Since the 1940s, archeologists had been perplexed by what seemed to be a puzzle piece missing from the prehistoric record of East Asia – large stone tools like the Acheulean handaxes so common in Africa from about 1.6 million years ago, and in Europe beginning around 500,000 years ago. Carefully shaped multi-purpose handaxes were a major invention as early hominins refined their techniques for turning stone into technology. These were an advance over the more basic toolkit of the first toolmakers, which involved chipping flakes from usually small stone cores.
Making handaxes involved a more sophisticated understanding of a rock’s material structure and mechanical properties. Were these implements missing because East Asian hominins were isolated from the more advance toolmakers to the west? Or, because their forerunners departed Africa before the know-how to make handaxes was established? Or, was the knowledge forgotten? One prevalent idea, developed in the 1940s by Dr. Hallam Movius, was that less advanced technology in East Asia resulted from the stable and unchallenging surroundings that prevailed in that region of the world.
More recent excavations in limestone caves of the Bose-Bubing basins, in collaboration with Dr. Wang Wei of the Natural History Museum of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, have unearthed many fossil teeth of mammal species, which allow faunal change in southern China to be described for the first time. The fossils from some of the caves may stretch back to around 2 million years, and could offer evidence of whether early hominins and other large primates lived or passed through this region. Stay tuned for new results!
Hou Y., Potts, R., Yuan, B., Guo, Z., Deino, A., Wang, W., Clark, J., Xie, G., Huang, W., 2000. Mid-Pleistocene Acheulean-like stone technology of the Bose Basin, South China. Science 287, 1622-1626.
Potts, R., Huang, W., Hou, Y., Deino, A., Yuan, B., Guo, Z., Clark, J., 2000. Technical comments on “Mid-Pleistocene Acheulean-like stone technology of the Bose Basin, South China,” Science 287, 507a.
Potts, R., 2001. Mid-Pleistocene environmental change and human evolution. In Human Roots: Africa and Asia in the Middle Pleistocene (L. Barham and K. Robson-Brown, eds.), Western Academic Press, Bristol, pp. 5-21.
Wang, W., Potts, R. Hou, Y., Wu, H., Chen, Y., Yuan, B., Huang, W., 2005. Early Pleistocene hominid teeth recovered in Mohui cave in Bubing Basin, Guangxi, South China. Chinese Science Bulletin 50, 1789-1883.
Wang, W., Potts, R., Yuan, B.Y., Huang, W.W., Hai, C., Edwards, R.L., Ditchfield, P., 2007. Sequence of mammalian fossils, including hominid teeth, from the Bose region caves, south China. Journal of Human Evolution 52, 370-379.