Engraved stone artefact found at Palaeolithic site in northwest China
|The engraved stone artefact [Credit: Science China Press]|
Dr. Peng Fei, Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and first author, described the finding: "This engraved stone artifact was a recent accidental discovery during our technological analysis of the stone tool assemblage unearthed at the Shuidonggou site in 1980. It is the first engraved non-organic artifact from the entire Paleolithic of China. However, it is not just a coincidence. We were aware that when analyzing the materials unearthed from the site during excavations in the 1920s, French archaeologist Henry Breuil observed parallel incisions on the surface of siliceous pebbles. Unfortunately, he did not provide details on those incised pebbles. So during our lithic analysis, we paid special attention to the possible existence of engraved objects."
Professor Gao, director of this study, stated: "The SDG Paleolithic site includes 12 localities, ranging in date from Early Late Paleolithic to Late Paleolithic. The engraved stone artifact was found at Locality 1, which is about 30 ka BP. As the first Paleolithic site discovered in China, SDG Locality 1 is distinctive in Late Paleolithic industry of north China, because of its components of elongated tool blank production and Levallois-like technology. The identification of such engraving incisions made intentionally by human beings on stone artifact surfaces is a challenging issue. In China, we have found some engraved objects, but most are controversial. So, this time we hope to provide irrefutable evidence."
|Shuidonggou Paleolithic site [Credit: Creative Commons]|
Professor Gao affirmed:"This discovery provides important material for the study of symbolic and cognitive capability of humans in the Late Paleolithic of East Asia. As we know, so-called 'behavioral modernity' is often defined as changes of technology and subsistence strategies, expansion of activity areas, revolution in cognition, and other features. Most of these features have been identified at Paleolithic sites in Europe, the Near East and Africa. But in East Asia, the issue is more complex."
Dr. Peng summarized some remaining findings and uncertainties. "In addition to the engraved stone artifact, one ostrich egg bead was unearthed from SDG Locality 1. The lithic assemblage of this locality includes blade production and elongated tool blanks. But at Locality 2, about 2.4.9 ka BP and very close to Locality 1, typical flake productions were found with ostrich egg beads in the same cultural horizon. The blade technology was probably introduced from the Altai region of Russian Siberia, according to comparison between lithic assemblages. The flake technology is typical of the Late Paleolithic in north China.
So, who created the ostrich beads and incisions? Were they made by the populations who migrated from the west, such as from the Altai region? Or were they the result of acculturation, such that aborigines in north China learned this kind of technology from exogenous populations? Or were they created solely by the local people because of technological renovation or cognitive advancement? At this time, we cannot provide a clear scenario. We need not only more archaeological evidence, but also evidence from anthropological, genetic and other disciplines. Integrating all information from different fields of study is the means to solve the puzzle."
Source: Science China Press via EurekAlert! [November 29, 2012]