Skip to main content Accessibility help

Luminescence chronology and lithic technology of Tianhuadong Cave, an early Upper Pleistocene Paleolithic site in southwest China

  • Yue Hu (a1) (a2), Qijun Ruan (a3), Jianhui Liu (a3), Ben Marwick (a4) and Bo Li (a2) (a5)...


Tianhuadong is a cave site located in the northwest of Yunnan Province, China. Since 2010, several surveys and one test excavation have yielded more than 1000 stone artifacts. The lithic assemblage shows some features of Levallois and Quina technologies, similar to those found in Middle Paleolithic sites in the Western Hemisphere. In this study, we summarize the lithic industry and propose a reliable chronology for the site using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of individual quartz grains extracted from sediments. We applied the standardized growth curve method to deal with the problem associated with the saturation in natural OSL signals in quartz. Our dating results yielded ages of 90–40 ka, suggesting that the associated lithic assemblage could be assigned to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stages 5 and 4 and could potentially represent Middle Paleolithic technologies. Because the number of Middle Paleolithic sites in southwest China is small, this site provides one of the few traces of human occupation in southwest China during the early upper Pleistocene. Thus, it is important for understanding hominin evolution and dispersal in this region.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author at: Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales2522, Australia. E-mail address: (B. Li).


Hide All

These authors contributed equally to this study.



Hide All
Aitken, M.J., 1985. Thermoluminescence Dating. Academic Press, London.
Aitken, M.J., 1998. An Introduction to Optical Dating. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Bae, C.J., Douka, K., Petraglia, M.D., 2017. On the origin of modern humans: Asian perspectives. Science 358, eaai9067.
Bae, C.J., Wang, W., Zhao, J., Huang, S., Tian, F., Shen, G., 2014. Modern human teeth from Late Pleistocene Luna Cave (Guangxi, China). Quaternary International 354, 169183.
Bøtter-Jensen, L., Andersen, C.E., Duller, G.A.T., Murray, A.S., 2003. Developments in radiation, stimulation and observation facilities in luminescence measurements. Radiation Measurements 37, 535541.
Bøtter-Jensen, L., Bulur, E., Duller, G.A.T., Murray, A.S., 2000. Advances in luminescence instrument systems. Radiation Measurements 32, 523528.
Bøtter-Jensen, L., Mejdahl, V., 1988. Assessment of beta-dose-rate using a GM multicounter system. Nuclear Tracks and Radiation Measurements 14, 187191.
Cai, H., Wang, X., Xu, C., 1991. Paleolith of Bianbian cave at Bijie County, Guizhou Province. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 10, 5057.
Cao, Z., 1978. Palaeolithic site found in Xiaohuidong cave at Shuicheng, Guizhou Province. Vertebrata Palasiatica 16, 6772.
Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture Cultural Relics Management Institute, Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology, Jianchuan Institute of Cultural Relics, 2015. Study of the Jianchuan Xiangbidong Paleolithic Site. Cultural Relics Publishing House, Beijing.
Demeter, F., Shackelford, L.L., Bacon, A.M., Duringer, P., Westaway, K., Sayavongkhamdy, T., Braga, J., et al. , 2012. Anatomically modern human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 1437514380.
Duller, G.A.T., 2003. Distinguishing quartz and feldspar in single grain luminescence measurements. Radiation Measurements 37, 161165.
Duller, G.A.T., 2012. Improving the accuracy and precision of equivalent doses determined using the optically stimulated luminescence signal from single grains of quartz. Radiation Measurements 47, 770777.
Galbraith, R.F., Green, P.F., 1990. Estimating the component ages in a finite mixture. Nuclear Tracks and Radiation Measurements 17, 197206.
Galbraith, R.F., Roberts, R.G., 2012. Statistical aspects of equivalent dose and error calculation and display in OSL dating: an overview and some recommendations. Quaternary Geochronology 11, 127.
Galbraith, R.F., Roberts, R.G., Laslett, G.M., Yoshida, H., Olley, J.M., 1999. Optical dating of single and multiple grains of quartz from jinmium rock shelter, northern Australia: part 1, experimental design and statistical models. Archaeometry 41, 339364.
Gao, F., Min, R., Li, B., Duan, C., 2012. The significance of the first archaeological excavation of Yushuiping sites in Nujiang. In: Zhang, Y., Li, S. (Ed.), The Nu Nationality in the Canyon. Yunnan University Press, Kunming, Yunnan Province, China.
Gao, X., 2013. Paleolithic cultures in China: uniqueness and divergence. Current Anthropology 54, S358S370.
Gao, X., Norton, C.J., 2002. A critique of the Chinese ‘Middle Palaeolithic’. Antiquity 76, 397412.
Groucutt, H.S., Petraglia, M.D., Bailey, G., Scerri, E.M.L., Parton, A., Clark-Balzan, L., Jennings, R.P., et al. , 2015. Rethinking the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa. Evolutionary Anthropology 24, 149164.
Guo, Y.J., Li, B., Zhang, J.F., Yuan, B.Y., Xie, F., Roberts, R.G., 2017. New ages for the Upper Palaeolithic site of Xibaimaying in the Nihewan Basin, northern China: implications for small-tool and microblade industries in north-east Asia during Marine Isotope Stages 2 and 3. Journal of Quaternary Science 32, 540552.
Guralnik, B., Li, B., Jain, M., Chen, R., Paris, R.B., Murray, A.S., Li, S.H., Pagonis, V., Valla, P.G., Herman, F., 2015. Radiation-induced growth and isothermal decay of infrared-stimulated luminescence from feldspar. Radiation Measurements 81, 224231.
Hodell, D.A., Brenner, M., Kanfoush, S.L., Curtis, J.H., Stoner, J.S., Xueliang, S., Yuan, W., Whitmore, T.J., 1999. Paleoclimate of southwestern China for the past 50,000 yr inferred from lake sediment records. Quaternary Research 52, 369380.
Hu, Y., Marwick, B., Zhang, J.-F., Rui, X., Hou, Y.-M., Yue, J.-P., Chen, W.-R., Huang, W.-W., Li, B., 2019. Late Middle Pleistocene Levallois stone-tool technology in southwest China. Nature 565, 8285.
Huang, W., Hou, Y., Si, X., 1997. Stone industry from Panxian Dadong, a cave-site of southeastern China. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 16, 171192.
Huntley, D.J., Godfreysmith, D.I., Thewalt, M.L.W., 1985. Optical dating of sediments. Nature 313, 105107.
Jacobs, Z., Duller, G.A.T., Wintle, A.G., 2006. Interpretation of single grain D e distributions and calculation of D e. Radiation Measurements 41, 264277.
Ji, X., 2008. The fascination of Dahe cave: disclosure of Dahe cave Paleolithic site in Fuyuan. Chinese Cultural Relics 6, 7883.
Kaifu, Y., Izuho, M., Goebel, T., 2015. Modern human dispersal and behavior in Paleolithic Asia: summary and discussion. In: Kaifu, Y., Izuho, M., Goebel, T., Sato, H., Ono, A. (Eds.), Emergence and Diversity of Modern Huma Behavior in Paleolithic Asia. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, pp. 535566.
Karkanas, P., Schepartz, L.A., Miller-Antonio, S., Wang, W., Huang, W., 2008. Late Middle Pleistocene climate in southwestern China: inferences from the stratigraphic record of Panxian Dadong Cave, Guizhou. Quaternary Science Reviews 27, 15551570.
Kreutzer, S., Schmidt, C., Fuchs, M.C., Dietze, M., Fischer, M., Fuchs, M., 2012. Introducing an R package for luminescence dating analysis. Ancient TL 30, 18.
Leng, J., 2001. Early Paleolithic Technology in Eastern and Southern Asia. Archaeopress, Oxford, UK.
Li, B., Jacobs, Z., Roberts, R.G., 2016. Investigation of the applicability of standardised growth curves for OSL dating of quartz from Haua Fteah cave, Libya. Quaternary Geochronology 35, 115.
Li, B., Jacobs, Z., Roberts, R.G., Galbraith, R., Peng, J., 2017. Variability in quartz OSL signals caused by measurement uncertainties: problems and solutions. Quaternary Geochronology 41, 1125.
Li, B., Jacobs, Z., Roberts, R.G., Li, S.-H., 2014. Review and assessment of the potential of post-IR IRSL dating methods to circumvent the problem of anomalous fading in feldspar luminescence. Geochronometria 41, 178201.
Li, B., Roberts, R.G., Jacobs, Z., Li, S.-H., 2015. Potential of establishing a ‘global standardised growth curve’ (gSGC) for optical dating of quartz from sediments. Quaternary Geochronology 27, 94104.
Li, F., Kuhn, S.L., Chen, F., Wang, Y., Southon, J., Peng, F., Shan, M., Wang, C., Ge, J., Wang, X., Yun, T., Gao, X., 2018. The easternmost Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) from Jinsitai Cave, North China. Journal of Human Evolution 114, 7684.
Li, H., Li, Z., Gao, X., Kuman, K., Sumner, A., 2019. Technological behavior of the early Late Pleistocene archaic humans at Lingjing (Xuchang, China). Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11, 34773490.
Li, Y., Wen, B., 1986. Guanyindong: A Lower Paleolithic Site at Qianxi County, Guizhou Province. Cultural Relics Publishing House, Beijing.
Li, Y.H., Hou, Y.M., Boëda, E., 2009. Mode of débitage and technical cognition of hominids at the Guanyindong site. Chinese Science Bulletin 54, 38643871.
Lisiecki, L.E., Raymo, M.E., 2005. A Pliocene-Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18O records. Paleoceanography 20, PA1003.
Liu, W., Martinón-Torres, M., Cai, Y., Xing, S., Tong, H., Pei, S., Sier, M.J., et al. , 2015. The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China. Nature 526, 696699.
Liu, W., Wu, X., Pei, S., Wu, X., Norton, C.J., 2010. Huanglong Cave: a Late Pleistocene human fossil site in Hubei Province, China. Quaternary International 211, 2941.
Lycett, S.J., Norton, C.J., 2010. A demographic model for Palaeolithic technological evolution: the case of East Asia and the Movius Line. Quaternary International 211, 5565.
Macaulay, V., Hill, C., Achilli, A., Rengo, C., Clarke, D., Meehan, W., Blackburn, J., Semino, O., Scozzari, R., Cruciani, F., Taha, A., Shaari, N.K., Raja, J.M., Ismail, P., Zainuddin, Z., Goodwin, W., Bulbeck, D., Bandelt, H.-J., Oppenheimer, S., Torroni, A., Richards, M., 2005. Single, Rapid Coastal Settlement of Asia Revealed by Analysis of Complete Mitochondrial Genomes. Science 308, 10341036.
Martinón-Torres, M., Wu, X., Bermúdez de Castro, J. M., Xing, S., Liu, W., 2017. Homo sapiens in the Eastern Asian Late Pleistocene. Current Anthropology 58, S434S448.
Miller-Antonio, S., Schepartz, L.A., Karkanas, P., Yamei, H., Weiwen, H., Bekken, D., 2004. Lithic raw material use at the Late Middle Pleistocene site of Panxian Dadong. Asian Perspectives 43, 314332.
Murray, A.S., Wintle, A.G., 2000. Luminescence dating of quartz using an improved single-aliquot regenerative-dose protocol. Radiation Measurements 32, 5773.
Norton, C.J., Gao, X., Feng, X., 2009. The East Asian Middle Paleolithic reexamined. In: Camps, M., Chauhan, P. (Eds.), Sourcebook of Paleolithic Transitions: Methods, Theories, and Interpretations. Springer, New York, pp. 245254.
Olley, J.M., Roberts, R.G., Yoshida, H., Bowler, J.M., 2006. Single-grain optical dating of grave-infill associated with human burials at Lake Mungo, Australia. Quaternary Science Reviews 25, 24692474.
Otte, M., Weiwen, H., Hu, Y., Hou, Y., 2017. Panxian Dadong et le Levallois chinois. L'Anthropologie 121, 255269.
Peng, J., Dong, Z., Han, F., Long, H., Liu, X., 2013. R package numOSL: numeric routines for optically stimulated luminescence dating. Ancient TL 31, 4148.
Peng, J., Li, B., 2017. Single-aliquot regenerative-dose (SAR) and standardised growth curve (SGC) equivalent dose determination in a batch model using the R package ‘numOSL’. Ancient TL 35, 3253.
Peng, J., Pagonis, V., Li, B., 2016. On the intrinsic accuracy and precision of the standardised growth curve (SGC) and global-SGC (gSGC) methods for equivalent dose determination: a simulation study. Radiation Measurements 94, 5364.
Petraglia, M., Korisettar, R., Boivin, N., Clarkson, C., Ditchfield, P., Jones, S., Koshy, J., et al. , 2007. Middle Paleolithic assemblages from the Indian subcontinent before and after the Toba super-eruption. Science 317, 114116.
Petraglia, M.D., Haslam, M., Fuller, D.Q., Boivin, N., Clarkson, C., 2010. Out of Africa: new hypotheses and evidence for the dispersal of Homo sapiens along the Indian Ocean rim. Annals of Human Biology 37, 288311.
Prescott, J.R., Hutton, J.T., 1994. Cosmic-ray contributions to dose rates for luminescence and ESR dating: large depths and long-term time variations. Radiation Measurements 23, 497500.
Preusser, F., Degering, D., Fuchs, M., Hilgers, A., Kadereit, A., Klasen, N., Krbetschek, M., Richter, D., Spencer, J., 2008. Luminescence dating: basics, methods and applications. Quaternary Science Journal 57, 95149.
Prüfer, K., Racimo, F., Patterson, N., Jay, F., Sankararaman, S., Sawyer, S., Heinze, A., et al. , 2014. The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains. Nature 505, 4349.
Qiu, Z., Zhang, Y., 1985. Human tooth and Paleoliths found at locality 2 of Longtanshan, Chenggong, Kunming. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 4, 233241.
R Core Team, 2016. R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
Rhodes, E.J., 2011. Optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments over the past 200,000 years. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 39, 461488.
Roberts, H.M., Duller, G.A.T., 2004. Standardised growth curves for optical dating of sediment using multiple-grain aliquots. Radiation Measurements 38, 241252.
Roberts, R.G., Galbraith, R.F., Yoshida, H., Laslett, G.M., Olley, J.M., 2000. Distinguishing dose populations in sediment mixtures: a test of single-grain optical dating procedures using mixtures of laboratory-dosed quartz. Radiation Measurements 32, 459465.
Roberts, R.G., Jacobs, Z., Li, B., Jankowski, N.R., Cunningham, A.C., Rosenfeld, A.B., 2015. Optical dating in archaeology: thirty years in retrospect and grand challenges for the future. Journal of Archaeological Science 56, 4160.
Ruan, Q.J., Liu, J.H., Hu, Y., Li, B., Yang, C.C., Luo, X.R., 2017. A study of stone artifacts found in the Tianhuadong Paleolithic site, Heqing, Yunnan. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 36, 116.
Stringer, C.B., Andrews, P., 1988. Genetic and fossil evidence for the origin of modern humans. Science 239, 12631288.
Thomsen, K.J., Murray, A.S., Buylaert, J.P., Jain, M., Hansen, J.H., Aubry, T., 2016. Testing single-grain quartz OSL methods using sediment samples with independent age control from the Bordes-Fitte rockshelter (Roches d'Abilly site, central France). Quaternary Geochronology 31, 7796.
Wang, W., Liu, J., Hou, Y., Si, X., Huang, W., Schepartz, L.A., Miller-Antonio, S., 2004. Panxian Dadong, South China: establishing a record of Middle Pleistocene climatic changes. Asian Perspectives 43, 302313.
Westaway, K.E., Louys, J., Awe, R.D., Morwood, M.J., Price, G.J., Zhao, J.-x., Aubert, M., et al. , 2017. An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago. Nature 548, 322325.
Wintle, A.G., 1997. Luminescence dating: laboratory procedures and protocols. Radiation Measurements 27, 769817.
Wintle, A.G., 2008. Luminescence dating of Quaternary sediments – introduction. Boreas 37, 469470.
Wu, M., Wang, L., Zhang, Y., Zhang, S., 1975. Fossil human teeth and associated cultural relic from Tongzi, Guizhou Province. Vertebrata Palasiatica 13, 1423.
Zhu, Z., Ji, X., 2010. Study on the stone artifacts from the Laohu Cave Paleolithic site, Baoshan County, Yunnan. Research of China's Frontier Archaeology 2010-00, 18.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Hu et al. supplementary material
Tables S1-S3 and Figures S1-S8

 PDF (643 KB)
643 KB

Luminescence chronology and lithic technology of Tianhuadong Cave, an early Upper Pleistocene Paleolithic site in southwest China

  • Yue Hu (a1) (a2), Qijun Ruan (a3), Jianhui Liu (a3), Ben Marwick (a4) and Bo Li (a2) (a5)...


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