Lithic production strategies during the late Middle Pleistocene at Dali, Shaanxi Province, China: implications for understanding late archaic humans

  • Hao LiEmail author
  • Matt G. Lotter
Original Paper


The Dali hominid site is well known as it contains a human cranium associated with stone artefacts and animal bones. Dating efforts have provided an age range of ~ 300–247 ka for these remains. Renewed study of the cranium in recent years has revealed a mix of archaic traits in the neurocranium and derived features in the face, and thus, this specimen may provide insight into our understanding of modern human evolution in China. However, the technological behaviour possessed by these people has remained unclear due to a lack of new and detailed research. In this paper, we re-examine the lithic assemblages from Dali, originally excavated in 1978 and 1980, and for the first time, we now provide a sound assemblage by removing those geofacts that have been used in past archaeological reports. Although the total number of artefacts is now smaller, our results show that core reduction strategies at Dali are primarily expedient, dominated by simple unifacial unidirectional flaking. In contrast, the formal tools exhibit relatively advanced technology, with artefacts that are diverse in type and characterized by a relatively standardized production strategy. In contrast to the widely accepted model for slow and conservative technological development in Chinese Palaeolithic technology, pre 40 ka, here, we suggest that there is evidence for gradual technological changes from the Early to Middle and early Late Pleistocene.


Northwestern China Dali cranium Late archaic humans Late Middle Pleistocene Lithic technology 



Our warmest appreciation goes to Ning Ma for his help on studying the materials and to Kathleen Kuman for proofreading and insightful comments on the earlier draft. We also thank Xiao-Meng Hu for providing pictures in Fig. 1e, f, Chao-Rong Li for permission to use pictures in Fig. 6a and Shi-Xia Yang for permission to use pictures in Fig. 6d. This research has been funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Pioneer Hundred Talents Program and the Chinese Academy of Sciences Strategic Priority Research Program Grant (No. XDPB05). MGL would like to acknowledge funding support provided by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa and the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) with its Scatterings of Africa programs.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and PaleoanthropologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.CAS Center for Excellence in Life and PaleoenvironmentBeijingChina
  3. 3.Department of Anthropology and ArchaeologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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