August 21, 2012

Upper Paleolithic of North China c. 30,000 years ago

Shuidonggou (Ningxia-Hui) looks like a promising site that should help to clarify the arrival and development of Upper Paleolithic (or, as they say, Late Paleolithic - mode 4 in any case) in East Asia. As far as I know, this is the oldest known Upper Paleolithic site East of Altai, at least of any relevance. Not long ago, the arrival of UP technologies to East Asia was believed to be some ten thousand years more recent - a reminder that we should always consider earliest known dates for anything as a terminus ante quem and not anything near absolute until a proper, consolidated, research seems to leave little room for further doubt.

Shuwen Pei et al., The Shuidonggou site complex: new excavations and implications for the earliest Late Paleolithic in North China. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2012. Pay per view ··> LINK [doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.06.028]


The initial Late Paleolithic, said to appear between 40 and 30 kya in eastern Asia, is defined by the appearance of many innovations. These archaeological indicators include the appearance of more refined stone tool making techniques (e.g., include the appearance of blade and microblade technology), complex hearth construction, use of pigments and personal ornamentation, as well as worked faunal implements such as bone and antler tools. We report here new findings from a multidisciplinary research project conducted at the Shuidonggou (Choei-tong-keou) site complex in northern China, a series of localities that date from the initial Late Paleolithic to the Neolithic.

Six new localities (SDG7–12) were discovered and five localities [SDG2 (previously identified) and SDG7–9 and 12] were excavated, yielding more than 50,000 stone artifacts, fauna, ostrich eggshell beads, and hearths. Dating results suggest that human occupation of the Shuidonggou area occurred during the Late Pleistocene to Middle Holocene (∼32,000–6000 BP). Some sites are characterized by small, irregular flakes, casually retouched tools [modified or informally retouched tools (i.e., non-standardized tools with sporadic retouch which was not well controlled)], and small numbers of blades or no blades. Others lithic assemblages are dominated by blades and microblades. At two sites, higher quality or exotic raw materials were exploited, but at the majority of sites locally-available river cobbles were used. In addition to blades, microblades and hearths, more than 80 finely-perforated and polished ostrich egg-shell beads, mostly colored with red ochre, were recovered from three sites. Several worked bone needles and an awl were also uncovered from the youngest site, SDG12, in deposits dating to c. 13,000 cal BP. The implications for the initial appearance of the Late Paleolithic in China and movement of modern human populations into North China are discussed.

Some more detailed information, for those without deep pockets or institutional access, is available at PhysOrg, where it is explained that the complex includes five different sites and was inhabited between c. 32,000 and 6000 BP, most intensely in two different periods: (1) 32-24,000 BP and (2) 13-11,000 BP.

The assemblages include blades and microblades, large numbers of vertebrate fossils, some ostrich eggshell beads, hearths, pigments and bone tools. 

H/t Pileta.

See also this earlier paper by D.B. Madsen et al. on the same site ··> LINK (PDF).


  1. "As far as I know, this is the oldest known Upper Paleolithic site East of Altai, at least of any relevance".

    And it is most likely that the Upper Paleolithic arrived in Northern China from that direction. There is nothing in SE Asia that can be a possible source, or have any connection to any South Asian Upper Paleolithic.

    1. It's very likely but it does not need to imply any migration.


Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. Personal attacks, manipulation and trolling are also very much unwelcome here.The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Preliminary comment moderation is... ON (your comment may take some time, maybe days or weeks to appear).