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    Progress and prospects on osteological study of ancient human remains in China
    HE Jianing
    Acta Anthropologica Sinica    2021, 40 (02): 165-180.   DOI: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2021.0016
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    The osteological study of ancient human remains is an important part of physical anthropology, which has a history of more than one hundred years in China. Significant advances have been made in the last decade. In this paper, the progress of osteological study of Holocene human remains in China is reviewed.
    In the last ten years, the fields of research have expanded significantly, including population evolution history, paleopathology, skeletal abnormalities related to cultural customs, functional adaptation of long bones, paleodemography, body shape and size, climate adaptation, etc., and have accumulated many important physical data of ancient populations. The breadth and depth of the research have completely surpassed the situation that focused on ethnographic analysis in the last century.
    In addition to traditional methods based on metric and non-metric traits of skull and teeth, evolutionary quantitative genetic method has been introduced into regional population history study. There are also microevolutionary analysis of craniofacial morphologies on large spatial and temporal scale. Geometric morphometrics has proved to be of great value in the study of population history. In the study of paleopathology, there are some regional comparative researches focus on stress conditions, dental diseases, trauma, etc. Particular attention has been paid to the impact of social, cultural, and subsistence background on the pattern of disease. Biomechanics and geometric morphometrics have been used to analyze the long bone function, which provides important information for the reconstruction of activity patterns of past humans. New methods such as digital photography, micro-CT and 3D laser scanning, geometric morphology and morphometric maps have played an important role in supporting these progresses.
    Most studies highlight the significant advantages of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, which is also essential for the future study. However, there are still some fields to be explored in China, such as the osteological study of children, female and physical adaptation to the environment. Basic research of osteology also needs to be strengthened.

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    A methodological protocol for the analysis of Early Stone Age lithic assemblages
    Ignacio de la TORRE, Rafael MORA, PEI Shuwen, MA Dongdong
    Acta Anthropologica Sinica    2021, 40 (04): 547-567.   DOI: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2021.0046
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    This paper proposes an analytical protocol for the study of early Palaeolithic stone tools. Our proposal follows a macroscopic approach and therefore does not cover the equally-important analysis of microscopic traces. Also, it focuses on techno-typological attributes of pre-Middle Palaeolithic artefact, thus avoiding entering into the discussion of the techno-morphological and regional particularities inherent to the lithic record from the Middle Stone Age onwards. Given the overall similarities of technological solutions employed during the Early Stone Age lithic assemblages and their relative typological homogeneity across the Old World, we argue that using standardized protocols in the description of stone tool collections may improve comparability and help understanding global patterns of technological behaviour across the early Palaeolithic. From this perspective, this paper will review the main theoretical approaches to the study of Early Stone Age stone assemblages and will propose analytical perspectives and terminologies in the description of flaked, detached and pounded tools, as well in the study of refits and conventions in artefact measuring and illustration.

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    A review of Paleolithic raw material exploitation studies in China
    SHEN Xuke, LI Ting, ZHANG Dongju
    Acta Anthropologica Sinica    2023, 42 (02): 161-176.   DOI: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2023.0014
    Abstract683)   HTML449)    PDF(pc) (13606KB)(417)       Save

    As an important part of the lithic artifact manufacturing system, lithic raw materials exploitation reflects several attributes of prehistoric humans, including environmental cognition, resource exploitation, mobility patterns, and cultural exchanges. However, there were differences in these attributes between Africa and Western Eurasia: In the former, high-quality flint and obsidian are relatively abundant, whereas in East Asia the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers mainly exploited the locally ubiquitous vein quartz, quartzite, and ordinary chert to produce stone artifacts. This has resulted in a relatively small number of Paleolithic raw materials exploitation studies in East Asia. To better understand what is known about the lithic raw material exploitation strategies of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in China, here we review and summarize all previous related studies. We found that from the Lower Paleolithic to Upper Paleolithic periods, raw materials composition, source selection and exploitation methods changed substantially. During the Lower Paleolithic period, hunter-gatherers mainly exploited local vein quartz, quartzite and flint from riverbeds, bedrock outcrops and weathered outcrops near residential or camp sites. The quality of these raw materials was usually unexceptional, and the exploitation distances were generally within 10 km. During the Middle Paleolithic period, lithic raw material types increased in number and they varied between regions. Although the quality of these raw materials was also generally unexceptional, high-quality flint began to appear at some sites, albeit not in dominant proportions. Local procurement within 10 km still dominated during this period, while long-distance procurement occurred occasionally. The hunter-gatherers during this period clearly had an improved ability to recognize and utilize local raw materials, and they relied increasingly on high-quality raw materials. During the Upper Paleolithic period, the types of lithic raw materials increased greatly, and there was a marked decrease in the proportion of vein quartz and quartzite, and a significant increase in the proportion of high-quality raw materials, like flint, chalcedony, siliceous rock and volcanic tuff, and there was also the first appearance of obsidian. Long-distance procurement of high-quality raw materials in northern China became more common, but in southern China local procurement from riverbeds still dominated. The emergence of specialized raw material exploitation and lithic production workshop sites is another distinctive feature of this period. These temporal and spatial changes in Paleolithic raw material exploitation strategies in China were likely the result of multiple factors, including the mobility patterns of hunter-gatherers, advances in stone tool production technologies, and climate changes. In summary, the study of Paleolithic raw material exploitation strategy is critical for understanding human behavior, population interactions and migrations. Therefore, more intensive and systematic studies of Paleolithic raw materials exploitation in China are needed in the future.

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    Cranial modifications in prehistoric China
    HE Jianing, RAN Zhiyu
    Acta Anthropologica Sinica    2023, 42 (05): 575-589.   DOI: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2023.0054
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    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.

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    Philosophical issues in the study of human origins
    Ni Xijun
    Acta Anthropologica Sinica    2023, 42 (06): 709-720.   DOI: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2023.0072
    Abstract327)   HTML115)    PDF(pc) (640KB)(446)       Save

    The question of human origins is one of the ultimate questions of human existence, and the study of human origins touches on many philosophical issues. Based on recent advances in paleoanthropology and biology, this paper briefly reviews the history of human origins and evolution, and discusses philosophical issues such as the nature of being, the purpose and meaning of human existence, divine creation and evolution, the driving force of human origins and evolution, the nature and role of labor, and contingency and necessity. Counting from the origin of primates, human evolution has a history of at least 56 million years, or 7-8 million years if we count from the human-ape divergence in the sense of evolutionary biology. As a class of biological organisms and the bearer of the subjective world, the nature of being has always been a very complex subject, and it is even impossible for most people to have a recognized answer. From a biological point of view, human existence is essentially the existence of nature. Human beings are a part of the nature and greatly influence the existence of the nature. The characteristics of human beings that distinguish them from primates are the essential characteristics of human beings in the biological sense. In the study of human origins, the question of the nature of being should be examined from different angles of the various sub-disciplines of biology. The purpose and meaning of human existence at the philosophical level are not scientific questions, and the test standards of scientific research can not be applied to it. If human existence has a purpose and meaning, then that purpose and meaning is “existence”. Although traditional creationism is no longer a major part of the human knowledge system, the ideas represented by intelligent design still attempt to answer the questions of whether or not supernatural forces and intelligent things exist, and why they exist. As a living creature, the origin and development of human beings are not fundamentally different from those of other living creatures, and the driving force of human evolution is the result of a combination of intrinsic genetic factors and extrinsic environmental factors. There have been heated discussions about the role of “labor” in the origin and evolution of human beings, but from the empirical evidence of modern paleontology, archaeology, zoology, behavior, ecology, and other disciplines, it is impossible to give an accurate definition of “labor”. It can be argued that human labor itself is a state of behavior exhibited by humans in the process of survival and reproduction. The accumulation of contingent events is recorded, that is, the process of obtaining a quantitative change, and when the quantitative change accumulates to a level where order and hierarchy can be recognized, the change can be defined as qualitative change. Qualitative change in human evolution also occurs when the accumulation of countless contingent changes reaches a definable level. Self-awareness and thinking are not unique to humans. The development of complex systems in the universe with the ability to think is a necessity of material development, but the exact form in which it appears in things is controlled by chance.

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