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When did modern humans first arrive in Asia? Skull pieces could hold clues. (+video)

An anatomically modern human skull uncovered in Laos's 'Cave of the Monkeys,' could shed light on human migration patterns out of Africa. 

Nat Geo Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells maps the history of human migration by analyzing the DNA of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
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Newfound pieces of human skull from "the Cave of the Monkeys" in Laos are the earliest skeletal evidence yet that humans once had an ancient, rapid migration to Asia.

Anatomically modern humans first arose about 200,000 years ago in Africa. When and how our lineage then dispersed out of Africa has long proven controversial.

Archaeological evidence and genetic data suggest that modern humans rapidly migrated out of Africa and into Southeast Asia by at least 60,000 years ago. However, complicating this notion is the notable absence of fossil evidence for modern human occupation in mainland Southeast Asia, likely because those bones do not survive well in the warm, tropical region.

Now a partial skull from Tam Pa Ling, "the Cave of the Monkeys" in northern Laos helps fill in this mysterious gap in the fossil record. [See Photos of "Monkey Cave" Fossils]

"Most surprising is the fact that we found anything at all," researcher Laura Lynn Shackelford, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Illinois, told LiveScience. "Most people didn't think we'd find anything in these caves, or even in the region where we're working in mainland Southeast Asia. But we're stubborn, gone where no one's really looked before, or at least in almost a century."

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