BiblioNotes: New evidence for early presence of hominids in North China

I’m finding the very early dates of hominid occupation sites and Homo erectus fossil sites to be of interest lately, as I review and edit my research context chapter. I write myself summaries of articles as I read them, and I thought I might try sharing these as bibliographic blog posts. Proviso: This is just a personal research summary only, please read any articles yourself as my understanding of the research may not be as accurate as your own understanding.

Hong Ao, Mark J. Dekkers, Qi Wei, Xiaoke Qiang & Guoqiao Xiao. 2013. New evidence for early presence of hominids in North China. Scientific Reports 3:2403. 10.1038/srep02403

Abstract: “The Nihewan Basin in North China has a rich source of Early Pleistocene Paleolithic sites. Here, we report a high-resolution magnetostratigraphic dating of the Shangshazui Paleolithic site that was found in the northeastern Nihewan Basin in 1972. The artifact layer is suggested to be located in the Matuyama reverse polarity chron just above the upper boundary of the Olduvai polarity subchron, yielding an estimated age of ca 1.7–1.6 Ma. This provides new evidence for hominid occupation in North China in the earliest Pleistocene. The earliest hominids are argued to have lived in a habitat of open grasslands mixed with patches of forests close to the bank of the Nihewan paleolake as indicated from faunal compositions. Hominid migrations to East Asia during the Early Pleistocene are suggested to be a consequence of increasing cooling and aridity in Africa and Eurasia.”

My Notes:

The Shangshazui (SSZ) site in the Nihewan Basin, which yielded Oldowan-like stone tools, was originally excavated and reported in the 1970s. With site sediments which were not conducive to radio-isotopic dating, an age of 1 MYA was originally suggested for the site, based on the lithic technology found.

Later excavations recovered lithics which were similar to those from the 1.66 MYA site of Majuangou (MJG). The authors present a high-resolution magnetostratigraphic record of the SSZ site which dates it conservatively at between 1.7 and 1.6 MYA. This makes the site contemporaneous with MJG sites and the Nuanmou Homo erectus site.

SSZ appears to have been located on a lakeshore with predominantly grassland fauna with some woodland fauna and a perrenially warm and humid climate and access to stone resources. Intermountainous lakes appear to be a favoured habitat for Early Pleistocene hominins, as many other Early Pleistocene lakeshore sites have been recorded throughout the Old World.

The global cooling and drying shift during this time period, which led to an increase in open grassland and decrease in woodland habitats is thought to have possibly led to an increase in the hominin population. This may have led to greater resource competition which could have led to migration out of Africa or the southern Caucasus to similar mixed savannah and woodland habitats.