Tam Pà Ling Cave in the Annamite Mountain range in Northern Laos has recently provided groundbreaking insights into the timeline of human arrival in Southeast Asia.

Key findings made at Tam Pà Ling cave

  • The excavations revealed that humans were present in the vicinity of Tam Pà Ling Cave for roughly 56,000 years.
  • Contrary to earlier beliefs, the site’s sediment layers accumulated steadily over an estimated period of 86,000 years, rather than through rapid sedimentation events.
  • The age of the lowest fossils found at Tam Pà Ling cave suggests modern humans arrived in this region between 86,000 and 68,000 years ago.
  • This has pushed back the timing of Homo sapien’s arrival in Southeast Asia.
  • Moreover, a tooth, estimated to be 150,000 years old, was found in the Cave, linking it to the presence of Denisovans, an extinct human relative.

Dating methods used at the Tam Pà Ling cave

  • Luminescence dating: It is a technique that measures the last time crystalline materials, such as stones, were exposed to sunlight or heat. This technique mainly uses two minerals: quartz and feldspar.
  • Uranium series dating: It works by measuring uranium, and the elements into which it transforms via radioactive decay within the tooth.
  • Electron spin resonance dating: It relies on measuring the number of electrons in tooth enamel.
  • Micromorphology; Examines sediments under a microscope to assess the layers’ integrity containing the fossils.

About Tam Pà Ling Cave

  • Tam Pà Ling cave (Cave of the Monkeys) is a cave in the Annamite Mountains in northeastern Laos. It is situated at the top of Pa Hang Mountain.
  • It features a sloping structure formed by periodic slope wash deposition.
  • The stratigraphy of the site indicates formation by periodic slope wash deposition from the muddy slope at the entrance of the cave.
  • The cave is part of the Annamite Mountains, which straddle the Laos-Vietnam border.

Who are Denisovans?

  • Denisovans were an extinct group of hominins, or human relatives, known primarily from remains found in Siberia and Tibet.
  • They lived lakhs of years ago, coexisting with Neanderthals in some regions and interbreeding with early modern humans in some cases.
  • They were first identified as a separate species in 2010, following the discovery of a fragment of a finger bone and two teeth, dating back to about 40,000 years ago, in the Denisovan Cave in Siberia.

About Laos

  • Laos, officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country located in Southeast Asia.
  • It is bordered by Myanmar and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southeast, and Thailand to the west and southwest.
  • The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia is located on the banks of the Mekong River.
  • The geography of Laos is characterized by mountains, plateaus, and river valleys. The Mekong River, one of the longest rivers in the world, flows through the country.

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