Each of the tools were shaped using stones .(Credit: ZHANG Shuangquan)
March 3, 2016

Paleolithic bone tools are the oldest ever found in China

An analysis of 17 bone tools recovered from the Ma’anshan Cave site in southern China has revealed that they are the oldest formal artifacts of their kind ever discovered in the country, according to a new study appearing in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Credit: ZHANG Shuangquan

Credit: ZHANG Shuangquan

Furthermore, barbed points discovered on the Paleolithic-era tools are among the earliest yet discovered outside of Africa, a team led by Gao Xing from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and Francesco d’Errico from the Université de Bordeaux in France reported in their recently-published paper.

According to Archaeology, the oldest of the artifacts were three awls discovered in the cave’s Stratum 6 that date back approximately 35,000 years ago. In addition, the researchers found a cutting tool, six spear points and awls in Stratum 5 that are an estimated 34,000 years old, and the barbed points were found in Stratum 3 and are at least 18,000 years old.

Credit: ZHANG Shuangquan

Credit: ZHANG Shuangquan

Each of the tools were originally crafted through grinding and scraping, while those found in Stratum 3 and Stratum 5 had also been polished, Xing, d’Errico and their colleagues explained. Changes in the tools between stratum indicate a possible shift in prey preference from medium sized mammals and fish to smaller ones, the study authors wrote.

Could shed new light on origins of bone tool technology

Bone tools, which according to Phys.org are formally defined as any artifact that has been cut, carved or otherwise modified to produce fully-shaped points, spears or awls, typically appear in the later parts of human history. Examples of such bone technology have been found in African sites, and early examples of such artifacts in other parts of the world have been rare.

stone scrape

Each of the tools was shaped using stones. (Credit: ZHANG Shuangquan)

Dr. Zhang Shuangquan said that the discovery of bone tools in Ma’anshan Cave “provides new materials for studies about the origin of bone tool technology in Africa and Eurasia,” while Xing added that the  research “demonstrates that bone tool technology shows rates of cultural turnover comparable to those observed in the Upper Paleolithic of Europe.”

According to the Daily Mail, anthropologists typically view the shift to producing bone tools as one of the signs indicating a major shift in human cognitive ability. This increasing brain power, they added, may have helped our ancestors, early Homo sapiens, to out-compete our early rivals such as the Neanderthals and the Denisovans to emerge as the dominant humanoid species.

While Homo sapiens are believed to have first evolved in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago, then spreading out from the continent some 60,000 years ago, recent archaeological studies uncovered  47 Homo sapiens teeth in China that date back to between 80,000 and 120,000 years ago, the UK newspaper added.

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Image Credit: ZHANG Shuangquan