16,000-year-old Prehistoric Burial with Complete Human Skull Fossil Discovered in Yahuai Cave, Guangxi Province
From June 2015 to 2017, Guangxi Provincial Institute of Heritage preservation and Archeology conducted archaeological excavations to the Yahuai Cave site. In total, more than 40 square meters had been excavated, dates back to Paleolithic period to Neolithic period. Yahuai Cave site is located on an isolated hill in the town of Qiaojian, Longan County, Guangxi Province.
Distant view of Yahuai Cave
Remains and Assemblage
1. A Paleolithic burial was found, with a complete human skull. The burial pit was roughly rectangular. The tomb dates back 16,000 years through Carbon-14 dating method.
2. Two fire-use evidences (fire pit or fireplace) were found in the Paleolithic strata. One of them measured 3 m × 4 m, with more than 10 cm in thickness. The other one measured 40 cm × 90 cm, and nearly 10 cm in depth at the deepest part. From it charcoal debris, fired bones and stone artifacts were found.
Archaeologists from Guangxi Provincial Institute of Heritage, made the discovery.
3. Phytolith remains of rice (Oryza sativa L.) uncovered from the Yahuai Cave, which dated approximately 16,000 years before the present, In addition, phytolith likely belonging to rice dating back to 28,000-35,000 years ago were found.
4. Tens of thousands of relics were unearthed, and the assemblage comprises a large number of stone implements and several mussel shell, bone tools and pottery fragments, as well as abundant terrestrial animal and plant remains.
An overview of the burial from the original excavation
Stone artifacts were the main assemblage that were uncovered, with more than 10,000 pieces, including chipped and polished stone tools; Chipped stone tools accounted for the vast majority. Raw materials not only included the common sandstone, quartzite and quartz, but also flint and tektite that rarely seen in prehistoric sites of Guangxi. Stone implements included hammer, stone core, stone flakes, broken block, debris and tools, etc. Flake stone tools were the most abundant; some of them had traces of use. Chipped stone tools were mainly tiny flake tools, with lengths between 2cm to 5 cm.
In addition to stone products, a small amount of pottery, shell and bone tools were also found. Pottery shards were composed of sandy pottery with cord pattern and bare surface pottery, most of which were broken and difficult to distinguish shape. Shell tools were chipped and only clam knives were recognized. The only bone tools were bone awls. Remains of animals and plants were rich, including tens of thousands of aquatic and terrestrial animal bones and teeth, a large portion of which were small animal remains discovered through screening and flotation.
The fire-use evidences (fire pit）
Dating and Periodization
The site was primarily dated to 44,000-4,000 BP. Based on the stratification of strata, the characteristics of unearthed artifacts and the existing dating results, the remains can be roughly divided into four phases.
1. New Type of Late Paleolithic Archaeological Culture of Lingnan region
Most of the stone implements were tiny chipped stone tools belonging to the flake tool industry system, which is in contrast to the pebble tool tradition in the same region. The tiny stone-tools found at Yahuai Cave added new data for studying the relationship between the northern and southern cultures of the late Paleolithic culture in China.
Stone-tools made of flint have been found in Yahuai Cave
2. Bridging the Prehistoric Culture Sequence in You River valley
A large number of remains were found in Yahuai Cave site dating to 44,000-10,000BP, most of which with precise culture strata, bridged the timeline of middle to late Paleolithic culture in the You River valley, thus further complete the prehistoric cultural sequence in Guangxi.
Archaeologist have discovered a complete skull from the burial
3. New Findings of Late Pleistocene Burial and Human Fossils in China.
Very few late Paleolithic burial and human fossils have been found in China before, with a lack of exact dating. The burial at Yahuai Cave is the second one discovered in China after that at Upper Cave (Shandingdong site). The human fossils are of great academic value for studying the diversity of modern people, the migration and exchange of human in the late period of Late Pleistocene, and the burial customs in the late Paleolithic Age.
Phytolith remains of rice (Oryza sativa L.)
4. Earliest Evidence of Humans Utilizing Wild Rice in the World
There is a long time in the use of wild rice before the rice domestication. The presence of phytoliths from rice (Oryza sativa) found in Yahuai Cave dating to ca.16,000 BP provided valuable material data for the wild rice exploitation and offer new clues for exploring the rice domestication. (Translator: Sun Dan Photo: Archaeology Press IA CASS)