Micromorphological and FTIR analysis of the Upper Paleolithic early pottery site of Yuchanyan cave, Hunan, South China
2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The site of Yuchanyan cave (Hunan Province, China) contains evidence for some of the earliest-known (ca. 18,000 cal BP) pottery in the world alongside a typical South China Upper Paleolithic cobble tool (chopper) industry. Here we present the results of a micromorphological study of the deposits with particular attention to site formation processes and recognizable human activities. Our study reveals that the majority of the sediments are anthropogenic and produced by repeated combustion episodes involving the complete expenditure of the fuel and then the refuse being raked out and redistributed across the cave. In relation to the pottery production, clay was also used to line fireplaces. Our results, combined with our Fourier-transform infrared analysis of the clays and bones, and supported by the zooarchaeological data, suggest that fire and pottery were used here to boil bones and render grease. This behavior must be considered in respect to its associated chopper industry, and the presence of early pottery may be related, suggesting differences in behavioral modernity for hunter-gatherers in Upper Paleolithic South China. This study demonstrates the advantages of analyzing sediments as a record of past human actions and the value of using micromorphology for the study of Late Pleistocene sites in China.