Qihe cave (Chine): Significant achievements from the excavation

Significant achievements from the excavation at the Qihe cave site, Zhangping, Fujian Province

Chinese Institute of Archaeology

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The Qihe cave site is located in the northeast of the Ducou village, Xianghu town, Zhangping, Fujian Province. It is 42km southwest away from Zhangping city. After this site was found in December, 2008, it had been excavated three times by the joint archaeological team of Fujian Museum, Longyan municipal culture and Press Bureau and Zhangping municipal Museum from 2009 to 2011.Experts from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, CAS, and the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Science were involved in the research of the ancient anthropology and the ancient environment, while the Archaeology Program of the History Department, College of Humanities, Xiamen University, was involved in the study of the starch. In May, 2011, an agreement about the archeological research on the Qihe cave site and the related sites in Fujian was jointly signed by the Fujian Museum, the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Science, Longyan municipal culture and Press Bureau and local government of Zhangping city. The archaeological excavation and the preliminary research showed that the Qihe cave was a cave site dating to the transition period from late Paleolithic period to the early Neolithic period. The excavation locations mostly gathered at the north part inside of the cave and the rock shelf outside of the cave. The cultural deposit layers were continuous and well-preserved.


The cultural deposit could be divided into 9 layers from the top to the bottom. The stratigraphy relationship based on the archaeological excavation and over 20 dating data based on the samples from related layers indicated that the cultural deposit at the opening of the cave could be divided into three prehistory phases from the bottom to the top. Layer 7 and layer 6 could be dating to the end of Paleolithic period (17,000-12,000BP) and human activity surface, chipped stone tools and a few mammalian fossils were discovered. Layer 5 to layer 3C could be dating to the initial time of Neolithic period (ca. 12,000-9,000BP) and human skulls, ground stone tools, ground bone tools, potteries, decorations and companion animal group were discovered. Layer 3B to 3A could be dating to the early Neolithic period (ca. 9,000-7,000BP) and human resident remains, human skulls, chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, ground bone tools, decorations, potteries and companion animal group were discovered. In addition, the mammalian fossils discovered from the branch cave of the Qihe cave could be dating to the early to middle period of the late Pleistocene (ca.60,000-100,000BP).

The remains included ash pits, ditches, house ruins, post-holes, fire places, stoves and floor paved with pebble, etc.

13 ash pits were dating to different phases and they were mostly in shape of irregular circle or oval. They were generally filled with dark grey clay or light brown sand clay. In the ash pits dating to the late phase, there were a few celadon shards, spiral shells, burned soil particles and so on. While in the ash pits dating to the early phase, there were a few animal bones, rock blocks and small pottery shards.

Two house ruins: F1 (House number), which was under the layer 1 in grid No.2 (T2) No.3 (T3), was the architecture ruins dating to the Ming Dynasty, but only three layers of basement stones and the activity surface paved with reddish sand clay were left. F2, which was under the layer 3 in grid T2 and T3, was dating to the early Neolithic period and only 11 post holes and resident surface were left, but the fragments of wooden frame clay walls were also found. The method of making the post holes was that round pits were firstly dig on the resident surface and wooden posts were put into the pits, then dark grey clay was put around the posts and pressed tightly. The resident surfaces were mainly paved with red sand clay and burned clay and a stove was found.

Three fire places: these fire places were under layer 4. They were irregular-shaped square with oblique straight walls and flat bottoms. Their deposits were mostly burned clay and clay sand, including stone flakes, rock blocks, spiral shells and a few small bone fragments. Fire places No.1 and No.3 both were under layer 5. They were almost round-shaped with oblique straight walls and flat bottoms, filled with dark grey soil mixed with lots of red and grey burned clay particles which were loose in structure and were deposited in pit shape. There were lots of traces of ash and a few sand grey pottery shards, calcium nodules, stone flakes and blocks, etc.

Three floors paved with pebbles: one of them was under layer 3B in grid T1 in round shape. Its edge was burned into hard surface mingled with black and yellow clay, whose structure is tight and firm. On the west, there were several orderly arranged big rocks which seemed to be placed purposely. Therefore, here should be the place where the people living in the cave gathered together for public activities. As well, there was a burned remain on the northeast. Another one was under layer 7 in grid T2. It was possibly paved with high-psephicity pebbles carried from beach but mixed with lots of caesious fine sand. So it was very tight and firm in structure. The center of this floor was slightly higher than both sides and a drainage ditch was found on the south edge. The floor paved with pebbles under layer 5 in grid T5 was at the north side of the opening of No.2 unnamed cave outside the Qihe cave, but extended inwards the cave. The disclosed area is about 5 square meters and covered with pebbels with sand on the top.


The artefacts include potteries, stone tools, bone tools, decorations, animal teeth and bones, etc.

Pottery: mostly were sand clay pottery, among which the majority was grey brown in colors, then red brown and a few grey black and grey white. The pottery was made in a low temperature with a loose texture. Moreover, these potteries were mostly plain but some of them were slightly polished. Some of them decorated with oblique or staggered chords patterns and a few of them were decorated with engraved lines, zigzag, poke dots, wave, strings, embossing, nail marks, hollow-cut patterns. Pattern combination occurred on the potteries as well, such as squares and strings, zigzag, poke dots and embossing, wave and additional heap patterns which mostly were decorated at the neck or the edge of objects. Engraved lines and hollow-cut patterns only appeared in a few potteries. The identified objects were fu 釜caldrons, guan 罐jars, pen 盆basins, bo钵 bowls, pan 盘 plates, etc.

The lithic objects were various in category, including cores, flakes, blocks, hammers, anvils, choppers, balls, cobbles etc. Also, there were ground exquisite stone adzes, axes, knives, chisels, net pendants and so on.

Bone objects included awls, ladles, knives, tubular objects, fishhooks, sharp blade objects and chipped bone tools and so on. These bone objects were mostly made of tubular bones or ribs of mammals.

The art decorations included fish-shaped engraved accessory parts with borehole made of ground sand cobble, and bone tube intercepted from animal tubular bones, indicating the human beings had grasped high-level production techniques and esthetics.


Mammals were the majority among the terrestrial animals, including la io, Hipposoderidae, Rhinolophidae, Murina leucogaster, Myotis, Xanthotis, Ruttus ruttus, Apodemus peninsulae, Sciurotamias forresti, Mus musculus, rhizomys, hystricomorpha, Canis lupus familiaris, Vulpes, Vulpes vulpes, Martes, Mustela, Mustela-sibirica, Mustela kathiah, Melogale moschata, Sus scrofa, Cervus unicolor, Hydropotes inermis, Muntiacus reevesi, Capra ibex, Macaca mulatta; Aquatics included Fruticicolidae, Mytilus Edulis, Chelonia mydas, Sinopotamon denticulatum, Hemibarbus marculatus Bleeker, and a little amount of bones of birds.

The stratigraphy of the Qihe cave site was continuous and clear, covering the Paleolithic and Neolithic period and till up to history period. The artefacts are rich and varied, including prehistory human bones, mammalian bones, chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, bones objects, pottery objects, gangue and living surface dating to the Paleolithic period and the building ruins dating to the early Neolithic period. Also, micro-plant fossils were extracted from deposits and cultural relics for later analyzing. These discoveries not only filled in the blanks of the prehistory culture in Fujian and the southeast of China, but also supplied significant academic value for studying exploring the human technology development and the subsistence change during the period from the Paleolithic period to the Neolithic period, studying the physical evolution and survival condition of the ancient people in this area, studying the emigration, exchange and cultural relationship of the ancient people between the two sides of Taiwan straits, studying the origin of agriculture, pottery and the history of the early coal. Therefore, it has a great research potential, and is a valuable history and cultural heritage and non-renewable scientific cultural resource for the archaeological research in Fujian, China, and even for all over the world.      (Translator: Zhai Shaodong)