4664344_monash_86766.pdf (11.53 MB)
Download file

An archaeobotanical analysis of Late Palaeolithic, Peiligang and Yangshao sites in Henan and Shanxi Provinces, North China

Download (11.53 MB)
posted on 17.02.2017, 03:06 by Bestel, Sheahan Velma Margaret
This thesis examines plant based subsistence across the ‘agricultural transition’ in North China. The study was based around the Middle Yellow River region and included the Yiluo Basin in Henan Province, other sites in Henan and the Late Palaeolithic site of Shizitan in Shanxi Province. The study time period covered from c. 20,000 cal BP until the end of the Yangshao period c. 5,000 cal BP, with a focus on the transition period between c.13,800 cal BP – 5,000 cal BP. Plant remains examined included charred macrobotanical remains from the Late Palaeolithic, Peiligang and Yangshao periods. Microfossil remains from Peiligang artefacts included both starch and phytolith residues from grinding implements and denticulate stone sickles. The first macrobotanical evidence for the use of millet tribe grasses in North China was presented, with these occurring at the Shizitan site during the Late Palaeolithic period. Millet tribe grasses were subsequently domesticated during the Peiligang period and occur in the study region in the form of small numbers of foxtail and broomcorn millet grains. Domesticated cereal seeds accounted for less than 30 percent of seed taxa in the Peiligang period and less than 12 percent of seed taxa in the Yangshao period. During the Late Palaeolithic and Peiligang periods evidence for experimentation with other grasses was present in the form of panicoid and pooid (cf. Triticeae) starch remains on grinding implements. Residues recovered from Peiligang grinding implements suggest that acorns were an important aspect of subsistence. Macrobotanical evidence for acorns is recorded in the study region at sites such as Jiahu. Macrobotanical evidence for acorns was not present at Tieshenggou, where many of the analysed grinding implements were recovered. In addition to both Lithocarpus sp. and Quercus sp. acorns, Peiligang grinding implements preserved underground storage organ starch from the Cucurbitaceae or Dioscoreaceae families. Starch similar to that from the Phaseoloeae tribe of the bean family was also recovered. Denticulate stone sickles preserved evidence of both grass and eudicotyledonous residues from both the Shigu site and the Jiahu site. These residues do not rule out the possibility that these sickles were used to harvest grasses including millets (Shigu) and rice (Jiahu) but further evidence is needed to support this. The agricultural transition occurred later than expected in the study region, with domesticated cereals only accounting for a small proportion of seed-based subsistence in both the Peiligang and Yangshao periods. This is consistent with ‘middle ground’ subsistence (Smith, B. D., 2001) located between the two extremes of agriculture and hunting-gathering communities on a food production continuum scale.


Principal supervisor

Tim Denham

Additional supervisor 1

Li Liu

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts