New Achievements of the excavation at Paleolithic location, Zhanghuokou site, Shaanxi
During April to October, 2011, Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology, the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Science, Luonan Museum and Nanjing University, jointly carried on an emergent excavation at the Zhanghuokou site in Zhongxin village of Chengguan town, Luonan, Shaanixi province, in order to co-operate the infrastructure construction.
The Zhanghuokou site is located at the top of the second-level terrace between the South Luo River and one of its branches, Xian River, which are in the west of the Luonan Basin. This site is about 2km southeast to the Luonan county and its altitude is 1019m. The Zhanghuokou site used to be a hill covering 6000 m2 and located in the east of the Zhongxin village, but now it is much smaller due to the construction.
The excavation at the Zhanghuokou site disclosed over 170 square meters and the stratigraphic deposit is from the loess covering the top of the second-level terrace by the South Luo River and its branches. Based on the observation on the unearthed deposit, located 2 meters underground, the deposit may be able to be divided into three different layers from the top to the bottom: the first layer is cultivated soil, which is about 0-20cm deep and the soil is of silty in aggregate structure; the second layer is ancient soil, which is about 20-130cm deep, dark brown and of silty or clay. The lithic artefacts from this layer are richest and most of the hand axes are from this layer; the third layer is about 130-200cm deep, which is loess and of silty or clay. Its color is not uniform and the loess is hard. There also are many lithic artefacts in the loess deposit at the top of the third layer. Although there are very rich lithic artefacts in all the deposit, the second layer are richest. Based on the detailed test to the deposit in all layers, the PH value of the soil in the Zhanghuokou site is between 6 and 6.5. In this strong acidic soil environment, bone and other organic culture relics are very hard to be preserved.
In this excavation, there were 16000 pieces of lithic artefacts unearthed from the loess formed in different periods and ancient soil layers. Besides of these, hundreds pieces of lithic artefacts were collected around the site. The lithic artefacts unearthed from this site include stone materials, hammers, anvils, cores, flakes, secondly retouched tools and debris, etc. Among the repaired tools, there are not only heavy tools such as hand axes, hand picks, thin-blade axes, choppers, large knives and stone balls, but also light ones as scrappers and points, etc. Among them, debris is the most numerous. Some lithic artifacts could be pieced together at their unearthed location. In addition, in the process of excavating the southeast corner of the middle level of the second layer in T3, the southeast corner of the top level of the third layer in T6 and the northeast corner of the top level of the third layer in T5, the location used to produce lithic artefacts, were discovered. Moreover, several quartzite artefacts in light color, which could be pieced up, were found in T3. This indicated that numerous lithic artefacts were quickly covered by loess after they were discarded at the production location.
In this emergent excavation, numerous sets of Acheulian artefacts, which were popular in Africa and the west of the Euro-Asia continent, were discovered in the Zhanghuokou site in the Luonan Basin, including hand axe, thin-blade axes, triangular hand picks and large knives, etc. And there were seven hand axes were unearthed only in the two test ditches which were 4×9 square meters respectively excavated in April to June, 2011. This is up to date the most concentrated discovery in single unit area in China and even all over the East Asia. Hand axes, thin-blade axes and large knives have been regarded as the typical and popular artifacts in Acheulian lithic industry. This excavation firstly proved based on the stratigraphy that the typical artefacts of the Acheulian Industy in the Luonan Basin were no later than the deposited loess’ on the second level terrace. Nowadays, some works are still in process, including the chronology of the Zhanghuokou site and its ancient environment, the characteristics of the lithic artefacts, the micro-trace of the lithic artefacts, and the residue analysis, but there have been a few exciting results. In short, the achievement from the excavation at the Zhonghuokou site is significant for further understanding and studying the Palaeolithic chronology in the Qinling Moutain which is the transition zone in natural geography between south China and north China, the nature of the lithic industry, ancient environment, living behaviors, comparison of the Palaeolithic industy between Orient and the West, the technology exchange and spread of the early human being.
(Translator: Zhai Shaodong)