Bose Basin (Chine): New Findings at Prehistoric Stone Tool Site

Recent excavation results may answer some hanging questions about the ancient tool makers.

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Researchers may have found answers to some questions surrounding stone tool artifacts previously unearthed at the site of Fengshudao, located in the Bose Basin in the Guanxi province of southern China. The site is well known for yielding a lithic assemblage rich in Paleolithic bifacially worked stone artifacts, technically known as Acheulean handaxes, a stone tool most commonly associated with an early hominin (human ancestor) classified as Homo erectus

After initial discovery and analysis, these 'Bose Basin handaxes' came to the attention of the international scientific community  because they were dated to about 803 ka (thousands of years), placing them in the Early to Middle Pleistocene period; and because their presence tested the validity of the Movius Line, a theoretical line drawn across northern India, first proposed by the American archaeologist Hallam L. Movius in 1948 to demonstrate a technological difference between the early prehistoric tool technologies of the east and west of the Old World. However, questions were almost immediately raised because the age was based on the supposed association of the artifacts with tektites that may or may not have been redeposited at the site. Moreover, at the time of the initial publications, all of the Bose Basin handaxes were surface collected. Thus, whether the Bose bifaces could validly be associated with the tektites and whether the tektites themselves were redeposited became arguing points for the finding's critics.

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Map of the area where the hand axe cultures (Acheulean) extend during the Middle Pleistocene. Wikimedia Commons

Now, however, new excavations at the site and subsequent analysis led by Wei Wang of the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities and Christopher Bae of the University of Hawaii are reporting new findings from more recent excavations at the site. Based on 'in situ' excavation of tektites, which the excavators maintain do not indicate any evidence of redeposition, along with their association with bifaces within the same stratigraphic level, they are now suggesting with greater confidence that the age of the stone tools should indeed be close to 803 ka. In addition, they report that the Fengshudao hominins were utilizing locally-available quartz, quartzite, and sandstone river cobbles, and that the Fengshudao handaxe morphology differs from the western Acheulean type in a number of ways. They add further that the handaxes are comparatively larger and thicker than those of other regions of eastern Asia (e.g., Luonan Basin, China; Imjin/Hantan River Basins, Korea).

"Although Fengshudao may be a case of western Acheulean hominins dispersing into the Bose Basin from nearby South Asia," concludes Wang, et. al, "it is quite possible that the Fengshudao bifaces can be considered an example of convergent evolution."*

Source: Edited and adapted from the abstract of Middel Pleistocene bifaces from Fengshudao (Bose Basin, Guangxi, China), by Wei Wang, et. al, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 69, April 2014, pp. 110 - 122.