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. 2019 May 29;14(5):e0216433.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216433. eCollection 2019.

Heading North: Late Pleistocene Environments and Human Dispersals in Central and Eastern Asia

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Free PMC article

Heading North: Late Pleistocene Environments and Human Dispersals in Central and Eastern Asia

Feng Li et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

The adaptability of our species, as revealed by the geographic routes and palaeoenvironmental contexts of human dispersal beyond Africa, is a prominent topic in archaeology and palaeoanthropology. Northern and Central Asia have largely been neglected as it has been assumed that the deserts and mountain ranges of these regions acted as 'barriers', forcing human populations to arc north into temperate and arctic Siberia. Here, we test this proposition by constructing Least Cost Path models of human dispersal under glacial and interstadial conditions between prominent archaeological sites in Central and East Asia. Incorporating information from palaeoclimatic, palaeolake, and archaeological data, we demonstrate that regions such as the Gobi Desert and the Altai Mountain chains could have periodically acted as corridors and routes for human dispersals and framing biological interactions between hominin populations. Review of the archaeological datasets in these regions indicates the necessity of wide-scale archaeological survey and excavations in many poorly documented parts of Eurasia. We argue that such work is likely to highlight the 'northern routes' of human dispersal as variable, yet crucial, foci for understanding the extreme adaptive plasticity characteristic of the emergence of Homo sapiens as a global species, as well as the cultural and biological hybridization of the diverse hominin species present in Asia during the Late Pleistocene.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Figures

Fig 1
Fig 1
(A) Map of Initial Upper Palaeolithic (IUP), Middle Palaeolithic (MP) and core and flake archaeological sites, as well as sites containing Homo sapiens fossils across all the countries in Central and Northern Asia. (B) Map displaying the dispersal route suggested by Goebel’s [24] “Overland” hypothesis together with the all the known IUP sites in the region (S1 Table). Sites: 1. Anghilak cave, 2. Teshik Tash, 3. Khudji, 4. Obi-Rakhmat, 5. Shugnou, 6. Chagyrskaya, 7. Okladnikov, 8. Denisova, 9. Ust-Karakol, 10. Kara-Tenesh, 11. Kara-Bom, 12. Luotuoshi, 13. Tongtian Cave, 14. Gouxi, 15. Lenghu, 16. Heimahe 1, 17. Chikhen Agui, 18. Tsagaan Agui, 19. Tolbor 4, 20. Kharganyn Gol 5, 21. Orkhon 1 & 7, 22. Makarovo 4, 23. Kandabaevo, 24. Varvarina Gora, 25. Tolbaga, 26. Temple Canyon 1, 27. Shuidonggou 1, 27. Shuidonggou 2, 27. Shuidonggou 7, 28. Shuidonggou 9, 29. Fanjiagouwan (Salawusu), 29. Yangshugouwan (Salawusu), 30. TX08, 31. TX03, 32. Liujiacha, 33. GY03, 34. ZS08, 35. ZL05, 36. Shuangbuzi, 37. Shixiakou 2, 38. Xujiacheng, 39. Changweigou, 40. Gutougou, 41. Wulanmulun, 42. Yushuwan, 43. Shiyu, 44. Dingcun (7701), 45. Licunxigou, 46. Fuyihe (Xiachuan), 47. Beiyao, 48. Zhiji, 49. Tashuihe, 50. Laonainaimiao, 51. Huangdikou, 52. Longquandong, 53. Xiaonanhai, 54. Dangcheng (Shidie), 55. Xibamaying, 56. Jinsitai, 57. Tianyuandong, 58. Upper cave, 59. Wangfujing, 60. Zhuacun, 61. Huangniliang, 62. Dazhushan, 63. Xiaogushan, 64. Miaohoushan, 65. Xianrendong, 66. Shimenshan, 67. Zhoujiayoufang, 68. Yanjiagang, 69. Guxiangtun, 70. Shibazhan (75075), 71. Salkhit, 72. Ust’-Ishim. Base map raster is from naturalearthdata.com.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Illustrated dispersal routes from the results of the Least Cost Path analysis.
The three routes from the “wet” simulations and the single route from the “dry” simulation are presented together in conjunction with palaeoclimatic extents (glaciers and palaeolakes). Sites: 4. Obi-Rakhmat, 5. Shugnou, 8. Denisova, 9. Ust-Karakol, 10. Kara-Tenesh, 11. Kara-Bom, 12. Luotuoshi, 14. Gouxi, 15. Lenghu 1, 17. Chikhen Agui, 18. Tsagaan Agui, 19. Tolbor 4, 20. Kharganyn Gol 5, 21. Orkhon 1 & 7, 22. Makarovo 4, 23. Kandabaevo, 24. Varvarina Gora, 25. Tolbaga, 27. Shuidonggou 1, 28. Shuidonggou 9, 42. Yushuwan, 70. Shibazhan (75075). I. ‘Altai’ Route, II. ‘Tian Shan’ Route, III. ‘Tarim’ Route, IV. “Revised Overland’ Route. Base map raster is from naturalearthdata.com.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Comparison of climatic records and archaeology spanning the past 70,000 years.
(A) Orbitally tuned Lake Baikal biogenic silica record as a relative temperature proxy, due to insolation forcing [48]. (B,C) Modeled annual precipitation for Central Asia (B) and the East Asian Monsoon (C) [38]. (D,E) Timing of glacier advances for the Kyrgyz Tian Shan (D) [76] and the Altai (E) [50]. (F) Timing of wetter periods for the region of the Taklamakan Desert [51]. (G) Timing of archeological technologies grouped into three major categories: Middle Paleolithic (MP), Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP), and the core-flake technocomplex.
Fig 4
Fig 4
(A) Map of geographic features that guide or border the ‘Altai’ Route. (B) Map of geographic features that guide or border the ‘Tian Shan’ Route. The eastern part of the route after the Junggar Basin connects with the ‘Altai’ Route. (C) Map of geographic features that guide or border the ‘Tarim’ Route. The eastern part of the route after the Bei Mountains connects with the two other routes. Sites: 4. Obi-Rakhmat, 5. Shugnou, 8. Denisova, 9. Ust-Karakol, 10. Kara-Tenesh, 11. Kara-Bom, 12. Luotuoshi, 14. Gouxi, 15. Lenghu 1, 17. Chikhen Agui, 18. Tsagaan Agui, 19. Tolbor 4, 20. Kharganyn Gol 5, 21. Orkhon 1 & 7, 22. Makarovo 4, 23. Kandabaevo, 24. Varvarina Gora, 25. Tolbaga, 27. Shuidonggou 1, 28. Shuidonggou 9. Base map is HYDRO1K.

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Grant support

This study was funded by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (DE) to Nicole Boivin, Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences grant XDB26000000 to Feng Li, and Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences grant 2017102 to Feng Li. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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