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Crude Tools Found in China

September 26, 2001 GMT

Archaeologists say crude stone tools indicate that humans lived in north China as early as 1.36 million years ago.

The tools found buried in the artifact-rich Nihewan Basin of north-central China represent the earliest known occupation in east Asia as far north as 40 degrees latitude, the same as present-day Beijing.

The study by archaeologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as the Smithsonian Institution and California Polytechnic State University, appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

The researchers conclude that the tools were used by hunters who were following game migration routes. Bones of gazelle and horse-like creatures, among other extinct species, were found with the tools at the ancient game processing site.

They said the dig’s northerly location suggests that hunters were broadly distributed across Asia, and that they reacted flexibly to periodic droughts and other climate changes.

The earliest known human site in China is located in a cave in the eastern province of Anhui. Last year, animal bones and possible stone tools dated that site to 2.2 million years old.

The tools in the new study include hand-sized scrapers made of fine-grained chert and volcanic rock with sharp, flaked edges.

The tools had been discovered 20 years ago in sedimentary rock south of Mongolia.

The researchers recently re-examined the tools and used new tests to more precisely date them, including measurements of changes in the magnetic properties of the surrounding rock layers.

In 2000, highly refined stone tools found in south China were dated at 800,000 years. That discovery helped to disprove a long-held assumption that early Asian cultures were less advanced than those in Africa.