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The aeolian loess-paleosol sequences in the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP) are an excellent archive of variations in atmospheric circulation in the geological past. However, there is no consensus regarding the roles of the East Asian winter monsoon and westerly winds in transporting the dust responsible for loess deposition during glacial and interstadial periods. We conducted detailed measurements of the anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS) on two parallel loess profiles covering the most recent 130 ka in the western CLP to determine paleowind directions. Results show that the magnetic lineations of the loess and paleosol units in both sections are significantly clustered along the northwest to southeast direction. These observations demonstrate that the prevailing wind system responsible for dust transport in the western CLP was the northwesterly winter monsoon, rather than the westerly winds. The AMS-derived dust-bearing wind direction was relatively stable during the last glacial and interglacial cycle in the western CLP, consistent with sedimentary and AMS evidence from the eastern CLP. Accordingly, it is reasonable to conclude that large areas of deserts and Gobi deserts areas located in the upwind direction were the dominant sources for the aeolian deposits of the Loess Plateau.
The Dayao Paleolithic site, located in Inner Mongolia on the eastern margin of China's vast northwestern drylands, was a lithic quarry-workshop utilized by Pleistocene human migrants through the region. Determining the age of this activity has previously yielded controversial results. Our magnetostratigraphic and OSL dating results suggest the two artifact-bearing paleosols are correlated with MIS 5 and 7, respectively. Correlating paleoclimatic data with marine δ18O records leads us to conclude that two sandy gravel layers containing many artifacts in the lower part of the Dayao sequence were formed during MIS 9 and 11, if not earlier. Our results reveal that the earliest human occupation at the Dayao site occurred before ca. 400 ka during a relatively warm and moist interglacial period, similar to several subsequent occupations, documenting the earliest and northernmost archaeological assemblage yet reported in China's arid northwest. We conclude that the northward and southward displacements of the East Asian summer monsoon rain belt during past interglacial-glacial cycles were responsible for the discontinuous human occupation detected at the Dayao site. The penetration of this precipitation regime into dryland ecologies via the Huanghe (Yellow River) Valley effectively created a corridor for hominin migration into China's arid northwest.
A multidisciplinary fieldwork and research project was recently begun at the Yangshang site (220–140 ka), a late Early Paleolithic locale in the western Chinese Loess Plateau. 1696 lithic artifacts and 337 faunal remains were recovered during the excavation. Sedimentological and paleoenvironmental investigations indicate the site preserves a relatively long and minimally disturbed archaeological sequence associated with paleoenvironmental changes during MIS 7–6. A detailed techno-typological analysis of Yangshang's lithic assemblages was undertaken to examine the influence of glacial cycles on late Middle Pleistocene hominin technological strategies in the western Chinese Loess Plateau. The results show that while the Yangshang site is dominated by quartz-based core/flake assemblages typical of most Early Paleolithic sites in North China, the lithic assemblages provide evidence that different provisioning systems existed during the penultimate glaciation. We argue that these shifts reflect changes in land use and mobility that were tied to climate change. Our results suggest that theoretically informed statistical analyses of so-called unchanging and crude lithic technology can yield meaningful evidence for behavioral shifts.
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