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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures

 

Ordosian Culture (Upper Palaeolithic) (East Asia)
c.60,000 - 30,000 BC

FeatureAsia's Palaeolithic period is one of gradually encroaching human activity from the coastal regions towards the vast inland areas. India was reached around 70,000 BC as they left Africa and the Near East, although that specific date is contested. Anatomically modern humans filtered from there into South-East Asia and Oceania by about 60,000 BC, reaching Australia at some point around or shortly after 50,000 BC (see feature link).

The early history of modern human infiltration into and habitation of East Asia is still very vague. The story has only been illustrated in relatively isolated pockets of research, concentrated especially in China (and then only primarily along its Early Yellow River until more recent decades), Japan, and the two Koreas. From East Asia humans reached Berengia around 48,000 BC (now the north-eastern corner of Russia).

FeatureThe early East Asians also found Homo erectus populations still extant, but quickly out-competed them so that this long-established early human species was extinct before about 30,000 BC (see feature link). It was Homo erectus which provided the archaeological predecessor to the East Asian Palaeolithic, in the form of the Zhoukoudian Tradition. The type site for this is Zhoukoudian (Chou-k'ou-tien in older works), in China's Beijing municipality, where so-called Peking Man was discovered.

The Ordosian culture (or tradition, sometimes shown as the Ordos) is an Upper Palaeolithic modern human culture which has its type name on the Ordos plateau, southern 'Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region' in China, close to Mongolia's border. The tools of this culture display points and sides which bear similarities to the Mousterian culture and its Levallois Technique, both of which were Neanderthal-led Near East traditions into which Homo sapiens intruded before forming its own distinctive cultural features.

The tradition behind these tools must therefore have been carried here from the Near East without any notable development having taken place along the way. More recent analysis reveals a connection with the Yenisey-Baikal region in central Siberia, proof of a level of linkage between early modern human involvement in both regions. The culture can be vaguely and broadly dated to between about 60,000-30,000 BC.

Siberian cultural bone markings

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Palaeo-Anthropology and Palaeolithic archaeology in the people's republic of China, Wu Rukang & John W Olsen (Left Coast Press, 2009), and from External Links: Ancient DNA Links Native Americans With Europe, Michael Balter (Science, 25 Oct 2013: Vol 342, Issue 6157, pp409-410), and From Siberia to the Arctic and the Americas, Douglas Wallace (DNA Learning Center), and Tracking the First Americans, Glenn Hodges (National Geographic), and The population history of northeastern Siberia since the Pleistocene (Nature), and Ancient Denisovans (Archaeology Daily), and DNA from Mysterious 'Denisovans' Helped Modern Humans Survive (Live Science), and East Asia Palaeolithic (Claire Smith, Ed, Encyclopaedia of Global Archaeology, 2014), and Zhoukoudian archaeological site (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Stone Age Asia (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Origins of 'Transeurasian' languages (The Guardian), and Some of the first humans in the Americas came from China (The Guardian).)

c.60,000 BC

Asia's Palaeolithic period is one of gradually encroaching human activity from the coastal regions towards the vast inland areas, although the early history of modern human infiltration into and habitation of East Asia is still very vague.

Ordos Plateau
The Ordos plateau lies along the Yellow River in what today is northern China, close to the border with Mongolia

Early arrivals in East Asia set about exploiting the resources of today's China, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Tibet. Russia's north-eastern corner can also sometimes be included in this group.

The Ordosian culture is an Upper Palaeolithic modern human culture which has its type name on the Ordos plateau in China, close to Mongolia's border. The tools of this culture display points and sides which bear similarities to the Mousterian culture.

c.50,000 BC

Hunter-gatherers seem to arrive on Japan during this period. Two routes are available, one being via a land bridge in the north while sea crossings may be possible in the south. DNA suggests that the Palaeolithic ancestors of the later-dominant Jomon people come from the north-eastern part of the East Asian mainland. Good quality finds, however, are rare thanks to Japan's highly acidic soil which soon destroys fossil matter.

Naumann's Elephant (Palaeoloxodon naumanni)
Naumann's Elephant (Palaeoloxodon naumanni) chasing off a pack of dholes in Pleistocene Japan, by artists Michael Tripoli

c.36,000 BC

The earliest habitation of Siberia seems to take place around 40,000 BC - and perhaps even a little earlier. By this period those early inhabitants begin the process of becoming genetically distinct from both Western Eurasians (largely of the Aurignacian culture) and East Asians, shortly after these two have also begun to develop their own genetic distinctions.

c.30,000 BC

FeatureEarly East Asians have existed alongside extant populations of Homo erectus for the past thirty thousand years. It is Homo erectus which has provided the archaeological predecessor to the East Asian Palaeolithic, in the form of the Zhoukoudian Tradition.

The type site for this is Zhoukoudian (Chou-k'ou-tien in older works), in China's Beijing municipality, where so-called Peking Man is later discovered by archaeologists.

Homo ergaster, Turkhana Boy
In general, the use of Homo ergaster describes a species of hominid in Africa, but when examples of the same species leave Africa they are generally referred to as Homo erectus, although this is not a hard or fast rule - this example belongs to Turkana Boy, otherwise known as Nariokotome Boy, the most complete skeleton found to date and a perfect example of Homo ergaster of about 1.5 million years ago

c.25,000 BC

For the moment, despite increasing evidence to the contrary, this is the earliest generally-accepted arrival date for the first migrants to enter the Americas from Siberia via the Bering land bridge. Perhaps surprisingly, this migration is not limited solely to Siberians. East Asians are included, in a period of migration which lasts from about 24,000 BC to 17,500 BC.

c.12,500 BC

In 2012, what seems to be the remains of a previously unknown human species is identified in southern China. The bones, which represented at least five individuals, are dated to between 12,500 to 9,500 BC. The earlier of these dates marks the crossover between Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, not only in China but also in South-East Asia's Palaeolithic.

An artist's rendition of a Red Deer Cave person
One theory for the origins of the Red Deer Cave people posits that they represent a very early migration of a primitive-looking Homo sapiens which lived separately from other forms in Asia before dying out

They are named simply the 'Red Deer Cave' people, after one of the sites from which they are unearthed, at Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province.

FeatureA further skeleton is discovered at Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Province. The skulls and teeth from the two locations are very similar to each other, suggesting they are from the same population (see feature link for more).

c.10,600 BC

The Ordosian (and alongside it the East Asian Palaeolithic) has come to an end (around 30,000 BC). Early China's earliest regionally-specific culture now emerges in the form of the Nanzhuangtou. In Early Japan the Jomon is already underway, while the Jeulman pottery period in the Korean peninsula is still over a millennium away from emerging.

 
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