Year

2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences

Abstract

The characteristics and development of Palaeolithic in China and more broadly in East Asia have been hotly debated. At the centre of the debate is whether there were lithic technological changes in East Asia during the Middle and Late Pleistocene. It has been argued that the lithic industries in this region were dominated by simple core-flake production system until the Late Pleistocene when Upper Palaeothic forms appeared. The lack of advanced stone tool technology in East Asia would imply that hominin populations in this region were possibly culturally and genetically isolated during the early and middle Pleistocene. One of the main reasons that caused such a debate is the scarce of well-defined ‘Middle Paleolithic’ sites in East Asia, because many of these sites were excavated decades ago and, hence, lacked reliable chronology and detailed and systematic lithic study. To contribute to our understanding of Paleolithic culture in East Asia during the late Middle Pleistocene period, this study presents detailed lithic analysis and chronological study on two Paleolithic sites in Southwest China, Guanyindong and Tianhuadong caves.

In order to establish reliable chronological frameworks for the sites, the recently developed single-grain optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) techniques were applied to date quartz grains extracted from the artefact-bearing sediments from the sites. Since a part proportion of the quartz grains have saturated OSL signal, the standardised growth curve (SGC) method was applied to avoid underestimation in age due to truncated equivalent dose distribution. It shows that the SGC method can be successfully applied to date sediments from this region. OSL ages of 170–80 and 90–50 thousands years ago were obtained for the Guanyindong and Tianhuadong sites, respectively, which suggests that both sites should be assigned to Middle Palaeolithic period.

Evidence of complex systems of lithic production from the two studied sites are reported. Based on detailed analysis of over 2000 stone artefacts from the Guanyindong assemblage, a total of 45 stone artefacts were identified to be made with Levallois concept, including 11 cores, 31 flakes and 4 tools. Apart from Levallois, the lithic assemblages from the sites provide evidence of diverse lithic production systems, including Quina, Kombewa, and discoid systems, which show that the late Middle Pleistocene inhabitants in this region had used a variety of tool-making strategies to adapt to climatic and ecological conditions, raw material availability and demographic contexts. These new findings are similar and contemporary to those typically found in west Eurasia, suggesting that during late Middle Pleistocene hominins in this area had the comparable abilities as those in Europe and Africa, and, thus, challenge the longstanding view that there is a lack of distinct progress in lithic technology during the Early and Middle Palaeolithic period in East Asia.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.