Archaeologists in China
Archaeologists in China discovered a Hoabinhian site, which dates back nearly 44,000 yearsMichael Abshear/Flickr

The oldest site of south-east Asian hunter-gatherer culture has been discovered in China. The site, dating back nearly 44,000 years ago, was found in the Yunnan Province at Xiaodong Rockshelter, south-west China, and is the oldest evidence of 'Hoabinhian culture' ever discovered.

Hoabinhian culture describes the life of hunter-gatherers in south-east Asia, and was originally believed to be a time period stretching back as far as 29,000 years ago. The new discovery, made by scientists all over the world including China, South Africa and France, suggests that the Hoabinhian age may have begun a lot earlier than thought.

"Xiaodong can be regarded as a typical early Hoabinhian site, the first such site found in China and currently the oldest in Asia as well," said Ji Xueping, lead author of the study. "The study shows that the Lancang River valley is a possible home for the Hoabinhian culture, and a source of migration for modern humans and the transmission of their culture to south-east Asia."

Archaeologists researching Hoabinhian sites look for areas with large axe-like tools, used for woodwork in forested areas. Some of these stone artefacts were first collected at the Xiaodong site in 2004.

Since then, further research has been carried out to try and confirm the scientific value of the site. This research was then verified and published in December 2015, in Quaternary International.

Carbon dating was used to verify the date from which the site was occupied. Four metres of vertical soil layer was dated – showing the site was inhabited between 43,500 to 24,000 years ago. The scientists speculated that the very bottom layer may be even older.

The discovery provides further insight into how hominids survived a long time ago. It shows some of their strategies for survival, as well as how – and when – they changed from sporadic settlements to agricultural communities.

Hoabinhian culture was first discovered in Vietnam nearly 100 years ago. Since then, more site discoveries in south-east Asia have been dated back between 29,000 and 5,000 years ago. This is the first of these sites to be found in China.