Oldest non African Stone tools found in China


July 14, 2018

A scientific paper and accompanying commentary in the July 11 issue of the journal Nature report the discovery in southern China of stone tools dated to 2.1 million years ago. For many years the oldest evidence of human ancestors outside of Africa were found at Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia and dated around 1.8 million years ago (mya).

The paper, authored by Z. Zhu ,of Laboratory of Ocean and Marginal Sea Geology, Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, China and colleagues, can be found in Nature.

The abstract for that paper reads:
“Considerable attention has been paid to dating the earliest appearance of hominins outside Africa. The earliest skeletal and artefactual evidence for the genus Homo in Asia currently comes from Dmanisi, Georgia, and is dated to approximately 1.77–1.85 million years ago (Ma)1. Two incisors that may belong to Homo erectus come from Yuanmou, south China, and are dated to 1.7 Ma2; the next-oldest evidence is an H. erectus cranium from Lantian (Gongwangling)—which has recently been dated to 1.63 Ma3—and the earliest hominin fossils from the Sangiran dome in Java, which are dated to about 1.5–1.6 Ma4. Artefacts from Majuangou III5 and Shangshazui6 in the Nihewan basin, north China, have also been dated to 1.6–1.7 Ma. Here we report an Early Pleistocene and largely continuous artefact sequence from Shangchen, which is a newly discovered Palaeolithic locality of the southern Chinese Loess Plateau, near Gongwangling in Lantian county. The site contains 17 artefact layers that extend from palaeosol S15—dated to approximately 1.26 Ma—to loess L28, which we date to about 2.12 Ma. This discovery implies that hominins left Africa earlier than indicated by the evidence from Dmanisi.”

Before reading this paper, however,, we urge interested readers to visit commentary by John Kappelman entitled “Ancient Hiominin Arrival in Asia”.

This commentary examines all the relevant aspects of artifact dating, types of tools, tool use, etc. From photographs the tools appear to be of the Olduwan technology (see “Early Craftsmanship, available on the Home Page at becominghuman.org). There was no advance in tool making complexity until the coming of biface tools around 1.6 mya. Kappelman, in his commentary, discusses the estimate for the length of time it would take hunter-gatherer peoples to migrate from Africa to China.

It should be noted no bones were found with these artifacts. The authors and commentators have assumed the tool makers were Homo erectus rather than a contemporary Australopithecine. If so, this is a much earlier date, by 300,000 years, for H. erectus outside of Africa. Kappelman also discusses the push-pull forces acting on migrating peoples: pushed from behind by expanding populations; pulled by game resources, which also are migrating.