University of Leicester
2021LIZPHD.pdf (14.93 MB)

Plant-related subsistence in the Pearl River Delta, Southern China, from 6,000 BP to 3,000 BP

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posted on 2021-10-14, 10:48 authored by Zhao Li
In South China, there is limited evidence for prehistoric plant-related subsistence practices, due to poor macrofossils preservation in the acid soils and humid climate and the limitation of phytoliths analysis. The Pearl River Delta has an important sea-land transition position in South China, where the native Neolithic cultures had weak cultural continuity but easily adopted external features from other regions. To understand prehistoric plant-related subsistence, especially starch plant use, in the Pearl River Delta, the analysis of archaeological starch grains recovered from plant processing tools is selected as the main research approach of this thesis.
A total of 61 grinding and pounding tools were selected as archaeological samples from two sites from around 6,000 to 5,000 BP (Guye site and Haogang site (the second phase)) and five settlements during 4,500 to 3,000 BP (Haogang site (the third phase), Yuanzhou site, Cuntou site, Yinzhou site, and Hengling site) in the Pearl River Delta.
The results show that from 6,000 to 3,000 BP, acorns and geophytes were important food sources in the Pearl River Delta. In the early phase (from 6,000 BP to 5,000 BP), the proportion of acorn/oak-chestnut starch was higher than that of geophytes (in this thesis, it refers to the plants with starch-rich underground storage organs), but that after 4,500 BP the role of geophytes in the diet appears to have increased. The starch granule data from grinding and pounding tools combined with other archaeological site data strongly suggest that during the mid-Holocene small, sedentary, village settlements were heavily dependent on hunting and gathering, with only limited impact from cereal cultivation (e.g. rice and millets).



Huw Barton; Ruth Young

Date of award


Author affiliation

Archaeology and Ancient History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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