Sanlongdong cave (Chine): Discovery of 50,000-year-old Paleolithic Remains

Chinese Archaeology


From August to September in 2016, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology And Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in conjunction with Inner Mongolia Museum conducted an excavation to Sanlongdong cave site, cleared up an area of about 20 square meters, and unearthed thousands pieces of stone-tools. The site was located on Sanlongshan Mountain, north of Arhorchin banner, Chifeng city, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. 

20180102a1Excavated area of Sanlongdong cave site

Thanks to the excavation, the stratigraphic accumulation of Sanlongdong cave site was clarified, and the depth was about 2.5 meters, consisting of 5 archaeological stratums. Among which, the fourth was primary stratigraphic layer from the Paleolithic period, with from 0.5 to 1 meter’s thick. Through the excavation, archaeologists collected samples from important periods. The C14 dating result of the samples from the fourth and fifth layers was about 50,000 years ago, as the time period was nearly close to the dating limit of C14 dating methods, which suggests the real age might be earlier.

Nearly 500 pieces of stone-tools were excavated from the primary layers (the fourth and the fifth), no animal fossil was found. Thousands of stone-tools were screened from the accumulation from the first to the third layers, and the characteristic of the stone-tools were in consistent with those in the primary layers, which might be that people destroyed part of the Paleolithic layers, in order to level the caves. According to the primary observation, the stone-tools were mainly made of various types of volcanic rock; lithic cores were mainly in the shape of discoid; and stone flakes were mainly regular ones; hardly repairing trace was found on the surface, and no stone blade was found. And the type of stone-tools included transverse scrappers and points, end-scrapper and burin (lithic flake) of the upper Paleolithic period were not found. Rough stone tools were mainly thick stone flakes, highly repaired (steep to), and some of which had characteristic of Quina type of Mousterian culture. In a word, the stone-tools found in Sanlongdong cave site were similar to those of the middle Paleolithic period in the middle and west of Eurasia, however, were quite different to those of the same period in the northern part of China. Primarily, archeologists considered that the stone-tool combination belong to the middle Paleolithic technique.

20180102a2Unearthed stone tools

Academic Significance

The excavation in 2016 explicated the Paleolithic primary layers of the site, which is the first one in Chifeng area, and ascends the history of human activities in this area to around 50,000 years ago. The stone-tools had obvious characteristic of the Middle Paleolithic, and higher proportion of discoid cores, steep repaired scrappers and points. As hardly clear site of this characteristic was excavated, scholars deduced that no such Middle Paleolithic technique was happened in China at that time. However, the excavation of Sanlongdong cave site added new materials for the study. The stone-tools found in the site had similarities with those found in Inner Mongolian Jinsitai Cave Site, Mongolian Gobi Desert, Siberian Altai area and other related sites. Meanwhile, the stoneware of Sanlongdong had its own specialties. The excavation provided possibilities to study the evolution and diversity of the skills of the middle Paleolithic in East Asia; and important materials for understanding the adjustments, communications, and technical spread of ancient humans of that period in Eurasia.  (Translator: Wang Jue)