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Archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, have found a unique 40,000-year-old cultural site at Xiamabei in the Nihewan Basin in Northern China. They have discovered blade-like stone tools and ochre (a natural clay earth pigment) stains and processing units during archaeological excavations.

Xiamabei has been one of the favourite archaeological sites for researchers as it contains cultural features and evidence showing human evolution. It is different from other archaeological sites as it has a rich history of hybridization and human development in Eastern Asia.


Image credit: Pixabay


Cultural Features at Xiamabei

“The ability of hominins to live in northern latitudes, with cold and highly seasonal environments, was likely facilitated by the evolution of culture in the form of economic, social and symbolic adaptations,” said Dr Shixia Yang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “The finds at Xiamabei are helping us to understand these adaptations and their potential role in human migration.”

Researchers found ochre processing tools and artifacts at Xamabei. These indicated the extensive use of the pigment in the historical era. The artifacts included two ochre pieces with different mineral compositions and a limestone slab with ochre stains on the surface.

A French analytical study indicated that different types of ochre pigments were carried to Xiamabae. They were processed into powder through physical processes like pounding and abrasion. This resulted in different consistency and colour of the powder. The discovery of ochre manufacture tools and stains exhibits the first known example of ochre production in Eastern Asia.

Archaeologists also discovered miniaturized blade-like stone tools. But many of them measure less than 20 millimeters or just under an inch. Seven stone tools gave the evidence of being used in hafting, a process for attaching a bone or stone to a handle. These tools were used for scraping (removing skin), boring, carving wood and cutting animal flesh. The site dwellers made multipurpose and handy tools. This indicates that prehistoric people might have adopted complex technical systems to construct innovative modern tools to improve their lives.

A Complex History of Human Evolution

Previous archaeological records from Eastern Asia show that adaptation started 40,000 years ago among primitive people to modernization. Though no human fossils were found at the site, the existence of modern tools indicated that the inhabitants of Xiamabei were Homo sapiens. The presence of modern innovative tools like ochre processors and hafts at the site showed an early attempt of primitives towards hybridization, colonization and cultural exchange. The colonization period supported genetic exchanges with archaic groups (early modern human species), such as the Homo habilis, Homo Naledi, Denisovans, Homo Neanderthals, before the existence of Homo sapiens.

“Our findings show that current evolutionary scenarios are too simple,” said Michael Petraglia, professor at the Max Planck Institute, “and that modern humans, and our culture, emerged through repeated but differing episodes of genetic and social exchanges over large geographic areas, rather than as a single, rapid dispersal wave across Asia.”

The detailed archaeological study has been published in the journal Nature.

Contributed by: Simran Dolwani


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