Up to now, studies have focused on determining when the first modern human arrived in China, but there has been hardly any research into the dynamics of this settlement. A joint paper by institutions from China, Spain and the United Kingdom proposes that, given its size and biogeographical diversity, China would have received migrations by Homo sapiens from both north and south, with hardly any overlap between them.

The researchers suggest in the journal Quaternary International that the arrival of modern humans in continental Asia was the result of at least two processes. The first took place 80,000 years ago at the latest, and consisted of the arrival of the first populations of Homo sapiens on the Asian continent through Arabia, passing through India, to Southeast Asia and, finally, Australia. In the second process, around 45,000 years ago, populations of H. sapiens would have arrived from the North through Central Asia, Siberia and Mongolia, and these were the people who would eventually populate North America and Japan.

"In addition to this complex scenario, there is also the diversity of human populations already inhabiting Asia before we arrived," says the paleontologist María Martinón-Torres, director of the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), who conducted the study together with José María Bermúdez de Castro, coordinator of the CENIEH Paleobiology Program, and researchers from the University of Exeter and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing.

Robin Dennell et al. A demographic history of Late Pleistocene China, Quaternary International (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2020.03.01

This paper proposes a demographic history of China in the last glacial cycle. This history is complex because China lies in both the Palearctic and Oriental biographic realms, and experienced several immigration events before H. sapiens. Immigration by our species into the Oriental Realm of south China from southeast Asia probably began as early as 80,000 years ago. North China has a different history: here, humans immigrated from Mongolia and southern Siberia ca. 45,000 years ago as part of a cold-adapted Palearctic fauna. These populations were largely independent of one another, and each needs to be seen as part of their respective biogeographic realms. The subsequent demographic history of China is one of mixing and inter-breeding of populations from both north and south China. In the LGM, north China (and Mongolia) were largely depopulated, and subsequent recolonization of north China occurred from both the north and the south. Explanations of the demographic history of China have to include developments beyond its borders, immigration, assimilation of new populations, and continuity of local groups.

Keywords: Demography, China, Late palaeolithic, Oriental realm, Palearctic realm, Immigration