SCIENCE: Scientists discover traces of an ancient human culture from 40,000 years ago in China.

Sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered rem­nants of a Stone Age cul­ture less than 100 miles west of Bei­jing where ancient hominids used a red­dish pig­ment called ocher and made tiny blade-like tools out of rock.

The archae­o­log­i­cal site, called Xiam­abei, offers a rare glimpse into the lives of now-extinct Homo sapi­ens and human rel­a­tives who inhab­it­ed the area around 40,000 years ago.

The new­ly exca­vat­ed site is in the Nihe­wan Basin, a depres­sion in a moun­tain­ous region in north­ern Chi­na. The exca­va­tion team found evi­dence of the cul­ture about 2.5 meters under­ground, when they spot­ted a lay­er of dark loamy sed­i­ment dat­ing to between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, based on radio­car­bon dat­ing and oth­er analyses.

This Stone Age sed­i­ment con­tained a trea­sure trove of arti­facts and ani­mal remains, includ­ing over 430 mam­malian bones; a home; phys­i­cal evi­dence of ocher use and pro­cess­ing; a bone tool; and over 380 minia­tur­ized lithics, or small cut or ground stone tools and artifacts.

“The remains appeared to be in their orig­i­nal loca­tion after the site was aban­doned by locals,” co-first author Shix­ia Yang, a researcher at the Chi­nese Acad­e­my of Sci­ences and the Max Planck Insti­tute, told Live Sci­ence. for the sci­ence of human his­to­ry. in an email.

“Based on this, we can reveal a vivid pic­ture of how peo­ple lived 40,000 years ago in East Asia.”

Relat­ed: Back to the Stone Age: 17 Key Stages of Pale­olith­ic Life

The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a 40,000-year-old sed­i­ment lay­er dot­ted with such arti­facts was “a sur­prise”, said co-author Francesco d’Er­ri­co, CNRS research direc­tor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bor­deaux and pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bergen, to Live Sci­ence in an email.

Notably, “this is the old­est known ocher work­shop for East Asia”, and the col­lec­tion of tiny stone tools sug­gests that the mak­ers prob­a­bly pro­duced and used spe­cial­ist tool kits, a he declared.

Series of close-up images of Stone Age lamel­lae
(Andreu Ollé/Wang et al., Nature 2022)

Above: Slat-shaped stones found in Xiam­abei bear micro­scop­ic evi­dence of hav­ing been attached to a bone han­dle with plant fibers.

Yang, d’Er­ri­co and their col­leagues pub­lished a report on the site and the arti­facts Wednes­day, March 2 in the jour­nal Nature.

Evi­dence of ocher pro­cess­ing at Xiam­abei includes two pieces of ocher with slight­ly dif­fer­ent min­er­al com­po­si­tions, as well as an elon­gat­ed lime­stone slab with smoothed areas stained with the crim­son pig­ment. The team found these arti­facts in close prox­im­i­ty to each oth­er, rest­ing on an area of ​​red­dened sediment.

“I don’t think any­one should find it shock­ing that the peo­ple of what is now north­ern Chi­na [40,000 years ago] col­lect­ed and used ochre,” because, in gen­er­al, humans and their rel­a­tives had been using the pig­ment for many years at this point, said Andrew M. Zip­kin, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty’s School of Human Evo­lu­tion and Social Change and a research asso­ciate at Eurofins EAG Lab­o­ra­to­ries, who did not par­tic­i­pat­ed in the study.

“The ocher arti­facts in this study are quite lim­it­ed in num­ber, but I would love to see fol­low-up work on them that seeks to iden­ti­fy where the ocher was col­lect­ed,” Zip­kin told Live Sci­ence in an e‑mail. mail.

Regard­ing the new study, “for me, the impor­tant ele­ment here is not the ocher per se, but its pres­ence as part of a suite of tech­nolo­gies and behav­iors,” he said.

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