Traditionally, one of the primary problems hindering a better understanding of the “origin of modern humans” debate is the paucity of information coming out of eastern Asia. Here, we report a set of hominin fossils from Ryonggok, a late Pleistocene cave site located in the paleoanthropologically poorly known region of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Ryonggok is best known for the presence of vertebrate fossils that represent the remains of at least five individuals. We focus our study on the two fairly well-preserved crania—#3 and #7—and analyze published dental metric data. The primary conclusion we draw from this study is that Ryonggok #3 and #7, while retaining some archaic characteristics, likely represent early modern humans. Because the earliest cultural deposits in Ryonggok appear to date to older than 40,000 years ago, it is likely that these remains may be part of the earliest dispersals of early modern humans into the area. An alternative scenario is that this is evidence of some degree of admixture between indigenous mid-Pleistocene Homo or possibly a late appearing Homo erectus and new modern human migrants to the region. Further study is necessary to determine which of these two scenarios best fits the Korean record. In addition, we present additional linear metric cranial and mandibular data for difficult-to-access North Korean fossils (e.g., Ryonggok, Mandalli, Seungrisan, Geumchun).


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pp. 31-57
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