A team of researchers, including Lynne Schepartz, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, has discovered an unusual collection of animal and human teeth dating back over 200,000 years deep inside a southern China cave. The evidence for human occupation of the cave is clear. There are stone tool cut marks on the animal bones, repeated findings of burnt bone, and unusual collections of bones and teeth from animals like the Stegodon which could not have lived in the cave.
The cave, known as Panxian Dadong, was apparently used by early humans in southern China and remained in use through the time of Mao and up to the present. Schepartz, Sari Miller-Antonio (California State, Stanislaus), and Deborah Bakken (Field Museum) have been working in the cave since 1996, in collaboration with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
They will report some of their findings from the 1996-2000 field seasons March 14-17 during a conference "Asia and the Middle Pleistocene in Global Perspective" that the team is hosting at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii.
Schepartz says one of the most interesting findings is the overwhelming percentage of teeth found in the cave. Roughly 30 percent of the animal remains found are teeth. Only about 2 percent come from skulls. The teeth also come almost entirely from very large animals, including the elephant-like Stegodon, rhinoceros and buffalos.
Using a "Total Station," a light-based tracking system to measure and record the precise location of all the artifacts found in Panxian Dadong, the researchers clearly located what Schepartz called "the tooth zone" about 1-2 meters below the ground surface. "It's not at all what you'd expect to find. What happened to the bones?
There are almost none there, but they are found above and below the 'tooth zone.'"