "the greatest discovery in China after the Peking Man and Upper Cave Man skulls were found in Beijing early last century.”
However, experts said the importance of the discovery appeared to be over-stated in the reports. “It is far from the greatest judging from points such as the completeness, the time, and the significance of problems it can explain,” said Wu Xinzhi, a professor and academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“So far, it just can prove that there were human beings living in Henan about 80,000 to 100,000 years ago and the shape of their heads was roughly what the skull shows.”
Besides the skull, more than 30,000 animal fossils and stone and bone artifacts were found over the past two years in an area of 260 square metres, the report said.
The oldest human fossil found in China so far was a tooth unearthed in 1965 in Yuanmou county that dated back 1.7 million years, said Wu.