Stone Age site yields evidence of advanced culture

Updated: 2007-05-04 20:48

Chinese archaeologists say they have uncovered strong evidence that Stone Age people in southern East Asia were at least as technologically advanced as their European cousins -- challenging the long-standing theory of "two cultures".

Excavations at the Dahe Stone Age site, in southwest China's Yunnan Province, had revealed elaborate stone tools and instruments that rivaled those of the Mousterian culture that existed at that time in Europe, said Ji Xueping, chief archaeologist at the site.

Dated as 36,000 to 44,000 years old, the Dahe site has since 1998 yielded cores -- stones or flints from which flakes had been removed -- including Levalloisian tortoiseshell-shaped and cylindrical blade cores,semicircular scrapers,end scrapers, denticulations (evenly spaced rectangular blocks set in a row), Mousterian-type points and beak-shaped stones.

Technologically they were very similar to European Mousterian cultures, which were characterized by flint flake tools dating from 70,000 to 32,000 BC and named after archaeological finds in the cave of Le Moustier, Dordogne, France. The Levalloisian technique describes the flaking method and is named after the French town of Levallois-Perret where it was identified.

"This may suggest that the theory of two cultures is not as accurate and complete as previously thought," said Ji, an archaeologist at the Yunnan Institute for Cultural Relics and Archaeological Research.

More than 60 years ago, Harvard University Professor Hallam Movius advanced a theory that divided the Stone Age world into two technological levels.

The theory held that western Eurasia and Africa had produced the advanced technology of percussion flaking, while East Asia cultures were comparatively backward having only developed simple choppers and, by implication, the people were less intelligent and adaptable than their African and western Eurasia relatives.

"The items are surprisingly similar to the European Mousterian culture, and there is no essential difference between early stone items of the East and West," said Huang Weiwen, an archaeologist with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"What impressed me most was a delicately crafted semicircular scraper made of chert. The dark grey scraper was in the shape of flat ellipsoid, and the size of a fist. It is delicate enough to be on a par with any stone implements discovered in Europe," said Huang.

"Dahe is the oldest Stone Age site of Mousterian culture that we have discovered in southern part of China, as other reliably dated Mousterian cultures in China are no more than 30,000 years old," said Ji.

The most famous site of Mousterian Culture in China was the Shuidonggou site in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, discovered in 1923. It was thousands of years younger than Dahe Paleolithic site.

A study by the Quaternary Dating Laboratory of Beijing University and Nanjing Normal University dated the Dahe site as at least 36,000 to 44,000 years old.

An artificial stone floor, a typical characteristic of advanced Stone Age, was also discovered at the Dahe site. The 30-square-meter cave floor was paved with white-yellow limestone.

"Artificial stone floors indicate that ancient people began to think about the environment and tried to improve their living conditions," said Ji. "It is further evidence that southern East Asia once fostered advanced Middle Paleolithic culture."

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