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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58999. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058999. Epub 2013 Mar 18.

Mid-Neolithic exploitation of mollusks in the Guanzhong Basin of Northwestern China: preliminary results.

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  • 1Key Laboratory of Cenozoic Geology and Environment, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China. fengjiangli@mail.iggcas.ac.cn


Mollusk remains are abundant in archaeological sites in the Guanzhong Basin of Northwestern China, providing good opportunities for investigations into the use of mollusks by prehistoric humans. Here we report on freshwater gastropod and bivalve mollusks covering the time interval from about 5600 to 4500 cal. yrs BP from sites of Mid-Late Neolithic age. They are identified as Cipangopaludina chinensis and Unio douglasiae, both of which are currently food for humans. The shells are well preserved and have no signs of abrasion. They are all freshwater gastropods and bivalves found in pits without water-reworked deposits and have modern representatives which can be observed in rivers, reservoirs, and paddy fields in the studied region. Mollusk shells were frequently recovered in association with mammal bones, lithic artifacts, and pottery. These lines of evidence indicate that the mollusks are the remains of prehistoric meals. The mollusk shells were likely discarded into the pits by prehistoric humans after the flesh was eaten. However, these mollusk remains may not have been staple food since they are not found in large quantities. Mollusk shell tools and ornaments are also observed. Shell tools include shell knives, shell reaphooks and arrowheads, whereas shell ornaments are composed of pendants and loops. All the shell tools and ornaments are made of bivalve mollusks and do not occur in large numbers. The finding of these freshwater mollusk remains supports the view that the middle Holocene climate in the Guanzhong Basin may have been warm and moist, which was probably favorable to freshwater mollusks growing and developing in the region.

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