China’s Paleolithic archaeology began with the discovery of Peking Man and the excavations at Zhoukoudian in the 1920s and 1930s. Since then, and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Paleoanthropological study has made great progress with the discovery of Yuanmou Man (1.7 million BP; Homo erectus) and Lantian Man (600,000 -1.7 million BP; Homo erectus), believed to be much earlier examples than that of Peking Man (500,000 - 300,000 BP; Homo erectus). In addition, fossil remains that have been discovered in Hexian, Tangshan, Jinniushan, Yunxian, Dali, Xujiayao, Dingcun, Liujiang and Maba, give a fairly accurate anthropological record of human evolution in China.
The Paleolithic period in the Chinese archaeological record (1.7 million years BP) is abundantly represented. From the Himalayas in the southwest to Heilongjiang in the northeast, China is rich with the materials of pre-history and archaeologists have pieced together, at over 200 significant sites, a relatively complete Paleolithic cultural sequence that has allowed for the restoration and reconstruction of ancient habitats.
In 2000, two 3 million-year-old ape fossils were found at Bagongshan, Anhui Province, providing evidence of China’s position in the evolution of the species. A 10 million-year-old fossil remains of the gibbon from the Miocene, and the earliest known in Asia, was discovered in Shuanggou, Jiangsu Province in 1977.
Another Paleolithic site in Xiacaowan of Shuanggou produced human remains from 40,000 BP which are, morphologically, similar to Upper Cave Man at Zhoukoudian. The Xiacaowan man is thought to be a descent of Peking Man and an ancestor of today’s Chinese and therefore the Jiangsu-Anhui, along with Shuanggou in its center, could be another birthplace of modern man.
The flake, or expedient lithic tool, is a characteristic of the Chinese Paleolithic, and small stone tools a distinguishing feature of the northern Chinese Paleolithic where, over the period from the Lower to the Upper Paleolithic, differences in culture between north and south became more noticeable. In southern China, both large and small stone tool-making occurred.
In the Baise Basin, in Guangxi, archaeologists caught the attention of the world when in 2000 they unearthed stone artifacts that, according to some American scientists, have a history of 800,000 years. This calls into question the notion that East Asia’s early human activity and habitation is far behind that of the West’s.
Sino-French excavations in Yunxian, Hubei Province, have also shown that Yunxian Man began using axes in 800,000 BP, challenging the long-held belief that China had no hand axe evidence in its Paleolithology. Also, the first Lower Paleolithic cave site in east China was found at Wanshouyan in Sanming, Fujian Province, repositioning Fujian’s Paleolithic by an extra 100,000 years.
Lithic implements at Shizitan in Jixian County, Shanxi Province, have added to what is known of west China’s Paleolithic. This area has the deepest accumulation, richest cultural resource and the largest distribution area for China’s Upper Paleolithic.
Along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, built on the plateau of the same name, known as the “roof of the world”, archaeologists have discovered Upper Paleolithic and Microlithic artifacts dating between 10,000 and 30,000 BP. This discovery is understood to fill the significant gap that existed in the semi-lunar cultural circulation belt extending from Hailar in Inner Mongolia to Nyalam in Tibet.
As part of the excavations taking place on the Three Gorges Project at the Yangtze River, Paleoanthropologists have made significant breakthroughs. Wushan Man, found in 1985, dates the area back to between 2.01-2.04 million years BP and was accompanied by over 110 species of unearthed animal fossils, demonstrating the existence of man in the Lower Paleolithic. In addition, in 1999 Heliang Man was discovered in the Wu Gorge, the most scenic of the three. Salvation at Jingshuiwan (100,000 BP), Fengdu County, in 2000, produced 400-odd stone implements including cores, flakes, choppers, scrapers, pointers etc. Animal fossils were also found including deer, ox, tapir and the stegodon.
(China.org.cn, translated by Shao Da, February 24, 2003)