Special Issue: Climate Change and Its Regional Response

Evidence of Middle Pleistocene hominin migration in the Qinling Mountains (central China) from the Miaokou Paleolithic site

  • LIU Dengke , 1 ,
  • SUN Xuefeng , 1, * ,
  • HU Xuzhi 2 ,
  • YI Liang 3 ,
  • GUO Xiaoqi 1 ,
  • WANG Yichao 1 ,
  • WANG Shejiang 4, 5 ,
  • LU Huayu 1
  • 1. School of Geography and Ocean Science, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China
  • 2. School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China
  • 3. State Key Laboratory of Marine Geology, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092, China
  • 4. Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, CAS, Beijing 100044, China
  • 5. CAS Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, Beijing 100044, China
*Sun Xuefeng, PhD and Associate Professor, E-mail:

Liu Dengke, Master Candidate, specialized in physical geography. E-mail:

Received date: 2020-12-17

  Accepted date: 2021-08-11

  Online published: 2022-04-25

Supported by

National Social Science Foundation of China(19ZDA225)

National Natural Science Foundation of China(41972185)

The Project of Zhengzhou University(XKZDJC202006)


The Qinling Mountain Range (QMR) spans a large region in China and is an important area of hominin activities. Many Paleolithic sites are found in Bahe, South Luohe, and Hanjiang river valleys in the northern, eastern, and southern part of the range, respectively. The Danjiang River valley acts as a channel connecting these valleys and stretches from the north to the south of the QMR. The previous dating of the Paleolithic sites in the Danjiang valley mainly relied on geomorphologic comparison, stratigraphic correlation, fossil characteristics, and Paleolithic artifacts, indicating a lack of absolute data. In this study, we conducted a detailed geochronological investigation of the entire valley, and selected an ideal site—the Miaokou profile. Based on the identification of the loess-paleosol sequences, optically stimulated luminescence, and magnetostratigraphy, the Paleolithic artifacts of the Miaokou site located within the S5 and S6 layers of the profile belong to ~0.6-0.7 Ma. This suggests that the Paleolithic site is an old site in the Danjiang River valley, and this period also witnessed a rapid increase in the number of hominin sites during the Middle Pleistocene. Combining our results with previous reports across the QMR, we propose that the Danjiang River valley might have been a corridor for hominin migration, and is worthy of further investigation.

Cite this article

LIU Dengke , SUN Xuefeng , HU Xuzhi , YI Liang , GUO Xiaoqi , WANG Yichao , WANG Shejiang , LU Huayu . Evidence of Middle Pleistocene hominin migration in the Qinling Mountains (central China) from the Miaokou Paleolithic site[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2022 , 32(2) : 358 -374 . DOI: 10.1007/s11442-022-1951-3

1 Introduction

The Qinling Mountain Range (QMR) is the geographic boundary separating northern and southern China and is considered to be an important transitional zone in the migration and evolution of hominins. Since the 1960s, many hominin and Paleolithic sites have been discovered, providing valuable materials for studies on climate and environmental changes along with human evolution during the Quaternary (Jia, 1965; Dai, 1966; Huang and Qi, 1987; Xue, 1987; Li et al., 1991, 1994; Li and Etler, 1992; Wang and Huang, 2001; Wang et al., 2004, 2005, 2008, 2013; Pei and Song, 2006; Du et al., 2008, 2010; Zhou et al., 2009; Li et al., 2012; Zhu et al., 2018). According to the spatial distribution, nearly 30 sites, including the Gongwangling (An et al., 1990; Zhu et al., 2015), Shangchen (Zhu et al., 2018), and Chenjiawo sites (An and Ho, 1989; Sun et al., 2018), were found in Bahe River Valley of the northern Qinling Mountains. In the South Luohe River valley of the eastern Qinling Mountains, numerous sites occur in the upper (Luonan valley), middle (Lushi and Luoning counties), and lower (downstream Luoyang area) reaches. In particular, as many as 300 Paleolithic sites have been confirmed in the Luonan Basin, wherein more than 100,000 Paleolithic artifacts have been discovered, making this area one of the most densely clustered Paleolithic sites in China (Wang et al., 2005). Hundreds of sites have also been reported in the Hanjiang River Valley at the southern Qinling Mountains and are concentrated in Hanzhong Basin (Sun et al., 2017, 2018), Ankang Basin (Sun et al., 2017), Yunxian Basin (Li and Etler, 1992), and the Danjiangkou area (Li et al., 2012).
During 1970-1980, the discovery of hominin sites and Paleolithic remains was reported in the middle and lower reaches of the Danjiang River, which is an important passage that connects the three river valleys and runs north to south of the Qinling Mountains (Xu, 1980; Qiu et al., 1982; Wu and Wu, 1982; HPM, 1991). Owing to the implementation of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project, the Chinese government organized relevant departments to carry out a detailed site survey of the predicted inundation area of Danjiangkou Reservoir and found more than 100 Paleolithic sites, out of which approximately 20 have been systematically excavated (Li, 1998; SCM and DCM, 1999; Zhou et al., 2009; Niu et al., 2012), such as Liangjiagang (Huang et al., 1996) and Liangou (Zhu, 2005) on the second terraces of Danjiang River, and Baidutan (Niu et al., 2012), Shuanghe (Chen et al., 2016), Songwan (Niu et al., 2012), and Jiawan (Niu et al., 2014) on the third terraces. However, the dating of these sites basically depended on the geomorphic comparison, stratigraphic correlation, and characteristics of the Paleolithic artifacts. The sites occurring on the second terrace were identified as belonging to the Late Pleistocene, while those on the third terrace were identified as to the Middle Pleistocene. In contrast, similar research is relatively scarce in the upper reaches, and ongoing research shows slow progress. In 1995, Wang and Hu (2000) found four Paleolithic sites in the Yaoshi Basin of Banqiao River, which is a tributary of the Danjiang River. According to stratigraphic observations, the third terrace formed in the Middle to Late Pleistocene, while the second terrace formed in the Late Pleistocene. In 2006, Wang and Liu (2011) found two open-air Paleolithic sites. One on the second terrace of South Qinchuan River, which is a tributary of Danjiang River in Wangjian Village, Yangyuhe Town, Shangdan Basin, and the other is at Juanling, Fengshui River, which is also a tributary of Danjiang River in Shanyang Basin. Between 2010 and 2012, Wang et al. (2013) found the Miaokou, Wangjian-2, Donglongshan, Zhangcun, Tangyuan, Baiyangdian, and Liuyicun in Shangluo City, and the sites of Liangling and Dihua in Danfeng County. They collected 211 Paleolithic artifacts from these sites in the loess profile of the third terraces of Danjiang River and its tributaries. These works are more advanced than the previous ones, but the relevant sites lacked accurate age data. The main parameters for determining the age of relevant sites are geomorphologic comparison, loess-paleosol stratigraphic sequence, and characteristics of the Paleolithic artifacts (Zhao and Yang, 1995; Huang et al., 1996; Wang and Hu, 2000; Zhao et al., 2004, 2008; Yuan et al., 2008; Li et al., 2012; Wang et al., 2013). Thus, accurately dating the sites is vital for the understanding of hominin evolution and the development of the Paleolithic industry in the Qinling Mountains of China.
After a long-term archaeological survey of the upper Danjiang River Valley, we found that the loess-paleosol deposition at the discovered sites is difficult to preserve. After investigating the newly discovered Zhulinguan, Jinsixia, and Qingfenglingqiao sites and those discovered in 2018, the investigation team found that the Miaokou site has relatively thick and well-preserved sediments, making it an ideal dating profile. To determine the age of this site, samples were collected for the magnetostratigraphic and magnetic susceptibility studies in the summer of 2018, and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) samples were also collected from the controlled layer. This work introduces the Miaokou Paleolithic site along with its age data.

2 Study area and measurements

With a total length of 443 km, Danjiang River is the longest tributary of Hanjiang River. The river originates from the southern slopes of Fenghuang Mountain, which is the main ridge of the eastern Qinling Mountains, and passes through Shaanxi, Henan, and Hubei provinces, meeting the Hanjiang River before emptying into the Danjiangkou Reservoir. The Shangdan Basin spreads from Shangzhou City to Danfeng County. In this region, the terraces along both sides of the river are well developed, with a river width of 150-250 m and a valley width of approximately 1000-3000 m. The Shangdan Basin has a warm temperate semi-humid monsoon climate, with an annual precipitation of 710-930 mm and a temperature of 7-14℃.
Field investigation revealed that most of the terraces of the Danjiang River and its tributaries are up to level four, among which loess accumulated on the second to the fourth terraces during the Quaternary period. One layer each of paleosol and loess are mostly exposed on the second terraces, while two layers each of paleosol and loess were observed in some areas. The third terraces are generally covered with five to six continuous alternating and thick layers of paleosol and loess. Finding a complete terrace profile is difficult for the fourth terrace because of surface wind and water erosion.
In addition to the previous sites, our team also found three Paleolithic sites, namely, Zhulinguan, Jinsixia, and Qingfenglingqiao. The Zhulinguan site (33°27'38.81"N, 110°24'09.97"E, 461 m asl) is located in the Zhulinguan town of the Danfeng County, Shangluo City. Two strata were found that contained buried artifacts. Both are loess layers deposited on the slope, where one is at which the gravel layer and bedrock are approximately 2 m thick from top to bottom and the other is approximately 2 m thick, with a 1 m thick paleosol. The loess layer at the site did not show any obvious cleavage. The Jinsixia site (33°27'20.29"N, 110°34'21.86"E, 387 m asl) is located in Jinsixia, Shangnan County. Paleolithic artifacts are found in a ~2 m thick, grainy, and partly fragmented loess layer that is deposited on the slope. The layer does not show the development of Fe-Mn oxide bands. The Qingfenglingqiao site (33°14'08.62"N, 111°14'19.52"E, 185 m asl) is located in Qingfenglingqiao in Dashiqiao Town of Xichuan County, Henan Province. The artifact-bearing stratum at this site is composed of an upper layer of paleosol and a lower layer of loess, and some Paleolithic artifacts were also collected from the surface. After investigating all the sites, the Miaokou Paleolithic site profile (33°52'04.73"N, 109°51'51.91"E, 763 m asl) was selected as the sampling point. The site is near the brick factory of Miaokou Village in Yangyuhe Town, Shangzhou City, Shaanxi Province. The brick factory is located on the third terrace of the left bank of Qinchuan River, a first-level tributary of the Danjiang River (Figure 1). The standard profile selected for this study is relatively thick (~12 m), with six layers each of loess and paleosol clearly visible.
Figure 1 Location of the Miaokou Paleolithic site. The small red triangles mark the sites of Danjiang River Valley; the small black triangles mark the sites of other river valleys; the red dots mark the newly discovered sites in Danjiang River Valley; and the red pentacle marks the Miaokou site.

2.1 Study profile

The loess sections of the site and exposed Paleolithic artifacts are shown in Figure 2. The profiles from top to bottom are as follows:
Figure 2 Field photographs of loess sections (a, b, and c) and exposed Paleolithic artifacts (b: upper and c: lower) of the Miaokou Paleolithic site
The soil layer is approximately 0.3 m thick, with many plant roots.
First layer: loess, 0-0.5 m thick, brown (7.5 YR 6/6), silty, blocky structure.
Second layer: paleosol, 0.5-1.4 m thick, dark brown (5 YR 4/3), clay, dense and compact, with an obvious angular structure.
Third layer: loess, 1.4-2.8 m thick, bright brown (7.5 YR 5/8), silty, with small pores and black mottles.
Fourth layer: paleosol, 2.8-3.8 m thick, dark brown (5 YR 4/6), clay, with a blocky structure and black Fe-Mn oxide bands.
Fifth layer: loess, 3.8-4.6 m thick, brown (7.5 YR 5/6), silty, dense, with black Fe-Mn mottles and a blocky structure.
Sixth layer: paleosol, 4.6-5.5 m thick, bright reddish brown (5 YR 3/4), silty clay, blocky, Fe-Mn oxide bands, relatively loose.
Seventh layer: loess, 5.5-5.9 m thick, bright yellowish brown (7.5 YR 6/8), silty, with black Fe-Mn mottles, relatively dense.
Eighth layer: paleosol, 5.9-7.1 m thick, dark brown (5 YR 4/4), clay, with developed pores and fissures, Fe-Mn oxide films, and a granular structure.
Ninth layer: loess, 7.1-7.8 m thick, yellow brown (7.5 YR 6/8), silty clay, Fe-Mn oxide mottles, small holes.
Tenth layer: paleosol, 7.8-9.8 m thick, dark brown (5 YR 4/6), with Fe-Mn oxide films, a block structure with conspicuous perpendicular cracks, and native buried Paleolithic artifacts.
Eleventh layer: loess, 9.8-10.8 m thick, pale yellowish brown (7.5 YR 7/6), silty clay, with small pores and a blocky structure, containing many black Fe-Mn mottles.
Twelfth layer: paleosol, 10.80-11.5 m thick, light brown green (10 YR 5/6), with developed cracks (some of which are grass green or olive yellow), contains many Fe-Mn films and red iron oxide mottles, has high humidity and native buried Paleolithic artifacts.
The bottom of the profile is gravel.
We found 101 Paleolithic artifacts at the site, four of which were buried in the loess section, and the rest were collected from the surface. The artifacts excavated from the profile and those collected from the surface of the site are highly similar. The Paleolithic artifacts are mainly composed of flakes, cores, chunks, and gravel. No hand axes were found, and a few scrapers made from small flakes were collected. The Paleolithic artifacts were mainly processed by the hammering method to strip the flakes. Vein quartz, quartz, and quartzite were the assemblage of raw materials observed in the processing of Paleolithic artifacts. The features of the Paleolithic artifacts mentioned above are similar to those found at the Paleolithic sites in the QMR, reflecting the relatively consistent Paleolithic industry in the QMR (Wang et al., 2014; Wang and Lu, 2016). Typical Paleolithic artifacts are shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3 Typical Paleolithic artifacts of the Miaokou Paleolithic site (a1-a3 are scrapers; a4 and a5 are cores; a6-a9 are flakes)

2.2 Sample collection

The section at the Miaokou site was up to 12 m thick, and 52 oriented paleomagnetic samples were collected continuously at intervals of 0.2-0.3 m. To confirm the accumulation age at the top of the profile, two OSL samples were collected from the second loess layer (the loess and paleosol in the first layer were on the surface and were comparatively thin; thus, samples were collected from the second loess layer). A total of 120 scattered samples were collected at 0.1 m interval from the entire profile for measuring the magnetic susceptibility. The oriented palaeomagnetic samples were cut into 2 × 2 × 2 cm3 cubes for testing in the laboratory.

2.3 Sample testing

2.3.1 Rock magnetism measurement

We measured the low-frequency magnetic susceptibility at the Laboratory of Land Surface Processes of Nanjing University, China. The samples were dried in an oven (40℃) for > 72 h prior to the test, after which they were weighed (10 g) and packed in a box. A Bartington MS2 magnetic susceptibility meter and a low frequency (470 Hz) were used in the test. Each sample was measured thrice, and the background values before and after the measurements were subtracted.
Typical samples were selected for high-temperature magnetic susceptibility (χ-T) measurements using the KLY-3 Kappabridge and CS-3 high-temperature furnace produced by the Czech Republic Company Agico Ltd. The samples were heated from room temperature to 700℃ and then cooled to room temperature under an argon atmosphere.

2.3.2 Demagnetization

We performed systematic thermal demagnetization on all the samples at the Laboratory of Paleomagnetism, School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, Nanjing University. A TD-48 demagnetization furnace was used to remove the secondary residual magnetism, and a 2G-755 superconducting magnetometer was used to measure the natural residual magnetism (NRM) of each sample. The entire experiment was completed in a magnetically shielded environment (magnetic field < 300 nT). The temperatures were increased by 20℃ to 50℃ in a 16-step process (i.e., 50℃, 100℃, 150℃, 200℃, 250℃, 300℃, 350℃, 400℃, 450℃, 500℃, 550℃, 580℃, 610℃, 640℃, 660℃, and 680℃).

2.3.3 OSL dating

The OSL samples were pre-treated under subdued red light in the Laboratory of Optically Stimulated Luminescence at Nanjing University, and grains with sizes of 63-90 µm were extracted for dating. The purity of the quartz was tested before determining the equivalent dose (De). If the OSL-IR depletion ratio exceeded 10%, the samples were re-treated (Duller, 2003). The U, Th, and K contents were measured at Nanjing University via ICP-MS. The in situ water content was determined by weighing the sample before and after drying, and the cosmic dose rate was calculated using the formula proposed by Prescott and Hutton (1994). The dose rates were calculated using the updated dose rate conversion factors proposed by Guérin et al. (2011). The De was determined using Risø TL/OSL-DA-20C/D with a 90Sr/90Y beta source (Bøter-Jensen et al., 2010). The TT-OSL method was used to measure the De of the quartz grains (Wang et al., 2006a, 2006b, 2007; Lu et al., 2020).

3 Results

3.1 Rock magnetism

The temperature-magnetic susceptibility (χ-T) curve can be used to study the types of magnetic minerals in the samples (Hunt et al., 1995; Deng et al., 2001; Liu et al., 2005). Figure 4 shows three types of χ-T curves for the studied samples of the Miaokou site.
Figure 4 Temperature-magnetic susceptibility (χ-T) curve of the representative samples in the Miaokou site profile (red curves represent heating processes; blue curves represent cooling processes)
The first type (Figure 4a) shows a slow increasing trend from room temperature to 150℃. This phenomenon may be attributed to the transformation of weak magnetic minerals (e.g., goethite or lepidocrocite) into strong magnetic minerals (e.g., maghemite) during heating (Oches and Banerjee, 1996; Deng et al., 2001). From 150℃ to 350℃, the magnetic susceptibility decreased slowly followed by a rapid decrease at 585℃. This might be due to the conversion of newly formed and/or original magnetically metastable maghemite into weakly magnetic hematite (Oches and Banerjee, 1996; Florindo et al., 1999; Deng et al., 2001). After 680℃, the magnetic susceptibility value was ~0, indicating the presence of a small amount of hematite. The cooling curve is always above the heating curve, indicating that a new magnetite, which may be converted from clay minerals and/or iron-bearing silicates, is formed during heating (Hunt et al., 1995; Deng et al., 2001).
The second type (Figures 4b and 4c) has a pattern similar to sample MK-500, without weak magnetic minerals, such as goethite.
The third type (Figure 4d) has a very low magnetic susceptibility, indicating that weak magnetic minerals are dominant in the sediments. The magnetic susceptibility decreased during heating and was lost at 680℃, indicating the presence of hematite. These magnetic properties indicate the dominance of magnetite and a small amount of hematite.

3.2 Paleomagnetic test results

As shown in orthogonal diagrams (Zijderveld, 1967), the viscous remanent magnetization can be removed by thermal demagnetization at 50℃-200℃ (Figure 5), and the characteristic remanent magnetization (ChRM) can be isolated at either 400-580℃ or 610-680℃. These characteristics are consistent with the aforementioned magnetic properties, indicating reliability of the magnetostratigraphy of the studied profile.
Figure 5 Composite orthogonal projections ((a1)-(f1)) and residual magnetization intensity decay curves ((a2)-(f2)) of the representative progressive thermal demagnetization of the samples of the Miaokou profile. The solid (hollow) circles represent the horizontal (vertical) component projections; NRM is the natural remanent magnetization; and the highest temperature is 680℃.
The ChRM values of 40 samples (77%) were obtained to calculate the accurate palaeomagnetic results of the latitude of the virtual geomagnetic pole (VGP), which were either 45°-90° or from -90° to -45°.

3.3 OSL ages test results

The OSL dating results are provided in Table 1 and indicate that the sampled paleosol layer is L2, which is mutually confirmed by field observations, and the entire sedimentary process of this profile is continuous.
Table 1 Summary of sample codes, depth information, water contents, radionuclide concentrations, calculated dose rates, De values, and luminescence ages; “wc” means water contents, with an absolute uncertainty of ± 5%
Lab No. Sample No. Depth (cm) wc (%) U
Dose rate (Gy/ka) De
Age (ka)
NJU2889 MK-1 160 4 2.197±0.04 13.214±0.15 1.765±0.02 3.43±0.19 486±25 141±11
NJU2890 MK-2 240 6 2.137±0.03 12.427±0.13 1.760±0.01 3.24±0.17 550±27 169±17

4 Discussion

4.1 Age of Paleolithic artifacts at the Miaokou Site

Numerous studies have shown that the eolian profile in the QMR is comparable to the typical loess profile in the middle of the Chinese Loess Plateau (Lu et al., 2007; Sun et al., 2017, 2018). To obtain accurate dating results, a comprehensive dating method combining OSL, magnetostratigraphy, and the loess-paleosol sequence was adopted in this study. The results of OSL confirm that the top of the profile is not significantly eroded and no strata are missing. The results of rock magnetism show that the main magnetic minerals in the loess-paleosol layer in this area are similar to those of the Loess Plateau. Magnetite and maghemite are predominant, and few samples contain goethite and hematite. The paleomagnetic results of all the samples show that the profile was deposited during the Brunhes normal polarity. Environmental magnetism was analysed mainly by magnetic susceptibility, and the results were consistent with those of the previous studies. By studying the profiles of the Jinjiyuan tableland on the third terraces of the Shangdan Basin in the Danjiang River Valley, Lei (1999) found that the loess profile has a good comparability with the typical profiles of the Loess Plateau in terms of magnetic susceptibility, grain size, stratigraphic structure, and geochemical characteristics. The multiple climatic cycles in the QMR reflected by these indicators are consistent with the global climatic changes recorded by marine oxygen isotopes in deep-sea sediments. The magnetic susceptibility curve for the profile of the Miaokou site and the corresponding situation of the Luochuan profile along with the successions of the magnetostratigraphic polarity of the Miaokou profile are shown in Figure 6. The results show that the Miaokou profile formed during the Brunhes normal polarity. A comparison of the magnetic susceptibility curve of the entire profile with that of the Luochuan standard profile (Lu et al., 2004) revealed good consistency between them. First, peaks appeared in the paleosol layer, and the troughs are mostly in the loess layer. Second, the peak of S1 is very close; the three small peaks of S2 are consistent with the trend of the Luochuan profile; the shape of S3 was also consistent with the Luochuan profile; the overall trend for S4 is similar, and the magnetic susceptibility also reflects that S5 is the thickest layer in this profile. All these characteristics suggest that the magnetic susceptibility of the studied profile is in good condition compared with the Luochuan standard profile. Combined with the results of the Luochuan profile, S5 was ~0.471-0.576 Ma and S6 was ~0.658 -0.67 Ma (Lu et al., 1999). The Paleolithic artifacts in the Miaokou profile are buried in S5 and S6, establishing the age of this site is ~0.7-0.6 Ma.
Figure 6 Lithostratigraphy, magnetic susceptibility, magnetic polarity stratigraphy of the Miaokou profile and its comparison with the magnetic susceptibility of Luochuan, and geomagnetic polarity time scale (Hilgen et al., 2012). MS, magnetic susceptibility; Dec., magnetic declination; Inc., magnetic inclination; a and b, OSL age; VGP Lat., virtual geomagnetic pole latitude; MAD, maximum angular difference; GPTS, geomagnetic polarity time scale; N, normal polarity; B, Brunhes normal polarity; M, Matuyama reversed polarity.
Based on the discovered Paleolithic artifacts, it is inferred that the raw materials were mainly from local sources. The material first came from quartz gravel that occurs on the flood plain, followed by quartzite and quartz sandstone. Small quartz tools were also used in the Paleolithic artifacts. These characteristics indicate that the tool assemblage in the Paleolithic artifacts in this region is similar to that in the adjacent Lantian area (Dai, 1966), Luonan Basin (Wang et al., 2005), and Danjiangkou Reservoir area (Zhu, 2005, 2007; Li et al., 2009; Li et al., 2012; Niu et al., 2012). The age of the Miaokou site helps to further understand the age, scope, and route of hominin activities in the QMR.

4.2 Age of early Paleolithic sites in the QMR

Since the 1960s, archaeologists have discovered numerous Paleolithic sites in the Qinling Mountains Range (Jia, 1965; Dai, 1966; Huang and Qi, 1987; Xue, 1987; Li et al., 1991, 1994; Li and Etler, 1992; Wang and Huang, 2001; Wang et al., 2004, 2005, 2008, 2013; Pei and Song, 2006; Du et al., 2008, 2010; Zhou et al., 2009; Li et al., 2012; Zhu et al., 2018), making it an important hominin agminate area of the Pleistocene that is comparable with the Nihewan Basin in northern China. Overall, the Paleolithic sites in this area are distributed over the Early, Middle, and Late Pleistocene. The sites in the entire region whose exact dating results are more than 0.6 Ma are shown in Figure 7. These sites are mainly found in the Bahe River valley (3) in the northern Qinling Mountains (An and Ho,1989; Zhu et al., 2015, 2018), the South Luohe River valley (3) in the eastern Qinling Mountains (Lu et al., 2007, 2011; Sun et al., 2014; Wang et al., 2019), and the Hanjiang River valley (9) on the southern Qinling Mountains (De Lumley and Li, 2008; Sun et al., 2012, 2017, 2018; Liu et al., 2015; Kong et al., 2018; Han et al., 2019). During 2.12~0.6 Ma BP, the Paleolithic industry in the Qinling Mountains belonged to the Model I, and the cultural features mainly consisted of cores and flakes, as well as gravel chopper-chopping tools and flake fools for simple retouching (such as points and scrapers). In particular, hand-axes were not found. All sites mentioned in Figure 7 are representative of this period. The number of Paleolithic artifacts found at different sites varied, but the types were generally similar. For example, in addition to cores and flakes, the artifacts at the Chenjiawo site in the Bahe River valley are basically scrapers and small points, and heavy tools are chopper-chopping ones (Wang and Lu, 2016). The excavation of the Liuwan site in the South Luohe River Valley showed that the common Paleolithic artifacts in the early formed layers are still simple cores and flakes, with tools made from gravel and flakes (Wang et al., 2019). The Paleolithic artifact assemblage at Longgangsi-2 site in the Hanjiang River valley is also comprised of primary cores, flakes, chunks, and simple retouched tools, including chopper-chopping tools, scrapers and points (Sun et al., 2017, 2018). In summary, the features of the Paleolithic artifact of these sites are consistent with those of the Miaokou site mentioned above. Many sites are younger than 0.6 Ma and have a wider range, indicating that hominin records in the Qinling Mountains have been basically continuous since the Pleistocene. From the spatial distribution perspective (Figure 1), as a passageway connecting the Bahe, South Luohe, and Hanjiang River valleys, the Danjiang River valley can be considered to have been the best path for the hominins to cross the Qinling Mountains. The results of this study give an age of ~0.7-0.6 Ma for the Miaokou site, and several sites of the same period have been found in the other three river valleys. There are Paleolithic sites on both sides of the Qinling Mountains, which indicate that the Danjiang River valley served as the communication corridor between the hominin of the two sides to some extent. Thus, from the absolute dating, it can be proved that this site is an older site in the Danjiang River valley.
Figure 7 Distribution of Paleolithic sites older than 0.6 Ma in the QMR according to standard loess-paleosol stratigraphic sequence (Ding et al., 2002) and δ18O stack (Lisiecki and Raymo, 2005). The sites marked with blue symbols were previously studied by our team; purple symbols indicate the research by other workers; red symbols mark the present study.
Significant increase in the number of 0.6 Ma sites may be related to the ‘Mid-Pleistocene transition' (Figure 7). During the Middle Pleistocene (~1.2 Ma to ~0.7 Ma), the climate change cycle of land and ocean shifted from 41 ka to 100 ka (Wang et al., 2017; Sun et al., 2019). Increased climate fluctuations cause changes in temperature, humidity, and CO2, which further lead to changes in the ecosystem and resources. In the process of adapting to the environment, hominin migration and activities become more frequent (Lu et al., 2017; Sun et al., 2018). Under the influence of the ‘Mid-Pleistocene transition', northern China became cold and dry, causing the hominins to migrate southward, but when the northern climate became relatively warm, the hominins may have migrated from south to north. Therefore, the Danjiang River valley corridor can be considered either a two-way communication channel, rather than a unidirectional diffusion channel. For hominins, the driving forces for migration were local conditions, climate features and human behavior. They responded appropriately to changes in the climate and environment. Available research on the hominin migration has become more advanced than before, but more Paleolithic sites need to be excavated in Danjiang River valley to understand the evolution and migration of hominins in the QMR in central China.

5 Conclusion

The results of the loess-paleosol sequence, OSL, and magnetostratigraphy (rock magnetism, paleomagnetism, and environmental magnetism) at the Miaokou Paleolithic site indicate that the Paleolithic artifacts were buried in S5 and S6 layers of the profiles. Given its age of ~0.7-0.6 Ma, the Miaokou site is an old Paleolithic site in the Danjiang River Valley that has been accurately dated. The Danjiang River valley may have been a corridor for hominins through the Qinling Mountains acting as the passage connecting the Bahe, South Luohe, and Hanjiang river valleys. This study aids in understanding the spatio-temporal characteristics of hominin activities in the QMR of China.


We would like to thank Xu Xinghua, Lu Yiming, and Zeng Qiongxuan for their assistance in field sampling.
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