• The Geoarchaeology of the Qinling Mountains of Central China: An Examination of Loess-Paleosol Sequences and Biomarkers at Mid-Pleistocene Paleolithic Sites

      Olsen, John W.; Holliday, Vance T.; Fox, Mathew Lyman; Kuhn, Steven L.; Tierney, Jessica E. (The University of Arizona., 2020)
      The sequences associated with hominin occupations and Paleolithic cultures of northern China represent one of the world’s richest records of human evolution and technological development throughout the Pleistocene. Furthermore, the famous loess-paleosol sequences of the central Chinese Loess Plateau are widely regarded as one of earth’s most robust terrestrial archives of Quaternary climate change. The combination of these facts has led to widespread agreement that the northern Chinese Paleolithic represents one of the most profound places on earth to examine and test models of human evolution-climate interactions. Since the paleoenvironmental conditions in which Eurasian hominins evolved is a core concern of Paleolithic archaeology, loessic geoarchaeology, and evolutionary anthropology, this dissertation attempts to build preliminary paleoclimatic and theoretical frameworks for further testing. The research presented here has three primary concerns: (1) to test the applicability of biomarker organic geochemistry to Paleolithic sites in central China, (2) to develop preliminary paleoenvironmental frameworks associated with significant occupations in the Qinling Mountains of central China, and (3) to develop a theoretical framework that synthesizes traditional geoarchaeology with modern quantitative paleoclimatology and East Asian Monsoon reconstructions. In terms of basic interdisciplinary research, this dissertation demonstrates that biomarker organic geochemistry, such as the analysis of n-alkane leaf waxes and branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers, is not only applicable to archaeological sites in northern China but represents a robust avenue in the construction of paleoenvironmental frameworks. Next, this research also demonstrates that both the ratio of C3 to C4 vegetation and temperature gradate on a north-to-south axis, and Paleolithic occupations associated with the northern and southern Qinling Mountains contain important differences that may have been of some significance to hominins throughout the Middle to Late Pleistocene. Finally, I present the Regional Gradient Model that attempts to demonstrate that climates, ecological regions, loess-paleosol sequences, and Paleolithic traditions are best described by regional gradients and not simple binary relationships. Although many findings in this dissertation are preliminary in nature, I argue this interdisciplinary work represents an important contribution to paleoclimatology, loessic geoarchaeology and Paleolithic research in northern China.