Acta Anthropologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (03): 436-453.doi: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2021.0040

Previous Articles     Next Articles

Human evolution of the Early and Middle Pleistocene in China and its relationship with climatic conditions

YANG Shixia1,2(), PEI Shuwen1,2, DENG Chenglong3,4   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100044
    2. Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100044
    3. State Key Laboratory of Lithospheric Evolution, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100029
    4. College of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049
  • Received:2020-11-13 Revised:2021-02-08 Online:2021-06-15 Published:2021-06-24


With on-going implementation of palaeoanthropological surveys and excavations, in China the Early and Middle Pleistocene hominin record is accumulating steadily. Although the dates and cultural attributes of some sites are controversial, increasing information allows for the assessment of the effects of climate variability on archaeological site distributions and its influence on hominin behaviours. During the last one million years, there are two major changes in the climate regime, namely the Mid-Pleistocene climate transition(MPT) centered around 1.2-0.7 MaBP and the Mid-Brunhes event (MBE) around 0.4 MaBP. Here, we combine the fossil and archaeological data sets of the Early and Middle Pleistocene and subdivide them into four time frames, i.e., pre-MPT, MPT, pre-MBE and post-MBE. We examine archaeological site distributions across China to determine long-term geographic and behavioural effects on hominin populations before, during and after the two critical climatic events. Changes in the geographic distribution of hominins are demonstrated across the MPT, with significant shifts in the number of sites in high and low latitudes. The appearance of Large Cutting Tools, and new innovations in small tool industries, are key technological changes documented during the MPT. Across the MBE, the distribution of hominins is more extensive in both high and low latitudes. In contrast to earlier periods, post-MBE sites witness significant technological developments, such as the introduction of new stone tool reduction techniques in some sites of Yunnan and Guizhou in South China and improved tool designs at sites such as Dali, in North China. Across the MBE, a series of human fossil evidence indicate that several hominin species may have co-existed as increased morphological diversity is indicated. The Qinling Mountain Range and its surrounding area, at the boundary of North and South China, contained the densest and most continuous human occupations throughout the Early to Middle Pleistocene. Geographic and behavioural shifts in the hominin record challenge traditional views about the long-term, conservative nature of the biological and cultural evolution of hominins in Eastern Asia, and instead demonstrate dynamic responses of populations to ecosystem changes across the Early and Middle Pleistocene.

Key words: Mid-Pleistocene Climate Transition, Mid-Brunhes Event, Human fossils, Lithic technology

CLC Number: