MPI-SHH Project Members

Key External Project Partners

  • Chenglong DENG (Chinese Academy of Sciences)
  • Zhaoyu Zhu (Chinese Academy of Sciences)
  • Yuejian Ping (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Project Funding

Funding is provided by Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, National Sciences Foundation of China and the Max Planck Society.

Acknowledgments

We thank Chinese Academy of Sciences and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for supporting the researches. We also thank Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics to conduct research for helping contacted the field investigation.

Behavioural Adaptations of the Earliest Humans in East Asia

Our knowledge of human evolution and hominin behavioural adaptations is mainly derived from Africa, the East African Rift yielding long and high-quality environmental and archaeological records extending back to more than 2 to 3 million years ago. Early members of the genus Homo subsequently spread out of Africa, reaching the Loess Plateau of eastern Asia by ca. 2.1 million years ago. Thereafter, multiple archaeological sites dated between 2.1 -1.0 ma occur in the Loess Plateau and the Nihewan Basin of China. Yet, relatively little is known about the dispersal, behavioural adaptations, and survivorship of early hominin populations in Eurasia, including in Eastern Asia. Although early archaeological sites have been investigated outside Africa (e.g., Dmanisi, Ubeidiya), such sites are exceedingly rare, making it difficult to have a clear view about hominin adaptations outside Africa.

Field Investigation in Nihewan Basin Zoom Image

Field Investigation in Nihewan Basin

The central Loess Plateau and the Nihewan Basin of North China presents a significant opportunity to rectify significant gaps in our understanding of the earliest humans that first migrated out of Africa. The areas preserve a long sequence of archaeological sites ranging between 2.1 to 1.0 million years ago, thereby allowing us to examine the interplay between environmental change and hominin behavioural evolution. An abundance of mammal fossils and stone tool assemblages have been reported in a series of well-dated Early Pleistocene sites (e.g., Shangchen, Majuangou, Gongwangling, Donggutuo, Xiaochangliang, Cenjiawan, Feiliang, Huojiadi). Yet, no systematic and comparative study has been performed on the lithic assemblages from these early archaeological sites. As a result, we have a hazy understanding of how hominins adapted to local ecosystems and environmental changes experienced over a one million year period. Moreover, we have little understanding about how East Asian hominin behaviours compare to African and other Eurasian examples as no in-depth lithic comparison has been conducted. As a consequence, there is a current lack of understanding about hominin adaptations in East Asia and how it is related to, and differs from, early hominin sites in the African homeland.

The research program aims to characterize stone tool assemblages from the earliest archaeological sites in East Asia in order to understand human behavioural adaptations before 1.0 million years ago, and secondly, to place this evidence in wider geographic perspective, allowing us to compare hominin adaptations in different regions in the Early Pleistocene. We aim to address the adaptive behaviours of East Asian hominin populations, examining the interplay between hominin behaviours and environmental changes over the long term. Furthermore, we wish to situate evidence in broader perspective, examining how hominin behaviours compare to other Early Pleistocene sites in Africa and the west part of Eurasia, thereby contributing to a better understanding of early dispersals out of Africa.

The lithic artefacts from these early sites never been systematically studied comprehensively using the same analytical methods; instead, the stone tools have been examined separately by different scholars, making it difficult to have a comprehensive understanding of inter-assemblage variability of lithic stone tool manufacturing methods. We have begun to rectify this situation, allowing a single database to be built. We have been fully examining key characteristic features of the main classes of artefacts, i.e., cores, flakes, and shaped tools in each of the assemblages. Our publications demonstrate the viability of our lithic data collection system and analytical methods. Moreover, the collected data shows that we can obtain lithic information that is relevant for assessing early human adaptations in East Asia.

An impressive view of the geological stratigraphy of Nihewan Basin Zoom Image

An impressive view of the geological stratigraphy of Nihewan Basin

The lithic artefacts from these early sites never been systematically studied comprehensively using the same analytical methods; instead, the stone tools have been examined separately by different scholars, making it difficult to have a comprehensive understanding of inter-assemblage variability of lithic stone tool manufacturing methods. We have begun to rectify this situation, allowing a single database to be built. We have been fully examining key characteristic features of the main classes of artefacts, i.e., cores, flakes, and shaped tools in each of the assemblages. Our publications demonstrate the viability of our lithic data collection system and analytical methods. Moreover, the collected data shows that we can obtain lithic information that is relevant for assessing early human adaptations in East Asia.

A series of questions are being addressed in this poject, including assessment of how early hominins adapted and survived in changing environments of East Asia; whether early humans innovated their technologies and landscape behaviours over the long-term in the Early Pleistocene; and, how early hominin adaptations in the Nihewan differ from the behaviours of early populations in Africa and in other regions. The proposed study will therefore considerably improve our understanding of early hominins in East Asia, contributing to our understanding of out of Africa dispersal processes.

 
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