Manlike jaw fossils found in central China and tentatively dated to 2 million years ago, are believed to be the oldest evidence of an ancestor to modern man discovered in the country, Chinese scientists said Saturday.

The fossils would be 300,000 years older than the current earliest evidence of man-like inhabitants of China and 1.3 million years older than the famed "Peking Man."A research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Paleontology and Paleoanthropology made the estimate after a preliminary examination of fossils first located in 1985 and 1986 at a dig site near the Yangtze River in central China.

Huang Wanpo, the team leader, said in a telephone interview that the dating was not yet conclusive, but researchers believed the fossils, including a tooth and partial jawbone holding two molars, represent an ancestor of modern man that lived 2 million years ago.

Researchers have been working since 1984 at the excavation site, near Damiao, in the eastern tip of Sichuan Province in the Yangtze River's "Three Gorges" region, 1,200 miles southwest of Beijing.

Huang said some of the fossils currently are in Beijing and the remainder are in the Sichuan city of Chongqing, but that all the material would be brought to his institute next month for further study.

If the fossils prove to be as old as believed, they would date back the evidence of ape-like ancestors to modern man in China some 300,000 years before the so-called "Yuanmou Man," named for the area where its teeth specimens were found in May 1965.

Those specimens were discovered in the southwest province of Yunnan, in Yuanmou county northwest of the provincial capital, Kunming. They were determined in the mid-1970s to be 1.7 million years old.

Chinese researchers have previously found evidence of apes dating as long ago as 10 million years. But "Yuanmou Man" has been classed as a very early form of Homo Erectus, the species in human evolution that preceded Homo Sapiens, or modern man.

Before that discovery, the earliest Homo Erectus specimens had been that of "Peking Man," which lived as early as 700,000 years ago on the southern edge of China's northeastern plain.