Cultural History of PaleoAsia

Scientific Research on Innovative Areas,
a MEXT Grant-in-Aid Project

Research Overview

Research Objectives

The Out of Africa hypothesis on the evolution and subsequent migration of modern humans across Eurasia, an event directly addressing the biological and cultural origins of modern human beings, has been one of the most hotly debated anthropological and archaeological issues of the last decade. The present research project aims to analyze an extensive set of relevant field and theoretical data from Asia in order to interpret the nature of distinct patterns in the formation of modern human cultures across Asia.

A growing body of field data has shown that modern human cultures, developed in the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, were not necessarily brought into Eurasia as a package from their origins; instead, they might also have evolved from earlier cultures, formed through contact with the local indigenous cultures, or resulting from cultural adaptation to new environments. In other words, they are most likely the outcomes of modern humans’ interaction with regionally varied natural and social environments. This project aims to verify those possible patterns in Asia, a large continent with diversified environmental and population backgrounds, and provide an anthropological perspective on the causal factors behind the variability.

Research Methods

The project employs two major research strategies to analyze evidence from past (Group A01–A03) and present records (Group B01–B02). Group A01 constructs an extensive archaeo-anthropological database to provide a chrono-spatial framework for the emergence of modern humans and their cultures in Asia. The framework serves a basis for the intensive case studies under A02, which analyzes the diversity of the behavioral features and cultures by regions. Then, the possibility that this diversity resulted from adaptation to regionally diverse ecological conditions is studied under A03.

Groups B01 and B02 contribute various theoretical perspectives to the project. B01 explores the patterns of cultural changes in historical and ethnographic records, with a particular focus on changes caused by population contact and movements. Referring to information gathered by B01, B02 predicts mechanisms governing the observed patterns through mathemathical experiments.

With the aid of these multidisciplinary approaches, the project develops pertinent models that will help explain the identified geographic patterns of the formative processes of modern human cultures across Asia.

Expected Research Achievements

A classic scheme to define regionally different cultural developments in PaleoAsia was provided more than a half century ago for the Lower Paleolithic, when a distinction was made between the lithic industries of the East and West of Eurasia. While this view as well as the geographic position of the boundary—the Movius line—has been repeatedly challenged by more recent discoveries, there is no doubt that the scheme itself has provided a useful working hypothesis on which a number of insightful discussions have been conducted to determine different adaptive strategies and cultural traditions of early hominids in Asia. In the same vein, the global scale models that the present project will provide—models that will be defined with much more refined research strategies and field data—for determining regional patterns in the formative processes of modern human culturesare expected to serve as another useful working hypothesis for future studies.