The ancient cultural practice of cranial modification is widely distributed throughout the world. It has a highly symbolic visual feature and is related to various societal aspects such as hierarchy, status, aesthetics and religion. Cranial modification can also be considered a result of infant-rearing behaviors in ancient times. The earliest clue to cranial modification in China came from the Paleolithic, but it was not until the Neolithic that it became a widespread cultural practice later flourishing. Cranial modification in prehistoric China is classified into tabular-annular modification system and occipital modification system. Both originating locally, these two systems have different appearances, distributional ranges, and developmental processes. Tabular-annular modification, originated in northern Northeast China, exhibits prominent cosmetic features and requires complex technology. It is considered to be the earliest known conscious cranial modification practice and may have continued into the historic period. The origin of this tabular-annular modification may be correlated with unique geographic and environmental resources of Northeast China along with a growing complexity of gathering-fishing-hunting society, a gender division of labor, and the hierarchical differentiation existent in a transitional phase from Paleolithic to Neolithic. Occipital modification, centered in the Yellow River basin, is characterized with less pronounced modifications and probably required simpler techniques. It was once widely popular in the late and final Neolithic. Occipital modification may derive from behaviors of infant-rearing in northern agricultural societies and gradually evolved into a conscious cultural practice. Its decline at the end of the Neolithic and eventual disappearance after the Bronze Age was closely connected to societal changes occurring during the Late Neolithic, especially in the Longshan-Erlitou cultures. Both tabular-annular and occipital modification systems vary in skull morphology and measurement data suggesting that modification tools, techniques, and procedures were diverse. Existing studies on cranial modification are dominated by qualitative descriptions, with detailed observation and more systematic measurements necessary for future studies, as well as more refined archaeological contextual information.
The Baixigou site is located on the secondary terrace of Sanggan River in Yangyuan County, Hebei Province. A salvage archaeological excavation of an area of 4 m2 in 2017 revealed a cultural layer of 6 cm thick, from which 991 artifacts were unearthed including 684 lithics and 307 animal bones. With a single cultural layer and thin accumulation, the Baixigou site has hardly been disturbed during its formation process. Artifacts are densely distributed around a hearth, including microblade products, flake tools, animal bones, ostrich eggshell beads and possible pigments. Different types of stone tools were made with specific raw materials, indicating that exploitation of raw materials was well-planned and systematic. The technology of wedge-shaped cores is close to the Yubetsu method where humans applied this technique skillfully and simplified core preparation procedure in consideration of blank characteristics. Chipped stones are most likely to be by-products of microblade production, of which 19 groups were refitted. There were only three tools, including one scraper and two adzes, but they are exquisite and reflect a trend towards standardization and craft specialization. Preliminary dating shows that the site was occupied around 17 kaBP. From the perspective of a forager-collector model, the Baixigou site is similar to a temporary field camp with a logistic mobility strategy. Activities carried out here are low-intensity, and thus few lithics have been used. Specialized tools such as adzes may reflect a connection between a residential camp and a more permanent field camp. To be specific, in addition to providing necessary tools for groups in the temporary field camp to reduce risk and maintain high mobility, groups in the residential camp provided specialized tools that met the needs of field camp. As a result, specialized tools are found in both types of camps. A significant number of microblade have been unearthed from the Nihewan Basin that shows a three-stage change corresponding to emergence, spread and gradual fading of microblade technology (i.e., early stage before and during Last Glacial Maximum; middle stage from post-LGM to pre-Holocene; and late stage during early Holocene). The process was consistent with climate fluctuations. Abundant archaeological remains indicate that group mobility of these hunter-gatherers slowly reduced with a tendency towards a more organized society.
The Yangshang site (220-140 kaBP) is a late Early Paleolithic locale in Gansu Province. A total of 1696 lithic artifacts and 337 faunal remains were recovered during 2013 excavations. This paper summarizes the lithic reduction technology by analyzing raw materials, morphology and technical attributes of cores and flakes unearthed from the site. The cultural and adaptive implications of the lithic reduction strategies are further investigated. The results show that core reduction is characterized by hard-hammer percussion including platform-migrating and discoid core exploitation methods. The combination of core and flake types and composition of raw materials did not change significantly throughout the site’s occupation, which indicates stability of Early Paleolithic cultural transmission on the Longxi Loess Plateau. The Yangshang lithic assemblage is dominated by vein quartz. This material’s macrocrystalline and developed-inner flaw characters had significant impact on core reduction and flake morphology as the fragility and unpredictability of this material make it difficult to control core reduction process. As a result, core exploitation at Yangshang was a fairly opportunistic, migrating, platform strategy rather than focus on single platform preparation. Due to low workability of vein quartz for retouching and tool maintenance, retouch was only employed occasionally. Yangshang’s inhabitants may have preferred to produce a large quantity of flakes from which to select an edge with the appropriate form and angle for direct use.
In November 2021, an archaeological survey of Paleolithic sites in Ruzhou, Henan Province was conducted by a team led by the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and several other institutes. An open-air Paleolithic site was newly discovered due to clearance of a river course. After thorough survey and investigation, we found cultural remains from an area of 80,000 to 100,000 m2 with cultural deposits about 3 m thick. The stratigraphy of the site consisted of 4 layers (from top to bottom): Layer 1, modern disturbed layer; Layer 2, silty clay; Layer 3, cultural deposits including artifacts and fauna, and characterized by sandy gravel; and Layer 4, bedrock. A total of 148 stone artifacts were collected from sections of river course and deposits piled up when clearing up the river away, and include cores, flakes, hammerstones and retouched tools. Raw materials were mainly quartzite and andesite, probably selected from river gravels. Artifacts of a core-flake industry were often made on quartzite, whereas large flakes used as blanks for large cutting tools (such as handaxes and cleavers) were usually made on andesite. Flake-cores play a prominent role in cores, and discoidal cores exist. Hard-hammer percussion was more common than bipolar percussion. Flakes were generally large to medium in size. Giant to large flakes were produced from cobble opening technology and bifacial core technology. Retouched tools included scrapers, points, choppers, handaxes, cleavers, picks, large knives, spheroids. Technological analysis suggests that flake-tool production system based mainly on small flake blanked scrapers and a pebble-core industry based on pebble-made choppers that co-existed with a heavy-duty tool production system made on large flakes, especially Acheulean elements (handaxes, cleavers, picks and knives). The latter shows clear differences from those of Olduvai culture represented by core-flake tradition. According to results of 14C dating based on charcoal samples from the upper unit of Layer 3 (> 40ka) and U-series dating of an animal tooth from the lower unit of Layer 3 (64.8 kaBP), occupation of this site was Late Pleistocene, a crucial period of origins of early modern humans in China. The discovery of the Wenquan site shows clear evidence for an existence of Acheulean technology in Beiruhe River region, providing new clues and a regional perspective on research of dispersal of Acheulean techno-complex in central China.
The Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) is a chrono-cultural phase corresponding with the onset of systematic production of pointed blades in various regions in Eurasia. This phenomenon is often conceived to correlate with the MIS 3 modern human expansion. Originally defined after the site Boker Tachtit in the Negev Desert, Israel, the Levantine IUP is composed of two consecutive superimposed lithic industries. The lower, named Emiran, is characterized with bidirectional blade technology, whereas the upper industry with unidirectional blades. Until recently the chronology of Boker Tachtit was insecure but new radiometric ages have shown that the Emiran is contemporaneous with the local Late Mousterian, thus supporting the assumption of this industry being imported. Similar technological features and chronological proximities between Boker Tachtit and assemblages from the Nile Valley and southern Arabia suggest the early Boker Tachtit inhabitants may have originated from these regions. The Emiran industry developed in Boker Tachtit into a later variant, the unidirectional industry, but it also expanded northward to central Europe and north-central Asia. The later variant acted in a similar manner as it developed locally into the early Ahmarian techno-complex but also expanded into the northern Levant and the Balkans. It is proposed the IUP phase featured at least two dispersal events. The first is the expansion from the Nile Valley/Arabia to the Levant from where it expanded rapidly to central Europe and north-central Asia. The second dispersal occurred slightly later and began in the southern Levant from where it spread to the northern Levant and the Balkans.
In summer 2014, we excavated the Fuyihegeliang Locality Pit 3(named QX2014T3, 35°26′22′′N, 112°0′43′′E) for 6 m2 in area, which is an important locality of the Xiachuan site. There were 1036 stone artifacts recovered from the pit, with 853 pieces from the Lower Cultural Layer and 183 from the Upper Cultural Layer. The lower layer dated to 40~30 kaBP with the upper layer formed after 30 kaBP.
Exotic black flint was the predominant raw material, and included light-duty tools such as scrapers, pièces esquillées, denticulates, endscrapers and backed segments. In the Lower Cultural Layer, heavy-duty implements such as grinding tools, stone axes and adze-like tools were mostly of local quartz sandstone. There was also a small amount of agate and siliceous mudstone used.
The Lower Cultural Layer objects were formed directly from hard hammer percussion without prepared cores. Products lacked standardization. In the Upper Cultural Layer, pressure flaking was widely used in producing microblades and retouched tools.
Heavy-duty tools (stone axes and adze-like tools) were missing from the Upper Cultural Layer, which also showed different retouching methods. For example, endscapers were mostly processed by hard hammer in the Lower Cultural Layer, in contrast to pressure flaking of the Upper Cultural Layer.
In general, the cultural technology of these two layers was different. The Lower Culture Layer belonged to a simple core-flake technology with heavy-duty tools (stone axes, grinding tools, stone hammers) and light-duty tools (scrapers, notches, points, denticulates, pièces esquillées, endscrapers, spur-like tools, backed segments). The Upper Cultural Layer was mostly microblade technology, with burins, endscraper and pièces esquillées as the main tool types. These findings offer new materials for research of the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition and the emergence of microblade technology in China.
Here we report archaeological findings from the 2010 excavation of Helongdadong, an open-air site in the hinterland of the Changbaishan Mountains around 75 km east of the Changbaishan Tianchi volcano. Abundant lithic artefacts featured by blade and microblade technology were uncovered. Theses finding make Helongdadong one of the earliest evidence for microblade technology in Northeast China, and provides important insights into the emergence and spread of microblade technology in northeastern Asia.
Situated at the crossroads of Northeast China, the Korean Peninsula, and the Russian Far East, the Changbai Mountains show large quantities of lithic assemblages characterized by blade and microblade technology that plays a critical role in exploring emergence and spread of microblade technology and its relationship with climatic and environmental changes. Extensive utilization of obsidian and the toolkits themselves indicate a connection with other areas in northwest Asia. In the heart of the Changbai Mountains, the Helongdadong site (43°5′20.4″N, 128°57′20.9″E) is located on the third terrace of the left bank of the Tumen River, about 500 m north of Dadong village, Chongshan Town, Helong City, Jilin Province. It was discovered in 2007 and excavated in 2010. The deposits consist of seven layers with cultural remains from layers 1, 3, 4 and 5. From an area of 50 m2, a total of 1253 lithic artifacts, 47 unmodified gravels, and 3 animal bones were unearthed. Obsidian is the predominant raw material. The technology is characterized by blade and microblade reduction. Toolkits mainly include burins, endscrapers, scrapers, and bifacial points etc. of which burins and endscrapers are primary tool types and are highly standardized in shape. Partially polished stone tools discovered in Layer 4 constitute one of the earliest dated edge-polished stone tools in China. From Layer 4, the main cultural layer of Helongdadong, lithic artifacts are spatially concentrated, suggestive of an in-situ burial. The spatial distribution of the lithics also indicate human activity such as procurement, blank production, modification and tool manufacture. A radiocarbon date of 21350±120 (25900~25340 BP cal) was obtained for Layer 4, corresponding to the initial stage of the Last Glacial Maximum. Preliminary results of Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating further suggests that the dates of layers 5 and 4 were not earlier than 28 kaBP, and Layer 3 around 15 kaBP. The well-preserved, stratified and dated contexts of the site provide essential information for building a chronostratigraphic framework in the Changbai Mountains and make it possible to perform a comparative analysis of lithic technology in northwest Asia during the Upper Paleolithic.
From March to May 2021, the Sichuan Province Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and other institutions carried out an archaeological survey in a construction area of the southern Chengdu Plain where a new freeway from Tianfuxinqu via Meishan to Leshan is being built. A total of 12 Paleolithic localities were discovered, distributed in the 2nd to 4th terraces of the Minjiang River and the 2nd terrace of the ancient Qingyi River. One hundred lithics mostly from the surface were collected. Most of these artifacts are large and medium in size, and include cores(n=31), flakes(n=12), chunks(n=31) and retouched tools(n=26). More than ten raw materials were utilized for knapping, mainly collected as pebbles from nearby riverbeds or terraces. Quartz sandstone (36%) and quartzite (28%) were predominant. The flaking technique was direct hard hammer percussion without core preparation. Most of the flakes retained cortex on the butt and dorsal surface. Tools identified as choppers, handaxes, picks, cleavers, heavy-duty scrapers, scrapers and notch were mostly manufactured on flakes. Overall, the artifacts were similar to the main industry in South China, but with distinct regional characteristics and showing some similarities to the Acheulean Industry. According to stratigraphic comparisons and technical features of these lithics, the age of these newly discovered localities is around the late stage of Middle Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene.
In October 2020, an investigation along the Jinghe River valley in Shaanxi Province was carried out by the School of Cultural Heritage at Northwest University. A total of 15 localities were newly discovered in Changwu, Liquan and Jingyang counties. Almost 300 stone artifacts were buried in the 4th terrace of the right bank of the Jinghe River with some artifacts also surface collected. Raw materials were procured from gravels at the bottom of this terrace. High quality quartzite dominates the raw material. Almost all surface lithics were covered by a thin calcareous concretion. Most stone artifacts were manufactured by free hand hammer percussion, followed by bipolar technique. Technologically, the stone artifacts can be classified into cores, flakes and scrapers, etc. The lithic assemblage is assigned to the flake tool industry of North China, while centripetal exploitation cores, deeply modified scrapers and a high degree symmetry discoid show obvious advanced flaking technique. Judging from the artifacts buried in the Malan Loess (corresponding to MIS 3), the age of this early human occupation from the middle to lower reaches of the Jinghe River is no later than Late Pleistocene.
The life table method was the primary approach used in early phases of paleodemography work even though it attracted many sceptics. There are five major problems using this life table method. First, mistakes in estimating mortality rate was common in practice. In fact, the effect of the hypothesis of cohort often led to an unavailability of the mortality rate, which meant that could no data was obtained from archaeological sample. Second, the hypothesis of stationary or stable populations was another risk factor because of weak validity in real populations, although the hypothesis of stable populations looked more reasonable. Third, the use of model life tables was not appropriate because it specified a single mortality rate while eliminating other possibilities and reducing the value of research. Fourth, difficulties in age estimation of the human skeleton were challenging in obtaining data for the life table, including an unreliability of adult age estimation, an inability of older age estimations, and that generally that age estimation was an interval, not point, estimation. Fifth, flaws in sampling reduced representativeness of the sample of human skeletons and made sample sizes too small.
The value of life tables is that it can be used to exhibit death processes of past populations and to estimate life expectancy. Nowadays, the life table method tends to be dismissed in paleodemography, because it is a mathematical model of mortality rate, while age-at-death distribution (the only information about death provided by archaeological sample) is more likely to mirror fertility, not mortality. In recent years, the life table method has been replaced gradually by newer methods such as parametric models of mortality, specifically the hazard model as a widely recommended method. Other methods include the Cox proportional hazard model, the Kaplan-Meier survival analysis, and simulated annealing optimization. A way to promote paleodemography is to expand the research scale in time and space, which would not only avoid drawbacks of small-scale research, but also produce broader understanding of research questions.
Excavation reports are vital for the publication of original archaeological data. Comprehensive research on a site is often a time-consuming task, therefore timely publication of excavation reports becomes a priority to disseminate information about a site effectively. At present, there are relatively few reports on Paleolithic sites published as full monographs. And with increasing of diversity of researchers and their training, stylistic rules and contents of excavation reports on Paleolithic sites vary in terms of original information, which is not conducive to effective scholarly communication. This paper discusses a basic framework for preparing Paleolithic archaeological reports from the perspective of site and human behavioral research. This paper holds that the excavation report should publish basic information “from the surface to the inside” including at the minimum, geographical location; discovery, excavation and research history; geology; topographical land forms; excavation methods and procedures; site stratigraphy; age and paleoenvironment; excavated remains(including features and artifacts). Interpretation of human behavior should be added as a relatively independent part of the excavation report or should be published separately. An excavation report is foundation of archaeological research, but we are well aware that the report is not the ultimate goal in the science of archaeology. Researchers should expand the range and depth of their work and and focus on reporting original data. We hope that this paper promotes scholars to think more about the value of Paleolithic archaeological excavation report writing and its relationship to comprehensive research of a particular site and its environs, so as to achieve more timely and effective dissemination of Paleolithic information.