Skip to main content Accessibility help

A critique of the Chinese ‘Middle Palaeolithic’

  • Xing Gao (a1) and Christopher J. Norton (a2)

The Chinese Palaeolithic has traditionally been divided into three distinct cultural periods: Lower, Middle, and Upper. Analysis of four stone tool criteria (raw material procurement, core reduction, retouch, and typology) to determine if a distinct Middle Palaeolithic stage existed in China suggests that very little change occurred in lithic technology between the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. Accordingly, a two-stage progression is proposed: Early and Late Palaeolithic. The transition between these two cultural periods occurred with the development of more refined stone tool making techniques (e.g. introduction of blade and microblade technology) and the presence of other archaeological indicators of more modern human behaviour (e.g. presence of art and/or symbolism) (c. 30,000 years ago).

Hide All
Aigner, J.S. 1972. Relative dating of North Chinese faunal and cultural complexes, Arctic Anthropology 2: 3679.
Aigner, J.S. 1981. Archaeological remains in Pleistocene China. Munich: CH. Beck.
Blnforu, L.R. 1980. Willow smoke and dogs’ tails: hunter-gatherer settlement systems and archaeological site formation, American Antiquity 45: 420.
Blnforu, L.R. 1989. Isolating the transition to cultural adaptations: an organizational approach, in Trinkaus, E. (ed.), The emergence of modern humans: 1841. New York (NY): Cambridge University Press.
Black, D., Teilhard De Chardin, P., Young, C.C. & Pei, W.C.. 1933. Fossil man in China: The Choukoutien cave deposits with a synopsis of our present knowledge of the Late Ccnozoic in China. Beijing: Geological Survey of China.
Bordes, F. 1978. Foreword, in Ikawa-Smith, F. (ed.): ix-x. The Hague: Mouton.
Branttngham, P.J., Krivoshapkin, A.I., Li, J.Z. & Yatserendagva, . 2001. The Initial Upper Paleolithic in Northeast Asia, Current Anthropology 42(5): 735–46.
Breuil, H. 1928. Archéologie, in Boule, M., Breuii, H., Licent, E. & Tei I hard de Chardin, P. (ed.), Le Paléolithique deia Chine: 103–36. Paris: Archives de l’Institut de Paleontologie Humaine. Mémoire 4.
Chang, K.C. 1981. Archaeology and Chinese historiography, World Archaeology 13(2):l56–69.
Chang, K.C. 1986. The archaeology of Ancient China. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press.
Chen, T.M., Iíedges, R.E.M. & Yuan, Z.. 1992. The second group of accelerator radiocarbon dates for Upper Cave of Zhoukoudian, Acta Anthropologics Sinica 11(2): 112–16.
Chen, T.M., Yang, Q. & Wu, S.. 1993. ESR dating un animal teeth from the Jinniushan site, Acta Anthropologics Sinica 12(4): 337–46.
Chen, T.M., Yuan, S.X. & Gao, S.J.. 1984. The study on uranium-series dating of fossil bones and an absolute age sequence for the main Paleolithic sites of North China, Acta Anthropologica Sinicu 3(3): 259–69.
Corruccini, R.S. & Ciochon, R.L. (ed.). 1994. integrative paths to the past. Upper Saddle River (NJ): Prentice Hall.
Derevianko, A.P. & Markin, S.V.. 1995. The Mousterian of the Altai in the context of the Middle Paleolithic culture of Eurasia, in Dibble, & Bar-Yosef, (ed.): 473–84.
Dekkvianko, A.P. & Petrin, V.l.. 1995. Levallois on Mongolia, in Dibble, & Bar-Yosef, (ed.): 455–72.
Derevianko, A.P., Shimkin, D.B. & Powers, W.R. (ed.). 1998. The Paleolithic of Siberia: New discoveries and interpretations. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.
Dibble, H. 1991. Local raw material exploitation and its effects on Lower and Middle Paleolithic assemblage variability, in Montet-White, A. & Holen, S. (ed.): 4958.
Dibble, H. & Bar-YOSEF, O. (ed.). 1995. The definition and interpretation of Levallois technology. Madison (WI): Prehistory Press.
Cai, P. 1985. Microlithic industries in China, in Wu, & Olsen, (ed.): 225–41. New York (NY): Academic Press.
Cai, P. 1991. Microbi ade tradition around the northern Pacific rim: A Chinese perspective, in Hou, (ed.): 2131.
Cai, P. & Huang, W.P.. 1982. Middle Paleolithic materials from Changwu, Shaanxi Province, Acta Archaeologica Sinica 1(1): 1829.
Gao, X. 1999. A discussion of the ‘Chinese Middle Paleolithic’, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 18(1): 116.
Gao, X. 2000. Explanations of typological variability in Paleolithic remains from Zhoukoudian Locality 15, China. Unpublished Ph.D dissertation. Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
Gao, X. & Olsen, J.W.. 1997. Similarity and variation within the Lower Paleolithic: East Asia, western Europe and Africa compared, in Tong, et al. (ed.): 6376.
Han, D.F. & Xu, CH. 1989. Quaternary mammalian faunas and environment of fossil humans in South China, in Wu, R.K., Wu, X.Z. & Zhang, S.S. (eds.): 338391.
Hou, J.Y. (ed.). 1991. Contributions to the XIIIINQUA, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Academia Sinica. Beijing: Science Press.
Huang, W.W. 1989. The Upper Paleolithic cultures in China, in Wu, et al. (ed.): 220–44.
Huang, W.W. 1993. Typology of the heavy-duty implements in the East and Southeast Asian Lower Paleolithic and a comment on the Movhis typological system, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 12(4): 297304.
Ikawa-Smith, F. (ed.). 1978a. Early Paleolithic in South and East Asia. The Hague: Mouton.
Ikawa-Smith, F. 1978b. Introduction: The Early Paleolithic tradition of East Asia, in Ikawa-Smith, (ed.): 110.
Jelinek, A.J. 1982. Concluding discussion, in Ronen, A. (ed.) The transition from Lower to Middle Palaeolithic and the origin of modern man: 321–9. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. International series S151.
Jia, L.P. 1978. On the characteristics, traditiun, origin and distribution of microblade industry in China, Vertebrata PaiAsiatica 16(2): 137–43.
Jia, L.P. 1989. Earliest Paleolithic assemblages of China, in Wu, et al. (ed.): 8196.
Jia, L.P., Gai, P. & You, Y.Z.. 1972. Report on the excavation at the Shiyu site in Sbanxi Province, Archaeologica Sinica 1: 3958.
Jia, L.P. & Huang, W.W.. 1985. On the recognition of China’s Palaeolithic cultural traditions, in Wu, & Olsen, (ed.): 259–66.
Jia, L.P., Wang, Z.Y. & Qiu, Z.L.. 1961. ShanxiPaleolithic. Beijing: Science Press.
Jinniushan Team. 1976. The mammalian assemblages from Jinniushan site, Yingkou, Liaoning Province, and its significance, Vertebrata PaiAsiatica 14(2): 120–27.
Jinniushan Team. 1978. A study of the Paleolithic culture from Jinniushan, Yingkou, Liaoning Province. Vertebrata PaiAsiatica 16(2): 128–38.
Kelly, R.L. 1995. The Foraging Spectrum. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press. 2nd edition.
Klein, R.G. 1999. The human career. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago.
Li, L. 1992. An experimental study on the block-on-block percussion and free hammer percussion, South China Ethnoarchaeology 5: 180–97.
Li, Y.X. 1982. Relative dating for the Paleolithic in South China, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 1(2): 160–68.
Li, Y.X. 1989. Lower Paleolithic in South China, in Wu, et al. (ed.): 159–94.
Li, Y.X. 1993. The division of the Upper Paleolithic cultures in China. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 12(3): 214–23.
Li, Y.X. 1997. Some problems of the Dingcun industry, in Tong, et al. (ed.): 3950.
Li, Y.X. & Wen, B.H.. 1986. Guanyindong — the Lower Paleolithic Site in Qianxi, Guizhou Province. Beijing: Cultural Relics Press.
Li, Z.W. & Shi, J.M.. 1985. The relationship among the Upper Paleolithic cultures in North China, Shiqian Yanjiu (Prehistoric Studies) 1: 1723.
Liaoning, & Benximuseum, . 1986. Miaohoushnn — APaleolitluc site from Benxi, Liaoning Province. Beijing: Cultural Relics Press.
Lin, S.L. 1996. A comparative study on Paleolithic technological modes between the East and the West, Acta Archaeologica Sinica 15(1): 119.
Liu, Y. 1988. A restudy of the Dingcun stone artifacts, Acta Archaeologica Sinica 7(4): 306–13.
Lu, L.D. 1998. The microblade tradition in China: regional chronology and significance in the transition to Neolithic, Asian Perspectives 37(1): 84112.
Luchterhand, K. 1978. Late Cenozoic climate, mammalian evolutionary patterns and Middle Pleistocene human adaptation in Eastern Asia, in Freeman, L.G. (ed.), Views of the Past: 363421. The Hague: Mouton.
Mausen, D.B., Jingzen, LI, Brantingham, P.J., Xing, GAO, Elston, R.G. & Bettinger, R.L.. 2001. Dating Shuidonggou and the Upper Palaeolithic blade industry in North China, Antiquity 75: 706–16.
Montet-White, A. & Holen, S. (ed.). 1991. Raw material economies and prehistoric hunter-gatherers. Lawrence (KS): University of Kansas. Publications in Anthropology 19.
Movius, H. 1944. Early man and Pleistocene stratigraphy in Southern and Eastern Asia. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology 19(3).
Movius, H. 1948. The Lower Paleolithic culture of Southern and Eastern Asia, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 38(4): 329420.
Nurton, C.J. 2000. The current state of Korean paleoanthropology, Journal of Human Evolution 38: 803–25.
Olsen, J.W. & Miller-Antonio, S.. 1992. The Palaeolithic in Southern China, Asian Perspectives 31: 129–60.
Otte, M. 1991. Evolution in the relationship between raw materials and cultural tradition in the European Paleolithic, in Montet-White, & Holen, (ed.): 161–8.
Pei, W.C. 1955. Paleolithic cultures in China, in Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology & Paleoanthropology (ed.), The discovery and study of fossil hominid in China: 5389. Beijing: Science Press.
Pei, W.C. 1957. The zoographical divisions of Quaternary mammalian fauna in China, Vertebrata Palasiatica 1: 924.
Pei, W.C. 1959. Paleolithic studies — science and paleontology in China in the past ten years. Beijing: Science Press.
Pei, W.C., Wu, R.K., Jia, L.P., Zhou, M.Z., Liu, X.T. & Wang, Z.Y.. 1958. Report on the excavation of Palaeolithic sites at Dingcun, Xiangfen County, Shanxi Province, Memoirs of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology Series A 2: 1111.
Pei, W.C. & Zhang, S.S.. 1985. A study on the lithic artifacts of Sinanthropus. Beijing: Science Press.
Pope, G.C. 1988. Recent advances in Far Eastern paleoanthropology, Animal Review of Anthropology 17: 4377.
Pope, G. & Keates, S.G.. 1994. The evolution of human cognition and cultural capacity, in Corruccini, & Ciocbon, (ed.): 531–67.
Ql, G.Q. 1989. Quaternary mammalian faunas and environment of fossil humans in North China, in Wu, et al. (ed.): 277337.
Qiu, Z.L. 1985. The Middle Palaeolithic of China, in Wu, & Olsen, (ed.): 187210.
Qiu, Z.L. 1989. The Middle Paleolithic of China, in Wu, et al. (ed.): 195219.
Schick, K.D. 1994. The Movius Line reconsidered: Perspectives on the Earlier Paleolithic of Eastern Asia, in Corruccini, & Ciochon, (ed.): 569–96.
Schick, K.D. & Dong, Z.. 1993. Early Paleolithic of China and Eastern Asia, Evolutionary Anthropology 2(1): 2235.
Schick, K. & Toro, N.. 1993. Making silent stones speak: human evolution and the dawn of technology. New York (NY): Simon & Schuster.
Shea, J.J. 1992. Lithic microwear analysis in archeology, Evolutionary Anthropology 1: 143–50.
Shen, G. & Jin, L.. 1992. U-series dating of speleotherm samples from Guanyindong cave at Qianxi County, Guizhou Province, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 11: 93100.
Stringer, C. & Gamble, C.. 1993. In search of the Neanderthals. New York (NY): Thames & Hudson.
Teilhakd De Chardin, P. Young, SE C.C.. 1929. Preliminary report on the Cboukoutien fossiliferous deposit, Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 8: 173202.
Tong, Y.S., Zhang, Y.Y., Wen, W.Y., Li, J.L. & Shi, L.Q. (ed.). 1997. Evidence for evolution — essays in honor of Prof. Chungchien Young on the hundred anniversary of his birth. Beijing: China Ocean Press.
Toth, N. & Schick, K.D.. 1986. The first million years: The archaeology of protohuman culture, in Schiffer, M.B. (ed.), Advances in archaeological method and Theory Vol. 9: 196. Orlando (FL): Academic Press.
Trigger, B.G. 1989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wang, J. & Tao, F.H.. 1991. A general study on the Dingcun Paleolithic sites complex, Shanxi Wenshi Ziiiao 6, reprinted in Paper Collection of Paleolithic Arcbeological research in Shanxi (1993): 219–28. Taiyuan: Shanxi Economic Press.
Wang, J., Tao, F.H. & Wang, Y.R.. 1994. A preliminary report on the survey and excavation at the Dingcun Paleolithic site complex, Journal of Chinese Antiquity 14(3): 175.
Wang, L.H. 1989. Chronology in Chinese Paleoanthropology, in Wu, et al. (ed.): 392404. Beijing: Beijing Science Press.
Wu, R.K. 1988. The restoration and major features of the Jinniushan Man from Yingkou, Liaoning Province, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 7: 97101.
Wu, R.K. & Olsen, J.W. (ed.). 1985. Paleoanthropology and Palaeolithic archaeology in the People’s Republic of China. Orlando (FL): Academic Press.
Wu, R.K., Wu, X.Z. & Zhang, S.S. (ed.). 1989. Early humankind in China. Beijing: Science Press.
Wu, X.Z. & Poirler, P.E.. 1995. Human evolution in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wu, X.Z. & Wu, M.L.. 1985. Early Homo sapiens in China, in Wu, St Olsen, (ed.): 91106. Orlando (FL): Academic Press.
Yuan, S.X., Chen, T.M. & Cao, S.J.. 1986. Uranium series chronology sequence of some Palaeolithic sites in South China, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 5(2): 179–90.
Zhang, S.S. 1985. A preliminary study on Middle Paleolithic cultures in North China, Shiqian Yanjiu [Prehistoric Studies) 1: 816.
Zhang, S.S. 1987. Paleolithic cultures in China. Tianjin: Science & Technology Press.
Zhang, S.S. 1989. The Lower Paleolithic in North China, in Wu, et al. (ed.): 97158.
Zhang, S.S. 1990. Slow development andcultural communication oflbe Paleolithic industries in North China, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 9(4): 322–34.
Zhang, S.S. 1997. Looking for the first stone knife in China, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 16(2): 8795.
Zhang, Z.H. 1981. A preliminary study on the ancient hominids and their cultures from Liaoning Province, Vertebrata PaiAsiatica 19: 184–92.
Zheng, G.W. & Kanc, Y.Z.. 1994. Thermoluminescence dating of the lower section of the Jinniushan site. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 13(3): 257–9.
Zhou, Y.H. 1989. Amino acid dating of the Peking Man and Dingcun Man, Acta Anthropologica Sinica 8(2): 177–81.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed