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Archaeological efforts deepen understanding of early-stage modern humans

ANN/CHINA DAILY – New archaeological efforts have revealed development of lithic tools in the Changbai Mountain area in Jilin province, enriching understanding of the evolution, spread and lifestyle of early-stage modern humans in Northeast Asia, the National Cultural Heritage Administration said at a news conference in Beijing, China yesterday.

Nearly 20,000 stone tools and animal fossils have been discovered from the three stages of cultural remains at the Dadong site in Helong city, Jilin province. The site dates from roughly 50,000 years ago to around 15,000 years ago, belonging to the late Paleolithic period.

It covers about four square kilometress, with its core area exceeding 500,000 square metres. Wang Youping, an archaeology professor at Peking University, highlighted the site’s unusual large size for the Paleolithic period.

“This is the largest open-air site of the late Paleolithic period with clearest cultural sequence in Northeast China as of now,” said Xu Ting, a researcher at Liaoning University who is responsible for the excavation at the Dadong site.

The site was initially discovered in 2007, with the first excavation taking place in 2010.

Since 2021, a new round of active archaeological study has been carried out by Jilin Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and Liaoning University in order to gain a deeper understanding of local cultural sequence, and migration and communication patterns of people in the Paleolithic era.

An overview of the Dadong site. PHOTO: CHINA DAILY

Simple lithic cores and flakes and a great number of animal fossils were found from the first stage of cultural remains, dating back to between 50,000 to 30,000 years ago. The second stage, dating from 28,000 to 24,000 years ago, revealed the presence of blade and microblade tools. The third stage, spanning 17,000 to 15,000 years ago, also yielded microblade tools, according to Xu.

“Discovery of three types of archaeological cultures is a key finding at this site,” said Wang.

Dadong site provides clear evidence of the important transformation of the stone tool industry from lithic flake to blade and eventually to microblade in this area over the course of 50,000 years, said Xu; it also demonstrates that Changbai Mountain area is key in the origin of microblade technology in North China.

According to him, the late Paleolithic period was critical for the evolution and spread of modern humans, when they spread to all continents except Antarctica.

He noted that the most significant change in global stone tool technology during this time was miniaturisation, with different regions producing various forms of microlith products.

The popularity of the microblade technology then created an important cultural phenomenon spanning Northeast Asia and Northwest America, which bears witness to the exchange and connection of prehistoric cultures between Asia and America, he added.

Many of the unearthed stone tools were made from obsidian, a volcanic glass often found in areas with frequent volcanic activities. This makes the site one of the earliest in Northeast China to make stone tools with this material.

Wang noted that obsidian was also found as a raw material for stone tools in North America and Mediterranean countries, attracting wide attention to its uses in prehistoric period worldwide.

“The discovery of obsidian as a raw material for stone tools at this site is important in China’s archaeological work on the Paleolithic period,” said Wang.

Xu further emphasised that the long-term development and use of obsidian as a raw material provide valuable insights into the material use and social exchange networks of ancient people in Northeast Asia.