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2 September 2012
China excavations show initial appearance of the late Palaeolithic

Many behavioural and technological innovations appear in the archaeological record of Eurasia between about 45,000 and 24,000 years ago. This period has been termed the 'initial Upper Palaeolithic' and is largely associated with movements of modern humans into that part of the world.
     Palaeolithic cultural development in eastern Asia is generally thought significantly different from that of the western Old World. In particular, the Chinese Palaeolithic was dominated by simple core and flake tool industries, and Middle Palaeolithic technologies were absent or appear very late in the record. Nevertheless, major technological and cultural changes did occur in the northern China about 30,000 to 27,000 years ago, termed the 'initial Late Palaeolithic'.
     Shuidonggou, a series of localities that date from the initial Late Palaeolithic to the Neolithic, is presently the most important site complex for the initial Late Palaeolithic in northern China. In a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, an international research team report findings from a multidisciplinary research project at the complex, led by Doctors GAO Xin and PEI Shuwen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
     Since 2002, the program focused on geomorphology, excavation, and dating of the complex, covering an area of over 50 square kilometres. Six new Palaeolithic sites were discovered. Large scale excavations were conducted at five of the sites, and more than 50,000 Palaeolithic stone artefacts recovered. The assemblages include blades and micro-blades, large numbers of vertebrate fossils, some ostrich eggshell beads, hearths, pigments and bone tools.
     The data suggests there were two peaks of occupation falling around 32,000 to 24,000, and 13,000 to 11,000 years ago. "The earliest human occupation at Shuidonggou is substantially younger than in the initial Upper Palaeolithic from western Eurasia. Thus, it is quite plausible that modern humans migrated into northern China from western Eurasia during this time period", says PEI Shuwen, first author of the study.
     "The SDG9 site suggests an abrupt appearance of blade technology about 29,000 years ago, likely coinciding with the eastward movement of modern human populations into the region", said GAO Xin, coauthor of the study.

Edited from PhysOrg (20 August 2012)

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