Ear­li­est stone tools ex­ca­vated in China

Dis­cov­ery points to hu­man life 2.1m years ago: lead­ing pro­ject ge­ol­o­gist

Global Times US Edition - - TOPNEWS - By Yin Han

Stone tools found in North­west China prove that ho­minids, pri­mate an­ces­tors of hu­mans, may have lived on China’s Loess Plateau 2.1 mil­lion years ago, break­ing the widely rec­og­nized the­ory that the first an­cient hu­mans out­side Africa ap­peared in Ge­or­gia.

The tools ex­ca­vated from the newly found Shangchen site in Shaanxi Prov­ince show that the ear­li­est ho­minid ac­tiv­ity in the area “ap­peared around 2.1 mil­lion years ago, 270,000 years ear­lier than the widely rec­og­nized ear­li­est ho­minid site in Dman­isi,” Zhu Zhaoyu, lead­ing ge­ol­o­gist for the pro­ject, and re­searcher at the Guang- zhou In­sti­tute of Geo­chem­istry un­der the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences ( GIGCAS), told the Global Times on Thurs­day.

It was be­lieved by most re­searchers that hu­mans orig­i­nated in to­day’s Africa and left their home­land around 1.85 mil­lion years ago, which co­in­cides with the age of the ho­minid fos­sils dis­cov­ered from Dman­isi, Ge­or­gia, in the Cau­ca­sus re­gion of Eura­sia, ac­cord­ing to na­ture.com.

The Shangchen site con­tains 17 ar­ti­fact lay­ers that ex­tend from pa­le­osol, dat­ing to ap­prox­i­mately 1.26 mil­lion years, to loess, dat­ing to about 2.12 mil­lion years. A to­tal of 96 stone tools were ex­ca­vated, 82 of which ex­hibit ob­vi­ous signs of use, which “can only be caused by hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Zhu.

Though no ho­minid fos­sils were found dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion, which would re­veal the own­ers of those tools, the dis­cov­ery still leaves sci­en­tists a new re­search ques­tion: Which ho­minid species first left Africa? “This is a whole new pa­leo ball game,” na­ture.com quoted William Jungers, a pa­le­oan­thro­pol­o­gist at Stony Brook Uni­ver­sity, as say­ing.

Most of the stone tools were found in the rel­a­tively warm and wet an­cient soil lay­ers, with a few also dis­cov­ered in the dry and cold loess layer, be­tween which ex­ists an 850,000-year gap, which in­di­cates that an- cient hu­mans may have re­peat­edly lived on the Loess Plateau, if not con­tin­u­ously, for hun­dreds of thou­sands of years, and also pro­vides im­por­tant clues to the liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment of an­cient hu­mans, CAS said.

Loess study is the best in­di­ca­tor of cli­mate con­di­tions in an­cient times, and a field in which “China leads the world,” Zhu said, adding that the com­bi­na­tion of ge­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion on loess and an­thro­po­log­i­cal re­search is a prom­i­nent re­search di­rec­tion, and the Shangchen find­ings are em­i­nent in both fields.

The re­search pro­gram was ini­ti­ated by GIGCAS with help from more than 10 do­mes­tic and overseas re­search in­sti- tutes, in­clud­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Ex­eter in the UK, sci­encenet. cn re­ported.

The lay­ers found might not even rep­re­sent the ear­li­est ho­minid, ac­cord­ing to John Kap­pel­man, one of the pa­per’s referees.

There are still two lay­ers at the site dat­ing to 2.58 mil­lion years ago that have not yet been ex­plored, and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion “is ex­pected to con­tinue,” ac­cord­ing to Zhu.

Zhu added that as more and more find­ings emerge and prove the ex­is­tence of hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties in ar­eas other than Africa, the widely be­lieved the­ory that hu­mans orig­i­nated in Africa could pos­si­bly be re­con­sid­ered in fu­ture.

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