Phytolith Research in Southeastern China – First Envoy Post by Xinxin Zuo

Phytolith Research in Southeastern China – First Envoy Post by Xinxin Zuo

The aims of our studies using phytolith analysis are four-fold:

1. Archaeological and cultural aspects

To determine how and when prehistoric agriculture emerged and spread in southeastern China and its relationship to environmental changes. Located on the southeast coast of China, Fujian is a critical junction for the spread and migration of agriculture and populations from mainland Asia to Taiwan and the islands of Southeast Asia. Research on the emergence of agriculture within the regional environmental context is critical to increasing understanding of the evolution of ancient human-land interactions in the coastal zone of China.

2. Palaeoecological aspects

To reconstruct vegetation, climate changes, and human impacts in peatlands of mountainous areas of Southeastern China. Peatlands are common components in mountainous regions of Southeast Asian landscapes, but their vegetation, climate, and hydrological variations remain unclear. To address this issue, several peat bogs in Xiansan and Daiyun Fujian Province, southeastern China, have been sampled to reconstruct a high-resolution record of vegetation change, climatic dynamics, and human impact during the Holocene.

3.  Morphological aspects

To determine if phytoliths can be used to distinguish upland rice from wetland rice and then track the origin and dispersal of upland rice in Asia. Upland rice is one ecotype of rice adapted to drier conditions and growing in drier soil. It is a staple food for local people in mountainous areas of East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. However, the origins and cultivation history of upland rice in Asia remain unclear, mainly due to our inability to identify this vital crop in ancient sediments. Phytolith analysis is a promising method for this purpose because it has already been shown to reliably differentiate wild rice from domesticated rice in archaeological sites. We would like to know if there are any diagnostic phytoliths in upland rice that can be used to distinguish them from wetland rice.

4. Chemical and physical aspects

To assess the reliability of phytolith dating, including the radiocarbon dating of PhytOC and optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL) of phytolith silica. There is increasing interest in using chemical-physical characteristics of phytoliths to provide more information than phytolith morphology alone. A small amount of organic carbon is encapsulated in phytoliths during their formation in plant cells. This carbon fraction has been proven to be an outstanding way of biological carbon sequestration. However, whether it can be used to obtain reliable radiocarbon dates is still unclear. Phytoliths are deposited as hydrated silica (opal-A; SiO2*nH2O) in living plants. Can OSL signals from phytoliths be used to determine when sediments were deposited? Our cutting-edge research strives to answer questions such as: do phytoliths have stable OSL component signals? Are initial OSL signals of phytoliths dominated by the fast or slow component?

Laboratory Team

Prof. Zuo Xinxin
Prof. Zuo Xinxin (Founder)
College of Geographical Science, Fujian Normal University

Student assistants

Zhou Guiyu
Zhou Guiyu, Ph.D. candidate, has titled her thesis: The Emergence and Development of Rice Agriculture in the Islands of Fujian Province, southeastern China.


Wu Guiping
Wu Guiping, M.Sc., has titled her thesis: Microfossil Evidence of the Origin and Development of Prehistoric Agriculture in east coastal of Fujian Province


Zhou Ying
Zhou Ying, M.Sc., has titled her thesis: Phytolith Research in Upland Rice Soil in Southern China.


Huang Yongjun
Huang Yongjun, M.Sc., has titled his thesis: Phytolith Evidence of Rice Origin and Environmental Changes in the Outer East China Sea Shelf during the Last Deglacial.


Zhu Qiongmei
Zhu Qiongmei, M.Sc., has titled her thesis: phytolith records of vegetation, climate, and human impacts in the Montane Peat Bog of Fujian Province, China, over the last 1500 years.
Hu Zekai
Hu Zekai, M.Sc., has titled his thesis: The earliest rice agriculture in southern China.
Wang Shizhe, M.Sc, has titled his thesis: A preliminary study on OSL dating of the phytoliths.
Wang Shizhe
Wang Shizhe, M.Sc, has titled his thesis: A preliminary study on OSL dating of the phytoliths.
Chen Liting
Chen Liting, M.Sc., has titled her thesis: MicroCT Scanning of Pottery Sherds Determines Early Rice Domestication in Southeast Coast China.


Research projects

Phytolith record of early Holocene environment change and rice agriculture in the north flank of the Yangtze River delta

Founding: National Science Foundation of China

Duration: 2015-2017

Phytolith evidence of rice origin and environmental changes in the East China Sea Shelf during the last deglacial

Founding: National Science Foundation of China

Duration: 2018-2021

Microfossil study of agriculture origin and development in Fujian Province

Founding: National Science Foundation of China

Duration: 2021-2024

Prehistoric agriculture and its environmental background in the Haitan Island, Southern China

Founding: Natural Science Foundation of Fujian Province

Duration: 2023-2025

Future research

Prehistoric agriculture and environment changes in the Southern Islands of China

Plant exploitation and subsistence patterns of the Paleolithic in subtropical China

Selected paper published

Selected Paper from Prof. Zou Xinxin [PDF]

Categories: IPS envoys

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