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Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene

Symp 153 Group Photo

Wenner-Gren Symposium #153
March 18-24, 2016
Tivoli Palacio de Seteais, Sintra, Portugal


PUBLICATION: in progress


Leslie Aiello (Wenner-Gren Foundation)
Maxime Aubert (Griffith University, Australia)
Christopher Bae, organizer (University of Hawai'i at Manoa, USA)
James Blinkhorn (Cambridge University, UK)
Knute Bretzke (University of Tubingen, Germany)
Alexandra Buzhilova (Moscow State University, Russia)
Fabrice Demeter (Musee de l'Homme, France)
Robin Dennell (University of Exeter, UK)
Katerina Douka, organizer (Oxford University, UK) 
Kelly Graf (Texas A&M University, USA)
Katerina Harvati (University of Tubingen, Germany)
Tom Higham (Oxford University, UK)
Yousuke Kaifu (National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan)
Andrey Krivoshapkin (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Russia)
Maria Martinon-Torres (University College London, UK)
Susan O'Connor (Australian National University, Australia)
Michael Petraglia, organizer (Oxford University, UK)
Adam Powell (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany)
Patrick Roberts, monitor (Oxford University, UK)
Martin Sikora (Natural History Museum of Denmark)
Youping Wang (Peking University, PR China)

Organizers' Statement

The identification of Neanderthals and Denisovans, along with growing fossil and archaeological evidence for the presence of modern humans in Asia earlier than originally thought, places the spotlight on the last 125,000 years. Exciting and new evidence in Asia is just beginning to rival in importance the better known paleoanthropological records of Europe and Africa. Hence, there is a need to critically examine, synthesize, and debate the Asian record from a multidisciplinary perspective, thereby contributing to human evolutionary studies in general.

The purpose of this symposium is to bring together a group of scholars who are investigating the evolutionary history of Asia from different disciplinary perspectives. The symposium will thus be multidisciplinary, assembling hominin paleontologists, archaeologists, geneticists, and geochronologists with active Asia-based research projects. In addition, leading specialists who are intimately familiar with the records of different parts of Asia are invited, thus ensuring the group is aware of the latest findings and allowing for a richer inter-regional comparison of human occupation history. The overall objective is to develop a deeper appreciation about the timing and nature of the spread of humans across Asia during the Late Pleistocene, placing particular emphasis on single or multiple waves of expansion. This is especially important in terms of understanding the potential interactions of various coeval hominin taxa who inhabited various sub-regions of Asia.

There are at least five broad ranging questions that we will focus on, discuss, and debate:

  •  What are the implications for an earlier dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and into Asia, and what role, if any, did behavioral innovations play in facilitating these dispersals
  • What happened when modern humans colonized new territories, e.g., did it lead to interbreeding among populations? Competitive exclusion followed by extinction?
  • What do modern and ancient DNA studies suggest regarding the timing and route modern humans took out of Africa and into Asia?  Do the hominin paleontological and archaeological studies support these models?
  • What is the importance/implication of a more eastward expansion of Neanderthals into Central Asia, and what shall we make of the recent Denisovan findings?
  • How do recent multidisciplinary findings force researchers to rethink the human evolutionary record of Asia and beyond?

It is time to re-examine the Late Pleistocene human evolutionary record of Asia. We anticipate that bringing together a diverse group of researchers will move the field forward and lead to new insights and set the tone for future research.