7 Oldest Archaeological Sites in China

Prehistory is the vast period of time where no written records documented human activity exist. Traditionally, archaeologists divide the prehistoric period into three archaeological periods: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. The Stone Age is subdivided into the Palaeolithic (or Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (or Middle Stone Age), and Neolithic (or New Stone Age).At present, over 2,000 Paleolithic sites have been discovered in China, covering various periods from 2.59 million to 10,000 years ago.

The Chinese archaeological sites on this list, including the famous Yuanmou Man Site, are the oldest ancient archaeological sites in China by now. These archaeological discoveries in China are of great importance in studying early humans.

Renzidong Relic Site

  • Chinese: 人字洞遗址
  • Dating: 2.2-2.59 million years ago
  • Location: Fanchang District, Wuhu City, Anhui Province
  • Year Discovered/Excavated: 1984; excavation started in 1998

  • Molar fossil of an adult individual mastodon found in the archaeological site of Renzidong

    The archaeological site of Renzidong or Renzi Cave is a Paleolithic site. It’s located in present-day Suncun Town, Fanchang District, Wuhu City, about 170 km from the famed HuangshanYellow Mountain. Fanchang Renzidong Site is the oldest site showing early hominins in Asia. Its fauna is relatively ancient in the Quaternary fauna, and its geological age is the Early Pleistocene.

    Evidence of Renzidong was first discovered in 1984 as workers were quarrying limestone. But excavation of the fossil site of Renzidong didn’t begin until 1998. Archaeological excavations uncovered animal bones and possible stone tools that suggest ancient human activities over two million years ago. The discovery made Renzidong ruins one of the earliest known sites of ancient human activities in Eurasia.

    Jianshi Upright Man Site

  • Chinese: 建始直立人遗址
  • Dating: 1.95-2.15 million years ago
  • Location: Jianshi County, Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Hubei Province
  • Year Discovered/Excavated: 1960s; excavation started in 1970

  • Jianshi Upright Man Site

    Jianshi Man Site, also known as Juyuandong (巨猿洞) or Longgudong (龙骨洞), is situated in Gaoping Town, Jianshi County, over 450 km away from Wuhan City and around 160-170 km to Yichang Yangtze River Cruise ports. Though not a well-known archaeological site in China, the Jianshi site is one of the earliest ancient human sites discovered in China.

    The first round of excavations at the Jianshi Man Site started in 1970, followed by several successive excavations. Researchers have discovered Homo erectus teeth, stone tools, stone products, bone products, as well as associated large mammals and more than 50 small mammals. It is the first discovered fossil site where Homo erectus and giant apes coexisted.

    Shangchen Site

  • Chinese: 上陈遗址
  • Dating: 1.26-2.12 million years ago
  • Location: Lantian County, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province
  • Year Discovered/Excavated: 2004

  • Stone tool found at the archaeological site of Shangchen

    The archaeological site of Shangchen is a Palaeolithic site. It's located in Shangchen Village, Yushan Town, Lantian County, about 70 km from the famous Terracotta Army of Xi’an. Since 2004, Shangchen historical site has been carefully studied.

    The fossil site of Shangchen in the southern Loess Plateau contains 17 artifact layers. Nearly 100 stone tools have been uncovered at the Shangchen site. Some of them are estimated to be 2.1 million years old. They are currently the oldest stone tools found outside Africa. These ancient chipped stone fossils are evidence of the earliest appearance of hominins outside Africa, far earlier than previously believed.

    Longgupo Site

  • Chinese: 龙骨坡遗址
  • Dating: 1.8-2.04 million years ago
  • Location: Wushan County, Chongqing Municipality
  • Year Discovered/Excavated: 1984; excavation started in 1985

  • Bone fossil unearthed from the archaeological site of Longgupo

    Longgupo Site, also known as Longgupo Cave, or Wushan Hominin Site (巫山猿人遗址), is a Pleistocene site situated in Longgupo (literally "Dragon Bone Slope"), Zhenlongping Village, Miaoyu Town, Wushan County. It’s over 400 km from downtown Chongqing and approximately 20 km from the south of the mighty Yangtze River.

    The most astounding thing of Longgupo Cave excavation is the discovery of a fossilized fragment of mandible with two teeth and an upper incisor in 1985 which can be dated to about 2 million years ago. These human fossils were considered to represent a new subspecies of Homo erestus called Homo erectus wushanensis (Wushan Man). The discovery indicates that hominids reached Asia much earlier than thought.

    Xihoudu Site

  • Chinese: 西侯度遗址
  • Dating: 1.8-2.04 million years ago
  • Location: Ruicheng County, Yuncheng City, Shanxi Province
  • Year Discovered/Excavated: 1959; excavation started in 1961

  • Archaeological Site of Xihoudu

    The prehistoric site of Xihoudu is located in Xihoudu Village, Ruicheng County of southern Shanxi Province, about 400 km away from Pingyao Ancient Town. Xihoudu archaeological site was first found in 1959, and subsequently started excavation in 1961.

    Archaeologists unearthed many ancient cultural relics and animal fossils at Xihoudu Site, including stone artifacts, antlers with cutting marks, and burned animal bones. These ancient ruins are considered the earliest evidence of fire used by human ancestors about 1.8 million years ago.

    Yuanmou Man Site

  • Chinese: 元谋人遗址
  • Dating: 1.7 million years ago
  • Location: Yuanmou County, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province
  • Year Discovered/Excavated: 1965

  • Teeth of Yuanmou Man

    The archaeological site of Yuanmou Man is located in north of Danawu Village, Yuanmou County of Autonomous Prefecture, around 40 km from Yuanmou Wuhao Earth Forest and 180 km from Dianchi Lake of Kunming.

    Two ancient human upper first incisors were found at Yuanmou Man Site in 1965. These human fossils assigned to represent a new subspecies of Homo erestus called Homo erectus yuanmouensis (Yuanmou Man). Yuanmou man fossil is one of the earliest human fossils found in China. Later, the site unearthed stool tones, charcoal remnants, and early Pleistocene animal fossils including horse, stegodon, and deer.

    Nihewan Site Group

  • Chinese: 泥河湾遗址群
  • Dating: 3 thousand to 2 million years ago
  • Location: Yangyuan County, Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province
  • Year Discovered/Excavated: 1972; since 1970s

  • Atlas bone fossil unearthed from Majuangou Site

    Nihewan Site generally refers to a group of archaeological sites of Nihewan, including Majuangou Site, Xiaochangliang Site, Banshan Site, Houjiayao Site, Hutouliang Site, etc. The archaeological site group is located in the east of Yangyuan County, about 160 km from the Badaling Great Wall and 190 km from Ming Tombs of Beijing.

    By far, more than 80 sites of early humans have been discovered at the Nihewan ruins cluster, with 18 sites dating to over one million years. Nowhere else in the world has such a concentration of ancient human remains and a complete Paleolithic cultural sequence.

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