Located in Qingtang Town, Yingde City, Guangdong Province, a group of prehistoric caves was found alongside the middle Wengjiang River, which is a tributary of the nearby Beijiang River. As part of the Qingtang site, four caves were recorded during the previous investigations around the Huangmenyan hillock. From June 2016 to October 2016, excavations have been conducted both at the Huangmenyan Cave 2 and the Huangmenyan Cave 1. The total area of that first season’s excavation is about 20 m 2. Here we present the preliminary report on Huangmenyan Cave 2 only.
At the Huangmenyan Cave 2, there exist around 40 depositional layers, among which abundant archaeological remains were uncovered, including stone artefacts, bone tools, shell tools, and many other remains, including faunal and even plant remains. Nearly 2000 specimens have been collected in total. In addition, several potsherds were found in four different layers, although no other Neolithic elements were seen from this locality. Those thick coarse potsherds with cord impressions exhibit characteristics of early pottery and are very likely the oldest pottery documented in Guangdong, dated back to around 17 ka BP.
The lithic artefacts were normally flaked at one end or one side of a cobble unifacially with a hammer stone. Such river cobbles could be obtained from nearby river gravels. Various raw materials from these river gravels were suitable for tool manufacturing, including sandstone, quartz sandstone, quartz, granodiorite, quartzite, diorite, granite, fine sandstone and siltstone. Choppers with quite large edge angles are the dominant tool types, trimmed at one or two edges. There also found large numbers of flakes, but only several of them were retouched and might be used as scrapers. Elongated cobbles as well as the big oval examples, utilized or not, are also notable finds in this locality. It has long been debated that, during the late period of Late Pleistocene, the lithic industry of southern China approaches more closely to that discovered in mainland Southeast Asia rather than that of northern China. Therefore, these cobble tools are considered strong proof for the cultural relationship between the ancient populations of southern China and that of mainland Southeast Asia.
Cervidae predominate in the faunal remains. Only a few bones of tortoise, bird, carnivore, and reptile were uncovered, although large quantities of rodent bones and teeth were collected through wet sieving. Percussion scars are usually seen on bone fragments, while polishing traces are less common. Some bones as well as antlers were processed and might have served as awls or spatulas. Many of bones are extensively burnt, which needs further investigation.
The general stratigraphic layers, from which lithic, ceramic, and other cultural materials derive, are well preserved and would help in reconstructing the chronological sequence of prehistoric cultural development in southern China. According to all the materials obtained from different localities of the Qingtang site, Huangmenyan Cave 2 seems to have been a central living area with rich and varied categories of archaeological remains. Meanwhile, Huangmenyan Cave 1 with a human burial, as well as other localities investigated in the area, probably functioned as places for special activities. The spatial arrangement of activities at the Qingtang site shows how people lived during the transitional period from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic.
With the field records and artefactual materials recovered in this predominant locality of the Qingtang site, Huangmenyan Cave 2 is a significant case of what appears to have been a hunter-gatherer society with a gradually changing subsistence strategy in southern China. It is now possible to provide more up-to-date and significant evidence for human dispersal for this vast region covering both the southern part of East Asia and mainland Southeast Asia at that time.