Survey along the margins of the Helan Mountains in the Ningxia Hui and Nei Mongol Autonomous Regions discloses variability in the distribution and assemblage composition among 47 archaeological localities, and suggests a reduction in hunter-gatherer residential mobility through time. Late Palaeolithic tool assemblages are less frequent, smaller, and relatively uniform from site to site. They tend to be found near canyon mouths on the mountain front, or around springs in the middle to upper reaches of fans, suggesting limited variation in both length of stay and subsistence strategies. In contrast, early Neolithic sites, more abundant and variable in size and complexity, are located near fan toes or lower fan springs where water could be more easily diverted. Larger more diverse assemblages suggest long-term residential bases, while smaller specialized assemblages, devoid of microliths, indicate short-term camps and resource processing locations. This helps confirm a similar pattern identified in materials collected by the Sino-Swedish expedition, in the northern Alashan. Together they suggest that the trend towards decreased residential mobility is associated with increasingly intensive and specialized use of seed resources that may be related to the early development of plant husbandry. ?? 1996 Academic Press Limited.