Acta Anthropologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (03): 362-372.doi: 10.16359/j.cnki.cn11-1963/q.2019.0033

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Bone needles in China and their implications for Late Pleistocene hominin dispersals

Luc DOYON1,2,*()   

  1. 1. Institute of Cultural Heritage, Shandong University, Jinan 250100, China
    2. CNRS UMR5199 - PACEA, Université de Bordeaux, Pessac 33615, France
  • Received:2018-12-17 Revised:2019-05-28 Online:2019-08-15 Published:2020-09-10
  • Contact: Luc DOYON


In a recent article, a team of Chinese, French, Canadian, and Czech researchers led by d’Errico suggested the earliest bone needles were manufactured in Siberia and northern China, and were invented independently in both regions. Here, the Chinese archaeological record is reviewed to provide more details on this claim. The occurrence of this tool type is correlated with the associated lithic technologies and the environmental conditions in order to investigate the dispersal events that took place during the second half of the Late Pleistocene. The review suggests the manufacture of needles represents an indigenous innovation that appears in northern China circa 31 kaBP on the onset of the Chinese Late Palaeolithic alongside stone tools attributed to the core-and-flake technology. As of 25 kaBP, a new form of needle is introduced in the archaeological record. These needles are flat and they appear with stone tools attributed to the microblade technology. This evidence likely signals the migration of a populations bringing with them blade technologies from western Eurasia. At the end of the Pleistocene, bone needles are more diversified, which suggests they were used in a variety of tasks. During the late-Tardiglacial, bone needles are found in northern China both in contexts that yielded microblade technology as well as core-and-flake technology with ceramic. In southern China, the first bone needles appear alongside core-and-flake technology around 12 kaBP. The first appearance of this tool type in southern China could either be the result of a convergent innovation or the southward migration of prehistoric populations that lived in northern China prior to the Last Glacial Maximum. South of the Yangzi river, bone needles are manufactured at the end of the Pleistocene in contexts attributed to the core-and-flake technology with ceramic. The presence of the same toolkit in both northern and southern China at the end of the Pleistocene, i.e., core-and-flake technology with ceramic and bone needles, raises the question of potential long-distance population movements and cultural influences across North and South China at the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene.

Key words: Bone Tools, Eyed Needles, Chinese Late Palaeolithic, Cultural Innovations, MIS 2, Last Glacial Maximum

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