PNAS July 7th, 2009
We report here on the isotopic analysis of the diet of one of the oldest modern humans found in Eurasia, the Tianyuan 1 early modern human dating to ≈40,000 calendar years ago from Tianyuan Cave (Tianyuandong) in the Zhoukoudian region of China. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of the human and associated faunal remains indicate a diet high in animal protein, and the high nitrogen isotope values suggest the consumption of freshwater fish. To confirm this inference, we measured the sulfur isotope values of terrestrial and freshwater animals around the Zhoukoudian area and of the Tianyuan 1 human, which also support the interpretation of a substantial portion of the diet from freshwater fish. This analysis provides the direct evidence for the consumption of aquatic resources by early modern humans in China and has implications for early modern human subsistence and demography.
Understanding human adaptations to the environment and specifically their subsistence strategies is a key part of determining the processes and nature of human evolution. In particular, the position of the Tianyuan 1 human fossil remains as one of the oldest marine isotope stage (MIS) 3 modern humans in Eurasia (1, 2) poses the question of whether there might have been changes in human dietary spectra and emphasis associated with the spread of modern human biology. There have been suggestions, based on European faunal assemblages and inferred from technological changes associated with the emergence of the Upper Paleolithic, that there was a shift in human predatory abilities and associated changes in diet. At the same time, carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of both late archaic humans (Neandertals) and Upper Paleolithic early modern humans in Europe (3, 4), as well as analyses of small animal remains (5), have suggested that there was a shift to a broader dietary spectrum around the time of, or shortly after, the spread of modern humans, probably including greater emphasis on aquatic resources. Yet, analyses of western Eurasian archeological faunal remains (6, 7), organic residues (8), and human functional anatomy (9) have suggested little change in human diet or predation before the Mid Upper Paleolithic.
In eastern Eurasia, the nature of any human dietary changes that might have been associated with the emergence of modern humans is still unclear. There is evidence for human predation on and processing of medium and large ungulates at Xujiayao, Zhoukoudian-Upper Cave and Tianyuan Cave (10–12). The Zhoukoudian-Upper Cave deposits yielded the remains of freshwater carp (Cyprinus and Ctenopharygodon), plus Arca shells (10), and a bone harpoon point from Xiaogushan may be of a similar age (13, 14). There has been some discussion of human subsistence strategies in China during the Late Pleistocene based on the changes of lithic technology (15, 16). For example, Chen (15) suggested that there were at least 4 different human adaptive strategies in north China (Shuidonggou, Siyu, Upper Cave-Dongfang Plaza-Xiaonanhai, and Xiaogushan). Further away, Niah Cave in peninsular southeast Asia provides indications of changes in dietary breadth from the same age as Tianyuan Cave Layer III (17).
Discussion and Conclusion:
Carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotope analyses of bones from the Tianyuan 1 early modern human and the associated animals in Tianyuan Cave and the Donghulin site indicate that the human most likely obtained a substantial portion of its protein from a freshwater ecosystem, probably from freshwater fish. These data provide the earliest direct evidence of significant freshwater food exploitation by modern humans in Eurasia, even though it has been suggested (3, 4) that it may have occurred at approximately the same time period in Europe based on the relatively high δ15N values of some early Upper Paleolithic humans.
DNA analysis of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave, China
Qiaomei Fu, Matthias Meyer, Xing Gao, Udo Stenzel, Hernán A. Burbano, Janet Kelso, Svante Pääbo
PNAS January 22, 2012
A "Copernican" reassessment of the human mitochondrial DNA tree from its root
Behar DM, van Oven M, Rosset S, Metspalu M, Logväli EL, Silva NM, Kivisild T, Torroni A, Villems R
Am J Hum Genet. 2012 Apr 6
The Structure of Diversity within New World Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups: Implications for the Prehistory of North America
Ripan S. Malhi, Jason A. Eshleman, Jonathan A. Greenberg, Deborah A. Weiss, Beth A. Schultz Shook, Frederika A. Kaestle, Joseph G. Lorenz, Brian M. Kemp, John R. Johnson, David Glenn Smith
Am J Hum Genet. 2002 July