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, 14 (10), e0222606

Microliths in the South Asian Rainforest ~45-4 Ka: New Insights From Fa-Hien Lena Cave, Sri Lanka


Microliths in the South Asian Rainforest ~45-4 Ka: New Insights From Fa-Hien Lena Cave, Sri Lanka

Oshan Wedage et al. PLoS One.


Microliths-small, retouched, often-backed stone tools-are often interpreted to be the product of composite tools, including projectile weapons, and efficient hunting strategies by modern humans. In Europe and Africa these lithic toolkits are linked to hunting of medium- and large-sized game found in grassland or woodland settings, or as adaptations to risky environments during periods of climatic change. Here, we report on a recently excavated lithic assemblage from the Late Pleistocene cave site of Fa-Hien Lena in the tropical evergreen rainforest of Sri Lanka. Our analyses demonstrate that Fa-Hien Lena represents the earliest microlith assemblage in South Asia (c. 48,000-45,000 cal. years BP) in firm association with evidence for the procurement of small to medium size arboreal prey and rainforest plants. Moreover, our data highlight that the lithic technology of Fa-Hien Lena changed little over the long span of human occupation (c. 48,000-45,000 cal. years BP to c. 4,000 cal. years BP) indicating a successful, stable technological adaptation to the tropics. We argue that microlith assemblages were an important part of the environmental plasticity that enabled Homo sapiens to colonise and specialise in a diversity of ecological settings during its expansion within and beyond Africa. The proliferation of diverse microlithic technologies across Eurasia c. 48-45 ka was part of a flexible human 'toolkit' that assisted our species' spread into all of the world's environments, and the development of specialised technological and cultural approaches to novel ecological situations.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Map of the position of Fa-Hien Lena relative to Sri Lanka’s vegetation zones.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Fa-Hien Lena site plan.
A) Elevation map of Fa-Hien Lena and surroundings. Levels based on T.B.M -200m; B) Section plan of Fa-Hien Lena; C) Ground plan of site B; D -E) Ground plan of the excavated area in 2009 and 2012.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Fa-Hien Lena site stratigraphy.
A) South wall end of the 2010 excavation taken from Wedage et al. [26]; B) South wall end of the 2012 excavation. Colours represent Munsell colour values of sediments. Phases D, C, B, and A, and their associated radiocarbon age brackets (see also [26]). Yellow star shows human fossil identified by Kennedy [27], see also Wedage et al. [26].
Fig 4
Fig 4. Frequency of quartz types by chronological phases recorded at Fa-Hien Lena Cave.
Fig 5
Fig 5. Cores of Phase D and C: bipolar core (no. 4, 5, 6), bipolar orthogonal core (no. 1, 2, 7, 8), unidirectional abrupt core (no. 3).
Fig 6
Fig 6. Flakes of Phase D and C: bipolar flake (no. 1, 5, 6, 14), bipolar orthogonal flake (no. 3, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13), splinter flake (no. 4, 10, 12), bipolar flake with siret sensu stricto fracture (no. 2), unidirectional flake fragment on chert (no. 15), semi-cortical flake on chert (no. 16).
Fig 7
Fig 7. Microlithic tools in Phase D of Fa-Hien Lena Cave.
Fig 8
Fig 8. Cores in Phase B and A: bipolar core (3, 7), bipolar orthogonal core (1, 2, 4, 5, 6).
Fig 9
Fig 9. Flakes in Phase B and A: bipolar flake (1, 2, 3, 8, 12, 15, 16), bipolar orthogonal flake (9), splinter flake (4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14), unidirectional flake fragment in chert (5).
Fig 10
Fig 10. Log transformation plot of weight and length of cores in crystal and milky quartz of Fa-Hien Lena.

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Grant support

OW is supported by the research council of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura (RC-USJ). KD was funded by a NERC Grant for Radiocarbon Dating at the University of Oxford. OW, PR, AP, NB, MDP, and PR were funded by the Max Planck Society (Max Planck Gesellschaft). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.