Specialised Nut and Meat Eaters in a Biodiverse Subtropical Forest in Middle Palaeolithic Southern China: Zhaoguo Cave Guizhou Province Flotation

Sheahan Bestel1, Lu Hongliang2, Zhang Xinglong3

1Independent Researcher, Australia

2Department of Archaeology, Sichuan University, China

3Guizhou Province Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Bureau, China

This paper presents a rare picture of both the plant and animal subsistence of forest hunters and foragers during the Upper Paleolithic at Zhaoguo Cave. This cave was designated as one of the top ten archaeological discoveries of 2020 in China. Zhaoguo Cave is situated within a biodiversity hotspot in the karst region of Guizhou Province, Southern China. The earliest occupation is recorded at c. 40,000 years ago, and persisted through climatic and environmental changes, including the last glacial maximum (LGM) and Younger Dryas periods. Samples of bulk sediment were collected at regular intervals through the 7 metre profile section. Sediments were floated and then sorted into their component botanical, faunal and lithic assemblages to allow comparisons of the weight and suggested relative importance of bone and plant remains in cultural stratigraphic layers to be analysed. Wild rice likely existed in the region, but it was not present in the flotation samples. Although small amounts of bird, fish, shell, nuts and tuber remains are present in the samples, the data indicate that people in this highly biodiverse environment relied mainly upon meat of mammals for their subsistence. In all but one sample, 75-100 percent of the subsistence material in the samples came from mammal bone. This suggests that subsistence modes based on hunting or scavenging, and foraging or gathering as well as fishing, were flexible yet sustainable enough to continue across both colder and warmer environmental conditions.