Panxian Dadong The Big Cave of Southern China

In Southern China, there is a cavern called the Panxian Dadon (Dadong), which means simply “Big Cave", perched up within a karst tower 1630 meters above sea level in a remote valley near the western Guizhou Plateau. The Big Cave of Panxian is a palaeologic as well as archaeological site, is high up on the flank of the karst tower and the large entrance portal can be seen from a distance. The caves have almost 20m of sediments from the Middle Pleistocene together with numerous animal bones which dates back between 130,000 and 260,000 years old. Besides animal bones, five human teeth and stone artifacts were also discovered.

The cave long remained hidden within the rugged mountainous wilderness, and was not actually first discovered and explored until 1990, when archeologists penetrated into the uncharted darkness and were met with a series of unusual findings. The cave itself was found to be surprisingly large, stretching for a total of over 1,660 meters into the mountainside, with various interconnected caves, shafts and tunnels that meandered off into the inky black. The total area of the fairly vast cave system was estimated to be around 9,900 square meters. As impressive as this was, the real surprises came when researchers began picking through the deep prehistoric sediment deposits here and found an increasingly baffling collection of ancient remains dating back between 130,000 to 300,000 years that remain a mystery to this day.

Large numbers of remains belonging to these large animals were discovered at the caves. On excavation, it revealed over 40 species of mammals, stone artefact, human teeth and animal teeth with over 30 percent of the huge animals’ remains constitute teeth and around two percent of the remains were of the skulls.

Most of the teeth belonged to the huge animals such as the buffalos, rhinoceros and Stegadons. The cave seems to be the central cavern of three stacked caves which extends towards a hillside where the central cave was 220 meters deep covering 8000 square meters.

Paleoanthropologists have pointed out that it is unlikely that these animals wandered in on their own, since species such as the Stegadon and rhinos typically were browsers and grazers that lived on open grasslands rather than in caves, and it also seems unlikely that these enormous, hulking beasts could have climbed up to the cave by themselves even if they wanted to. Additionally, the large amount of rhino remains found in the cave is at odds with their typically solitary nature. One theory has been that prehistoric predators may have killed the animals and dragged them back to their cave lairs to feast on them, yet evidence found on the bones that were found tends to challenge this notion. Careful analysis of the bones showed that ancient human beings likely had some part to play here, although it is unclear just what that may be.

Other questions that surround the remains are why there is such a plentitude of rhino and Stegadon remains in particular compared to the other species found, and why out of all of the Stegadon remains only one adult specimen has been identified while the rhinos represent an even distribution of all ages. This tends to discount the idea that young Stegadons were killed just because they were easier prey and easier to carry up to the cavern, and seems to demonstrate a very conscious, deliberate process behind the reasons why these large, heavy animals were killed and laboriously brought here, rather than just random hunting. Whatever those reasons may be remain unknown, and will perhaps always remain so. For the time being, research has continued at the Panxian Dadon cave, and the Chinese government has designated the site as a national preservation site, making it a rare case of such a designation for a prehistoric site in the country.


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