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Dissertation Defense: Mathew Lyman Fox


Mar 2 2020 - 10:00am

Monday, March 2, 2020
10:00 a.m.
Room 215

Title: The Geoarchaeology of the Qinling Mountains of Central China: An examination of loess-paleosol sequences and biomarkers at mid-Pleistocene Paleolithic sites.

Abstract: The Paleolithic sequences of the Qinling Mountains and Chinese Loess Plateau represent some of the world’s richest records of human evolution and technological development throughout the Pleistocene. Furthermore, loess-paleosol sequences of central China are widely regarded as one of earth’s most robust terrestrial archives of Quaternary climate change. Therefore, paleoanthropologists now widely agree that the northern and central China represent some of the most important places within Eurasia to examine patterns in hominin paleoecology and test models of human evolution-climate interactions.

The geoarchaeological research presented in this dissertation is explicitly concerned with the reconstruction of middle Pleistocene (~600-60 Ka) hominin paleoenvironments in the Hanzhong and Luonan Basins of the Qinling Mountains of central China. This is accomplished through (a) field interpretations of loess-paleosol stratigraphy at Paleolithic sites, (b) the analysis of leaf wax isotope (n-alkanes) and branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether biomarkers, and the application of statistical tests. This research also presents the Regional Gradient Model, which aims to synthesize traditional loessic geoarchaeology with quantitative paleoclimatology and East Asian Monsoon reconstructions.

Results from this geoarchaeological research indicate that paleoenvironmental conditions associated with the southern Hanzhong Basin are dominated by stable temperature and vegetation regimes. In contrast, the northern Luonan Basin is characterized by much more variable environmental conditions. These results appear to be in good agreement with the archaeological record where Paleolithic industries in Hanzhong are dominated by stable, Mode I industries for more than one million years. By contrast, the Luonan Basin is famous for the presence of Mode II (Acheulean-like) handaxes and higher levels of technological diversity. This suggests that environments associated with hominin occupations in the Hanzhong Basin were sufficiently stable to support simple and expedient technologies throughout most of the Pleistocene. This stands in contrast to the Luonan Basin, where higher levels of environmental variability may have triggered the need for more diverse toolkits and greater investment in the development of bifacial, handaxe technology.   

Dissertation Committee:  Vance Holliday, John Olsen, Steve Kuhn, Jessica Tierney

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