Home Range Size in Middle Pleistocene China and Human Dispersal Patterns in Eastern and Central Asia

Article excerpt

THE ISSUE OF HOME RANGE SIZE IN THE MIDDLE PLEISTOCENE is a topic that needs to be addressed to study how hominids interacted with their environment at a local level. This is a particularly pertinent task in China where more fine-grained data are now becoming available. The home range is the area occupied during the life of an animal or human. Hominid home range size can be studied by using different sets of data, including distance of the lithic raw material sources to an archaeological locality. Hominids usually obtained their materials for stone tool manufacture from local sources within a 5-km radius, indicating a small home range size in the Middle Pleistocene. However, more substantial research needs to be carried out to determine if this is a realistic pattern. In the context of the regional scale, knowledge about home range size can further the study of settlement patterns. From about the second half of the Middle Pleistocene, there is evidence for hominid occupation of mountainous areas, which appears to indicate hominids increasing the size of their home range. Various ecological hypotheses, based on mammalian biogeography data, may help us gain more insight into the dispersal patterns of hominids in eastern and Central Asia. Associated with the frequency of human dispersal is the question of whether Chinese Homo erectus and Homo sapiens were geographically isolated for most of the Pleistocene, as suggested by some authors. Periodic faunal emigration and immigration would appear to argue against regional isolation, and the craniofacial morphology of some later Middle Pleistocene H. sapiens may reflect interregional genetic exchange.

One of the most influential concepts in human evolution is the idea that eastern Asia was geographically isolated for most of the Pleistocene. Teilhard de Chardin suggested that the region was effectively, "... closed to any major human migratory wave" (Teilhard de Chardin 1941:87-88). Similarly, other scholars view the mountains and deserts of China as significant barriers to dispersal--which could explain hominid morphological characteristics and behavior interpreted as reflective of human isolation (Aigner 1976, 1978:223-224; Zhang 1990; Zhou and Wang 1991:14). It has long been argued that the conservative and informal tool technology in this vast region is one of the indicators of isolation (e.g., van Heekeren and Knuth 1967:111; Movius 1949; Sieveking 1960:101). Specifically, the Chinese cultural record shows a remarkable continuity, especially the conservative record of generally informal tools (e.g., Aigner 1981; Wu and Olsen 1985; Pope and Keates 1994). Instances of biracial technology may reflect contact with non-Chinese populations at the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene (Hou et al. 2000), although this interpretation ignores the possibility that biracial technology may have developed independently.


One of the critical issues in reconstructions of human behavioral evolution is the size of the hominid home range. The spatial distribution of hominids (and mammals in general) is influenced by a variety of agents such as access to water, food resources (e.g., Ford 1983) and avoidance of predators (e.g., Kie et al. 2002). In this paper, a smaller scale of hominid distribution, that is, home range size, will be explored.

The variable used to determine the home range size of Middle Pleistocene Chinese hominids (Homo erectus and Homo sapiens), is the distance of the source from which raw materials for tool manufacture were selected at individual sites. In Middle Pleistocene China, sources appear to have been usually confined to local outcrops, such as at the late Middle Pleistocene/early Late Pleistocene Xujiayao (Shanxi Province) and late Middle Pleistocene Dali (Shaanxi Province) sites, although the pattern of raw material acquisition is quite variable. At a few sites materials were exploited from greater distances (Keates 2001b, 2003a; Fig. …


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