The earliest Neolithic village sites in South China are found on the middle and lower Yangzi River and its major tributaries. In the middle Yangzi, these are found in the Liyang Plain 澧阳平原 of northern Hunan Province, some 450 km north of Yuchanyan Cave. These sites, belonging to the Pengtoushan 彭头山 Culture, date to ca. 8,000-9,000 years ago. Thus, there are both a geographical gap and a chronological gap (of about 5,000 years) between Yuchanyan Cave and the early farming villages.
Filling in the gap between Yuchanyan and the early Neolithic sites is the focus of the most recent work on the Early Rice Agriculture project. Profs. Bar-Yosef and Cohen are working with Profs. Yuan and Dr. Guo Weimin 郭伟民 (Director of the Hunan Institute) and local Liyang archaeologists to find transitional sites directly in the Liyang Plain region, where the earliest Neolithic sites are found.
They have been doing regional survey in the highlands surrounding the Liyang Plain and on the lowland areas of the plain itself. The goal of this phase of the project is to locate late Pleistocene and early Holocene hunter-gatherer and agriculturalist sites and to identify potential sites for excavation in the near future. The survey has so far found a number of promising cave sites in
the highlands as well as settlement sites on the plain, including some sites that predate the Pengtoushan Culture. Future research at these sites promises to have a major impact on our understanding of the transition to the Neolithic and the origins of agriculture in China.
In another wing of the project, Profs. Bar-Yosef, Yuan Jiarong, and Cohen, and Southern Methodist University graduate student Metin Eren have begun a series of “actualistic studies” involving stone tool replication experiments. The goal of this work is to gain a better understanding of the manufacture and function of stone tools found in Late Paleolithic sites such as Yuchanyan. One of the biggest issues they are trying to address is the reason for the persistence of “simpler” forms (chopper-chopping tools and pebble cores) of stone tools in East Asia. This has been a highly debated topic in Paleolithic archaeology since the 1940s, and the team is devising a series of experiments to be carried out in Hunan to test various hypotheses concerning the manufacture and use of chopper-chopping tools.