Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chinese palaeolithic finds show distinctive development patterns

The Bahe River valley of central China is regarded as one of the most important hominin sites from the late Early Pleistocene to Middle Pleistocene. Homo erectus fossils were unearthed at the Gongwangling and Chenjiawo localities, and more than 30 Palaeolithic open-air sites were investigated in the 1960s in this region. However the age, features and assemblages of stone tools collected from the Lantian region were not well understood.

New research and new sites

Dr. Wang Shejiang from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and fellow researchers discovered eight new Palaeolithic open-air sites and collected 770 lithic artefacts between 2009 to 2011 in the Lantian area of the Bahe River valley.  According to a paper published in Chinese Science Bulletin 59(7), it is the first time that Acheulian-type large cutting tools from the late Pleistocene have been identified in this region. This study distinguishes age gaps between the Western world and East Asian Acheulian-type tools.

These eight newly discovered open-air sites are located on terraces of the Bahe River. The Diaozhai section on the second terrace was examined in detail and two samples were collected for optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL). The OSL results suggest that a buried lithic artefact layer at the Diaozhai site spans a period of 40,000 years from approximately 70 to 30,000 years ago.

This new dating of artefact scatters, helps to better understand the Palaeolithic sequence and chronology of Homo erectus in the Lantian region, and accordingly extends the date range of early hominins’ activity from the Early and Middle Pleistocene to the later period of the Late Pleistocene.

The lithic assemblage analysis suggests that the stone artefacts were made of local pebbles/cobbles such as greywacke, quartz, sandstone and igneous rocks. The main percussion techniques that were used were direct hard hammer and bi-polar. The artefacts comprise hammer stones, cores, flakes, retouched tools and flaking debris. Acheulian-type large cutting tools such as hand-axes, picks and cleavers were identified in the Lantian region as well.

A divergent tradition

According to current archaeological research, the Acheulian complex originates in Africa approximately 1.7 million years ago and spreads to both Europe and Asia with the dispersal of Homo erectus, lasting until approximately 0.2 million years ago with the advent of Homo sapiens and the replacement by the Mousterian complex and associated blade technologies.

“Our new discoveries of hand-axes, picks and cleavers indicate that the Acheulian large cutting tools in the Lantian region lasted until the Late Pleistocene, which suggests that the Palaeolithic industry in East Asia had its own distinctive development pattern that perhaps differed from western Palaeolithic industry in terms of chronology,” said Wang Shejiang, lead author of the study.

He explains, “when the transition from the Acheulian complex to the Middle Stone Age (MSA) was accomplished and blade technology finally appeared with the emergence of modern humans in Africa and Europe, the Acheulian complex, including hand-axes, cleavers and picks continued in the Qinling Mountains area and, of course, in East Asia.“

Therefore, this new discovery in the Lantian region can be considered valuable for several reasons, including; identifying Palaeolithic industry characteristics in East Asia; the ability to compare between the west and east in terms of Palaeolithic culture; and finally a potential to re-examine behavioural technologies concerning modern human origins in East Asia.

Past Horizons. 2014. “Chinese palaeolithic finds show distinctive development patterns”. Past Horizons. Posted: June 3, 2014. Available online:

No comments: