Oldest Hoabinhian site found in Yunnan

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Xiaodong rock shelter. Source: China.org 20151230

A new paper in Quaternary International discusses the Xiaodong rock shelter in Yunnan, the oldest Hoabinhian site to date. The Hoabinhian technoculture can be found throughout Southeast Asia, and so this discovery in Yunnan suggests the origins and subsequent spread of people using this set of tools into Southeast Asia.

Xiaodong rock shelter. Source: China.org 20151230

Xiaodong rock shelter. Source: China.org 20151230

The oldest Hoabinhian technocomplex in Asia (43.5 ka) at Xiaodong rockshelter, Yunnan Province, southwest China
Quarternary International, doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.09.080

Oldest Hoabinhian site discovered in SW China
China.org, 30 December 2015

The Hoabinhian is the most representative technocomplex in Southeast Asian prehistory for the later hunter–gatherer period. As a mainland technology based exclusively on seasonal tropical environments, this core-tool culture was previously defined in northern Vietnam in 1932 and characterized originally by its large, flat and long, largely unifacial cobble tools associated with tropical forest fauna. The recent discoveries and dates obtained at Xiaodong rockshelter in Yunnan Province (southwest China) allow us to discuss the origin and the homeland of this singular Asian technocomplex which spread to Southeast Asia during the end of the Late Upper Pleistocene. Here we present the first Chinese Hoabinhian lithic implements in their stratigraphic and chronological context within a rockshelter site, and we address the question of the dispersal of modern humans from South China to Southeast Asia.

News article here.

Red Deer Cave bones in Southwest China raises new questions about human origins

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Red Deer Cave. Source: Archaeology 20151217

A recent study published in PLOS One analyses the bones from the Red Deer Cave of Yunnan province and suggests that they may belong to a branch of a archaic form of human, or represent multiple colonisation events in the Pleistocene before the arrival of anatomically modern humans.

Red Deer Cave. Source: Popular Archaeology 20151217

Red Deer Cave. Source: Archaeology 20151217

Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians
PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031918

The Mystery of Red Deer Cave
Popular Archaeology, 17 December 2015

‘Red Deer Cave people’ bone points to mysterious species of pre-modern human
Science Daily, 17 December 2015

14,000-Year-Old Bone Found in Red Deer Cave Points to Archaic Human Species
Sci News, 18 December 2015

Later Pleistocene human evolution in East Asia remains poorly understood owing to a scarcity of well described, reliably classified and accurately dated fossils. Southwest China has been identified from genetic research as a hotspot of human diversity, containing ancient mtDNA and Y-DNA lineages, and has yielded a number of human remains thought to derive from Pleistocene deposits. We have prepared, reconstructed, described and dated a new partial skull from a consolidated sediment block collected in 1979 from the site of Longlin Cave (Guangxi Province). We also undertook new excavations at Maludong (Yunnan Province) to clarify the stratigraphy and dating of a large sample of mostly undescribed human remains from the site.

Methodology/Principal Findings
We undertook a detailed comparison of cranial, including a virtual endocast for the Maludong calotte, mandibular and dental remains from these two localities. Both samples probably derive from the same population, exhibiting an unusual mixture of modern human traits, characters probably plesiomorphic for later Homo, and some unusual features. We dated charcoal with AMS radiocarbon dating and speleothem with the Uranium-series technique and the results show both samples to be from the Pleistocene-Holocene transition: ∼14.3-11.5 ka.

Our analysis suggests two plausible explanations for the morphology sampled at Longlin Cave and Maludong. First, it may represent a late-surviving archaic population, perhaps paralleling the situation seen in North Africa as indicated by remains from Dar-es-Soltane and Temara, and maybe also in southern China at Zhirendong. Alternatively, East Asia may have been colonised during multiple waves during the Pleistocene, with the Longlin-Maludong morphology possibly reflecting deep population substructure in Africa prior to modern humans dispersing into Eurasia.

Download the paper here.

Global implications of Southeast Asian rock art

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Source: Antiquity 88(342)

Earlier this week, the journal Antiquity published a paper entitled ‘The global implications of the early surviving rock art of greater Southeast Asia’, which I was a co-author of. The paper touches on a number of rock art projects that have happened in the recent years: my contribution was on the rock art of Gua Tambun in Malaysia, which I investigated as part of my MA, and the paper also touches on the rock art of Cambodia that later became part of my PhD thesis. Other regions included Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia – the last of which is fresh in our minds because of recent research that shows it was as old, if not older than the painted caves in Europe.

Source: Antiquity 88(342)

Source: Antiquity 88(342)

Since the discovery of the painted caves of France, rock art studies has tended to be dominated by Eurocentrism as the ‘origin’ of art. Far from arguing that Southeast Asia is the origin of art, we are beginning to see with Southeast Asia, and I expect in other parts of the world that the tradition of painting in rock surfaces was widespread, even in prehistoric times, and may have begun even before humankind started moving out of Africa into other parts of the world. This paper is a snapshot of rock art research in Southeast Asia, and I am glad to be part of it.

Links to the paper in article in Antiquity and some of the associated news stories:

The global implications of the early surviving rock art of greater Southeast Asia
Antiquity, 88(342): 1050-1064

New evidence of ancient rock art across Southeast Asia
Eureka Alerts, 25 November 2014

Ancient Rock Art Discovered Across Asia was Created by Prehistoric Humans
Science World Report, 26 November 2014

Ancient Rock Art Splattered Across Southeast Asia
Nature World News, 26 November 2014

Rock art origins reappraised
Phnom Penh Post, 28 November 2014
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Grain finds in Yunnan raises interesting questions for prehistoric migration into Southeast Asia

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A find from China that may have some bearing on Southeast Asia – 4,000-year-old wheat and millet have been found in Yunnan province , further south than originally thought. While the study has yet to be published, the find raises interesting questions about the movement of people from China down and through to mainland Southeast Asia in the Neolithic and the Bronze Age.

Grain finds in Yunnan province may shed light on a Bronze Age civilisation
South China Morning Post, 09 December 2012
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Ancient China’s Back Door: Explorations in the Archaeology of the “Southwestern Barbarians”

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China’s “Southwest”, of course, being what we know as Southeast Asia, particularly mainland Southeast Asia. A public lecture by Dr Robert Murowchick of the International Center for East Asian Archaeology & Cultural History, Boston University to be presented at the National Library of Singapore.

Ancient China’s Back Door: Explorations in the Archaeology of the “Southwestern Barbarians”

Speaker: Dr.Robert Murowchick, Research Associate Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology
(International Center for East Asian Archaeology & Cultural History, Boston University)

Date/Time: Wed, 21 Mar 07, 7.00pm-9.00pm
Venue: Level 5, Possibility Room

Admission is FREE but registration is required. Please register before 5pm on Tue, 20 Mar 2007, by emailing nlprogrammes@nlb.gov.sg and to include “Lecture by Dr Murowchick” in the subject field. Places are limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first serve basis.

While “Chinese” archaeology has largely focused on the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of the North China Plain and their neighbors, less well known archaeological research was developing in China’s far southwest, influenced not so much by the scholarship of the North China Plain as by discoveries in Southeast Asia. This lecture will present the ongoing archaeological research into the Shizhaishan Culture (also known as the Dian/Tien Culture), best known for its prodigious production of bronze drums and for its spectacularly detailed bronze containers, weapons, and buckles. Enormously exciting new finds of preserved lacquer add new dimensions to this culture, and to our understanding of ancient Yunnan as a place of intersection linking the diverse cultures of a much broader region.

Speaker Biodata:
Dr. Murowchick is Director of the newly-established International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History (ICEAACH) at Boston University, where he also serves as Research Associate Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology.

He is one of the founding editors of the new Journal of East Asian Archaeology (JEAA) which is edited at BU and published by Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden. He is also an Associate in East Asian Archaeology at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Dr. Murowchick served as the Associate Director of Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning from 1990-1992, and concurrently as Associate Director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research and of the National Resource Center for East Asian Studies from 1992-1996.

He is married with two sons, and resides in Needham, Massachusetts, where he serves on the Steering Committee for the Asian Studies Curriculum for the Needham Public Schools.

Click here for his detailed CV.

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham