Category Archives: Laos

Laos inhabited by H. sapiens since maybe 56,000 years ago?

Just a quick note because I really could not find too much.
I just read at a very succint note at Science Daily that:

Researchers have discovered the oldest known human remains in Southeast Asia, a partial human skull dating to at least 40,000 years ago. Excavations at Tam Pa Ling cave in northern Laos produced a dozen pieces from a Stone Age person’s skull, including a skullcap and a lower jaw, anthropologist Laura Shackelford of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported April 14. Small front teeth, a rounded brain case and other traits identify the reassembled fossil as a modern Homo sapiens, Shackelford said. The find supports proposals that at least some human migrations out of Africa around 100,000 years ago followed a southern route that led to Southeast Asia.

Nothing more of relevance. I could find a paper (ppv) by Dr. Shackleford on Laos but it discusses another cave and much more recent dates (c. 15 Ka ago).
On the other hand I found a paper on another Laotian cave by different authors which mentions undefined human presence c.56 Ka ago:
Valéry Zeitoun et al, Multi-millennial occupation in northwestern Laos: Preliminary results of excavations at the Ngeubhinh Mouxeu rock-shelter. Comptes Rendus Palevol 2011. Pay per view.

With over half a century of political instability, resulting from armed conflicts, decolonisation and the Cold War, archaeological investigations in Laos have been rare, leaving little more than a blank page in the chapter of Southeast Asia’s prehistory. Recent research has shown that Laos holds a rich prehistoric heritage. In conjunction with the research initiated by J. White who conducted the first professional archaeological survey of northern Laos since decades, we have extended the investigations to the Luang Namtha province. This work allowed us to gather important data about Hoabinhian stone tool assemblages and former cultures. In particular, the archaeological remains and dating from the Ngeubhinh Mouxeu rock-shelter indicate that this mountainous region of Laos has been inhabited over a long period of time that possibly spans as far back as 56,000 ± 3000 BP.
While, by the moment, I ignore many details, I believe it is very interesting to mention as the early colonization of SE Asia by our species is still not well understood (and yet may be critical to understand all, or at the very least much, of Eurasian, plus aboriginal Australasian and American origins).
With due caution, I think we can infer from these and other less direct (Indian and Arabian archaeology) or more controversial materials (Liujiang skull, Luzon foot bone, speculations about very early colonization of Australia) that the colonization of SE Asia by our kind can be traced to at least that date of 56 Ka ago, probably even earlier.

Update (Aug 21): see this newer entry.


Laotian genetics (mtDNA)

Laos is a state of Indochina Peninsula (also mainland SE Asia) hosting a huge ethnic diversity. As many as 49 ethnic groups are acknowledged nowadays, often divided into lowland (Lao and others, mostly of Kradai languages), midland (Mon-Khmer and others of mostly Austroasiatic languages) and highland peoples (Hmong and others of Hmong-Mien and Tibeto-Burman languages).
As far as I know the genetics of this part of the World had not been explored in until now:
Fig. 3 – PCA

I’ll excerpt some of the paper’s most interesting insights here:

Major haplogroups and macrohaplogroup structure:

The most prevalent haplogroups were B5a (12%), F1a1a (7.5%), C7 and M7b1 (6% each).
Macrohaplogroup N (including haplogroups A, B, F, N and R) comprised 57% of the samples in 37 haplogroups. 26% of the samples were assigned to haplogroup B, almost equally to B4 and B5. 26 out of the 27 haplogroup B5 samples were found to be haplogroup B5a. 22% of the samples belonged to haplogroup F, of which 79% belonged to F1a and its subhaplogroups.
Macrohaplogroup M (including haplogroups C, D, G and M) comprised 43% in 27 haplogroups. 32% of the samples belonged to haplogroup M, distributed among ten subhaplogroups. 25% of the M samples, however, remained M*. No maternal west Eurasian or African admixture was detected.
The recently described haplogroup M71 was diverse in the Laos sample.

Characteristics of Laotians and some control populations:

The Laos sample showed mtDNA diversity characteristic of Southeast Asian populations. The composition of haplogroups was in agreement with other populations from this region [3- 7,12,17,23-25,35], with haplogroups B4a, B5a, M7b1, F1a and R9 being the most frequent southern aboriginal lineages.
Little Northern contribution was detected. The presence of haplogroups described as Northern (East) Asian [4,6,7,25,36], i.e. A, Z, Y, C, M8a, M9, G2, D and N9, was low in the Laos dataset.
Obviously, the Han population samples did not cluster in the correspondence analysis. Although assigned to the same nationality, they are distant from each other genetically.
It was also meaningful to separate the Hmong and Mien population samples [5], that are usually combined based on linguistics, as they differ genetically (see Figure 4).

Fast post-OoA migration confirmed:

… the novel basal M haplogroups found in high diversity in the Laos sample and surrounding populations support the fast migration and in situ differentiation model (see Figure 3).

In spite of language Laotians are closest to Austroasiatics than Daics:

An interesting picture was revealed (see Additional Files 6, 7 and 8, Figure 4): the ethnic population with the highest similarity to the Laos sample in terms of shared haplotypes, MPD, pairwise FST values and localization in the MDS plot were the Austro-Asiatic [3]. This was unexpected…

… unexpected probably because the assumptions of the authors about the recent demographic history of the region (full of mass migrations towards the mountaintops – what?!) just do not seem to make much sense.


Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Laos, mtDNA, out of Africa, population genetics, SE Asia