ArticlePDF Available

Were bamboo tools made in prehistoric Southeast Asia? An experimental view from South China


Abstract and Figures

The use of bamboo by hominins in Southeast Asia has long been used as an explanation for the lack of stone tool innovation and diversity in that region during the Pleistocene. The paleoenvironmental and ethnographic basis of “Bamboo hypothesis” has been critiqued recently, but those factors are not directly relevant to the question of whether prehistoric hominins actually used bamboo. There is an even more rudimentary question that should be answered first: is it even possible to make complex bamboo tools with simple flaked cobble tool industries? This paper shows that it is indeed possible to procure and manipulate bamboo in a variety of ways with replicated stone tools. Not all bamboo stems are of equal quality, which should add a layer of intricacy in need of consideration by any future advocate of the Bamboo Hypothesis. Pilot knapping studies are also discussed, and suggest that the raw material constraints presented by local raw materials may generally be given undue weight in the morphological appearance of Southeast Asian Pleistocene stone tools.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Were bamboo tools made in prehistoric Southeast Asia? An experimental
view from South China
Ofer Bar-Yosef
, Metin I. Eren
, Jiarong Yuan
, David J. Cohen
, Yiyuan Li
Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Department of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75206, USA
Hunan Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics, Changsha, Hunan, PR China
International Center for East Asian Archaeology & Cultural History, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
article info
Article history:
Available online 31 March 2011
The use of bamboo by hominins in Southeast Asia has long been used as an explanation for the lack of
stone tool innovation and diversity in that region during the Pleistocene. The paleoenvironmental and
ethnographic basis of Bamboo hypothesishas been critiqued recently, but those factors are not directly
relevant to the question of whether prehistoric hominins actually used bamboo. There is an even more
rudimentary question that should be answered rst: is it even possible to make complex bamboo tools
with simple aked cobble tool industries? This paper shows that it is indeed possible to procure and
manipulate bamboo in a variety of ways with replicated stone tools. Not all bamboo stems are of equal
quality, which should add a layer of intricacy in need of consideration by any future advocate of the
Bamboo Hypothesis. Pilot knapping studies are also discussed, and suggest that the raw material
constraints presented by local raw materials may generally be given undue weight in the morphological
appearance of Southeast Asian Pleistocene stone tools.
Ó2011 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Paleolithic research in Western Eurasia and Africa has already
demonstrated that most stone tools produced by prehistoric
humans were used for activities such as dismembering animal
carcasses, butchering, and cutting and working wood and other
plant materials. The nding of the Schöningen spears (Thieme,
1997), dated to some 400,000 years ago, has enhanced the recog-
nition that in addition to bone, antler, ivory (Costa, 2010,Table 1),
and other organics were employed during the long course of early
prehistory. At the same time, intensive and extensive research,
including numerous excavations and laboratory studies in these two
major regions of the Old World, have demonstrated the dynamic
tempos and changes in the production of aked stone implements.
In early research on lithic technology in Asian prehistory, an
inuential paper by Movius (1948) pointed to a lack of bifaces in
East Asia. Thereafter, the so-called Movius Linebecame a subject
for debate attempting to explain why the Acheulean is not present
in this vast region. The Indian subcontinent, however, has yielded
numerous handaxes and a proliferation of cleavers (Mishra,
2006e2007; Chauhan, 2009), and is sometimes considered to be
a bridge between complex stone implements of Western Asia and
simple ones from Eastern Asia.
In China, although a few occurrences of handaxes are known,
their age is uncertain. At Bose (Guangxi Province), the bifacial
objects were found mainly on the surface but also in systematic
excavations with tektites dated to ca. 800 ka BP (Hou et al., 2000). In
the Luonan Basin (Shaanxi Province) numerous isolated handaxes
were collected from the surface of various terraces (Wang, 2007).
The discovery of a stratied, well dated handaxe site, in China
would be helpful for solving the issue of whether the morpholog-
ically-recognized bifaces mark the presence of the Acheulean
tradition. Hence, the bulk of the long period of what in Western
Eurasia is called the Lower and Middle Paleolithic produced in
China two kinds of lithic assemblages. These are identied by
Chinese researchers as the cobble tool industrythat dominates
South China and the southern portion of North China, and the core
and ake industry, mostly in North China (Wang, 2005). The
cobble tool reduction sequence is generally characterized by
striking cobbles on one face, resulting in various types of choppers
and akes. The second reduction sequence is created by direct
percussion or bipolar (on an anvil) percussion, often using nodules
of quartz and quartzite, and producing many akes and exhausted
*Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (M.I. Eren).
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Quaternary International
journal homepage:
1040-6182/$ esee front matter Ó2011 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.
Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e21
There have been numerous discussions regarding the domi-
nance of cobble toolsand core and akeindustries in East and
Southeast Asia throughout most of the Pleistocene (e.g. Bellwood,
1990: 260e261; Toth and Schick, 1993: 352e353; Marwick,
2008). While in Northeast Asia and a large portion of China
laminar and microblade technologies eventually come to dominate
the Late Pleistocene archaeological record (e.g., Brantingham et al.,
2004; Derevianko et al., 2004; Lycett and Bae, 2010: 525). However,
in Southern China and Southeast Asia, core and ake and cobble
tool industries are maintained up through and including the time of
the early Holocene.
One hypothesis that may explain the Southeast Asian pebble/
core phenomenon (which is akin to, but not exactly like, the
Movius Line[Movius, 1948; Watanabe, 1985]) is the isolation
hypothesis(Toth and Schick, 1993). This hypothesis suggests that
early Lower Paleolithic hominins bearing Oldowan-like tools left
Africa during Out of Africa I,reached Southeast Asia, and were
then culturally cut-off, creating a cultural backwater(Toth and
Schick, 1993: 353) in which later dispersals did not penetrate.
However, while cultural and genetic isolation (Hou et al., 2000:
1622) may explain the initial paucity of complex lithic technical
methods such as Acheulean or Levallois, it does not explain the
persistent lack of these more complex technologies for 1.6 million
years (depending on what dates for the initial colonization are
accepted for Southeast Asia [see Dennell, 2003, 2008: 429e431]).
Nor does the isolation hypothesis explain why Northeast Asian
populations eventually came to adopt complex lithic technologies
(i.e., microblades) in the Late Pleistocene while Southeast Asian
populations did not.
A promising hypothesis is the demographic hypothesis, which
emphasizes the effects of population size, density, and social
interconnectedness on cultural transmission processes and result-
ing technological patterns (Henrich, 2004; Lycett, 2007: 569; Lycett
and Norton, 2010; Lycett and Bae, 2010). This hypothesis ultimately
posits that:
.during much of the Pleistocene, particular biogeographical,
topographical, and dispersal factors are likely to have resulted in
relatively lower effective population sizes in eastern Asia. In
these terms, the archaeological factors associated with the
Movius Line sensu lato can be interpreted as a linewhich
represents the crossing of a demographic threshold. Under the
parameters of the model, the geographically and temporally
sporadic occurrences of handaxesin eastern Asia are the
product of short-lived instances of convergence with conven-
tional Acheulean examples from west of the line, which ulti-
mately do not ourish due to the constraints of relatively
smaller effective population sizes (Lycett and Bae, 2010:
Unlike the isolation hypothesis, the demographic hypothesis
explains the occasional rare bifacial innovation (Hou et al., 2000)as
well as why those innovations did not proliferate. Testing this
hypothesis further requires estimation of prehistoric population
sizes in key areas (at least on a relative basis), a notoriously difcult
endeavor (Chamberlain, 2006; see also Lycett and Bae, 2010: 535),
but one that will become more feasible with increasing amounts of
eldwork in East and Southeast Asia.
Some researchers have suggested that raw material constraints,
or alternatively constraints on procuring quality raw material, may
have limited lithic technological innovation (Toth and Schick, 1993).
For example, thick foliage may have discouraged access to primary
outcrops of good aking material. More recently, Gao and Norton
Table 1
Diameter ¼Diameter of the bamboo shoot base at the location of chopping. Time ¼in minutes (m) and seconds (s). Stroke count ¼how many chopsto fell the bamboo shoot.
Length procured ¼the length of bamboo shoots procured per species after felling.
Trial # Tool User Species Diameter (cm) Time Stroke Count Resharpening? Length Procured (m)
Wu River, Zhijiang County, West Hunan Province
1 M.I.E. P. pubescens 6.5 18 m 40 s 637 Yes eTwice 10.42
2 Y.L. 10.2 7 m 1 s 388 No
Xiao Shui River, Daixian County, South Hunan Province
3 M.I.E. P. pubescens 7 10 m 50 s 400 Yes eOnce 12.59
4 Y.L. 8.9 9 m 30 s 400 Yes eOnce
5 M.I.E. P. amarus 2.6 3 m 20 s 109 No 8.38
6 Y.L. 2.3 2 m 2 s 139 No
7 M.I.E. D. latiorus munro 4.7 1 m 42 s 96 No 6.37
8 Y.L. 7.8 10 m 18 s 469 No
Li River, Lixian County, North Hunan Province
9 M.I.E. P. viridis 3.3 4 m 20 s 250 No 8.76
10 Y.L. 3.4 4 m 7 s 235 No
11 M.I.E. P. herteroclada 1.8 1 m 10 s 50 No 6.83
12 Y.L. 1.8 42 s 50 No
13 M.I.E. P. pubescens 2.8 2 m 49 s 150 No 12.21
14 Y.L. 7.9 7 m 10 s 450 No
Fig. 1. A replicated unifacial chopping tool on quartzite. The ake scars have been
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e2110
(2002:404) suggested that hominins in China were limited to raw
materials of poor workabilityand this placed restrictions on the
development and application of more advanced stone tool making
techniques.Going further, Norton et al. (2006:533) argued that
a sample of Korean bifaces are statistically thicker than their African
and South Asian counterparts because they were knapped on thick
river cobbles of poor quality toolstone, rather than on large ake-
blanks of better quality raw material. The present authors are
Fig. 2. Blade-like pieces split off from their parent cobble after being placed in a re.
Fig. 3. Amodern bamboo craftsmenexhibiting the variety of tools he uses (a) as wellas a number of complicatedactions like sawing(b), shaving (c), and avariety of splittingtasks (d, e, f).
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e21 11
generally wary of raw material constraints hypothesessuch as
these, because though oft quoted, they predominately remain
unproven determinates of stone tool morphology. Ironically,
knapping constraints hypotheses are probably the easiest to test of
all the ones discussed thus far, simply involving the measurement
of toolstone manufacturing potential against archaeological
Perhaps the most prevalent hypothesis explaining East and
Southeast Asias cobble/core lithic industries involves tool
production with another material medium: bamboo (e.g. Pope,
1988; Toth and Schick, 1993; Pope and Keates, 1994; Westergaard
and Suomi, 1995; Jahren et al., 2007; West and Louys, 2007;
Brumm, 2010). The central premise of this hypothesis is that if
prehistoric populations widely used bamboo, then perhaps there
was no technological, functional, or cultural impetus for changing
the morphology of lithic objects. Bamboo is a group of the ever-
green grass family of Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe
Bambuseae. It is one of the fastest growing plants, represented by
over 1000 species. The hollow internodal regions of the stem, that
as a monocot grows to be columnar reaching maturity in 5e7 years,
characterizes bamboo (McClure, 1966; Ohrnberger, 1999). The
current geographic distribution of bamboo species is dominated by
tropical and subtropical conditions. Today the distribution of
bamboo is further north, beyond the clearly subtropical conditions.
However, to what extant this is the result of intentional cultivation
is as yet hard to determine. Warmer and wetter intervals during the
Pleistocene could have created the suitable conditions for the
dispersal of bamboo through the valleys of Northern China.
Brumm (2010) recently questioned two assumptions that he
saw as pillars of the so-called Bamboo Hypothesis:(1)that
Fig. 4. A map of Hunan province, with the plotted locations of where bamboo and cobbles were collected during the 2008 experiments.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e2112
tropical rainforest environments were stable and ubiquitous in
Southeast Asia throughout the Pleistocene and (2) that according
to the ethnographic record simple lithic maintenance toolkits are
effective in rainforests and that complex extractive lithic tools are
not. However, neither assumption is directly relevant to the
question of whether prehistoric hominins actually used bamboo in
preference to stone. Even if at particular times in prehistory rain-
forests in East and Southeast Asia (bamboo quarries) contracted,
there is no reason why bamboo could not have been procured at
distance like toolstone, especially as certain core areas of rain-
forest [in Southeast Asia] appear to have endured throughout the
Pleistocene, even at the height of the glacial maximum(Brumm,
2010: 11). And though Brumm shows that complex lithic tech-
nology could be adapted to rainforests in prehistory, that does not
falsify the fact that simple lithic technologies will also sufce.
Thus, while the authors agree with Brumm that paleoenvir-
onmental and ethnographic models cannot be the foundation or
proof of the bamboo hypothesis, for that very reason the short-
comings of those models cannot serve as the rejection of the
hypothesis, either.
The authors also agree with Brumm (ibid. 16) that the bamboo
hypothesis will also eventually need to explain why the use of
non-lithic tools specically precluded the development and/or use
of complex stone technologies in eastern Asia, but not yet. There
are two rudimentary questions that should be answered before the
explanatory component of the hypothesis should even be
approached. First, is there widespread indirect evidence of bamboo
tool production and use on aked stone tools (e.g. polishes, resi-
dues, Mijares, 2002; Jahren et al., 2007) and other remains (e.g.
bamboo cutmarks, West and Louys, 2007)? This question will only
be answered through concerted post-excavation artifact analyses.
Until those databases are established, there is a second, and even
more basic, question: is it even possible to make complex bamboo
tools with simple aked cobble industries? If the answer is no, then
the bamboo hypothesis can be rejected on empirical grounds
directly relevant to it. If the answer is yes, then researchers are
obliged to keep it in contention and await future eld and labora-
tory discoveries.
In conjunction with the Hunan Provincial Institute of Archae-
ology and Cultural Relics (HPIACR), in 2007 a long-term experi-
mental campaign examining stone knapping and replicative
bamboo tool production and use was initiated. A pilot study in
November 2007, while informative, honed the much broader
experimental goals to follow in 2008 and beyond in order to:
(1) systematically test the knapping potential of lithic toolstone,
(2) replicate archaeological stone tools in light of toolstone
(3) examine how bamboo tools are may be produced,
(4) assesses the efciency of replicated lithic tools for
manufacturing bamboo tools, and
Fig. 5. A replicated handaxe on a river cobble. The ake scars have been highlighted.
Fig. 6. Replicated preferential Levallois cores and akes made on river cobbles. The ake scars have been highlighted.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e21 13
(5) manufacture a broad range of bamboo tools (cutting imple-
ments, projectile implements, etc.) and measure their func-
tional efciency in comparison to stone implements.
In addition to answering questions regarding whether or not it
is even possible to manipulate bamboo with Chinese stone tool
types, the experiments would also create a valuable middle-range
data set of edge breakage-patterns, polishes diagnostic of bamboo
tool production, and cutmarks on faunal materials that can be
compared to archaeological materials. These latter goals eventually
will re-examine the work of previously published studies involving
diagnostic bamboo micro-erosion on stone tool edges and bamboo
cutmark production (Mijares, 2002; Jahren et al. 2007; West and
Louys, 2007).
While this project is still on going, this paper presents the
results of the pilot study conducted in November 2007 and the rst
Fig. 7. Replicated stone choppers were excellent for procuring bamboo. However, when chopping from only one side of a bamboo stalk (a) it was difcult to push the bamboo down
(b). When chopping around the diameter of the bamboo (c) procurement was much easier (d).
Fig. 8. Tall stalks of bamboo sometimes became entangled in nearby vegetation (a) requiring extra effort during procurement (b).
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e2114
systematic experiments conducted in December 2008. These
focused upon the production of choppers and akes and manipu-
lating bamboo with the replicated stone tools.
2. The 2007 pilot study
The pilot study took place at the Archaeological Field Research
Station of the Hunan Provincial Institute of Archaeology and
Cultural Relics (China) in Shimen, Hunan. Cobbles that should have
been a reasonable match to prehistoric ones were gathered from
the banks of the Li River in northern Hunan.
After practice and adjusting to the raw materials, 17 cobbles of
meta- and orthro-quartzites were knapped for the purpose of
replicating the chopper/ake industries characteristic of the area.
The implement types were easily replicated by an experienced
knapper (MIE) and included unifacial choppers, bifacial choppers,
and ake tools (Fig. 1). The ease in which these implements were
made inspired a closer examination of different toolstones and
their knapping potential, as described below.
Interestingly, attempts to produce blades from the cobbles
failed. This supports assertions that presence or absence of laminar
technologies may be constrained by toolstone quality or type.
Previous analyses of a Terminal Pleistocene lithic assemblage
excavated at Yuchanyan Cave (Yuan, 2002; Boaretto et al., 2009)in
southwestern Hunan Province revealed occasional blade-like
tools and cortical blades,which were suspected to be the results
of natural splitting by re. Therefore, 12 cobbles and 2 knapped
choppers were placed in a re used for a barbecue. The recovered
lithic remains indeed contained numerous blade-like specimens
(Fig. 2). The so-called blade-likepieces are only so in the sense
that the specimens were twice as long as they were wide. In
actuality, they were cortical blanks peeledoff from the rounded
edge of the cobble by the res heat.
For the purpose of experimenting with bamboo, fresh green
bamboo culm sections were purchased from a local farmer (the
species was unidentied). Attempts to manipulate the bamboo
largely failed until a visit to watch a local bamboo tool
manufacturer (Fig. 3). The rst observation was that he used
a different species of bamboo (unfortunately, this species also was
unidentied) than the one initially purchased for the pilot study.
Second, he possessed a number of metal tools with which he easily
sliced through the bamboo. Finally, and most crucially, a number of
arm/hand actions/techniques he used provided clues for bamboo
manipulation, including sawing, shaving, splitting, peeling, and
In brief, though the modern bamboo craftsman was equipped
with sophisticated metal tools unavailable during the Paleolithic
and Neolithic (Fig. 3a), two basic motions are necessary for
manipulating bamboo effectively: chopping (Fig. 3b) and splitting
(Fig. 3d, e, f). Choppinginvolves the use of an implement to cut
the bamboo parallel to its diameter, which happens to be perpen-
dicular to its bers. Splittinginvolves breaking the bamboo
parallel to its bers. Thus, like aked stone technology, bamboo is
a reductive medium (though some of its products can be used for
additive technologies such as basketry).
3. The 2008 experimental study
The 2008 experiments were conducted in three distinct loca-
tions across Hunan province known to possess clusters of Paleo-
lithic sites (Fig. 4). In these locations, cobbles were collected, and
efciency trials conducted with bamboo from natural stands.
Cobble knapping and bamboo tool making were carried out in the
yard of the Hunan Institute of Archaeology in Changsha.
Based on the results of the pilot study, specic questions were
formulated and a more extensive and systematic experimental
regimen conducted during December 2008. The four main ques-
tions were as follows:
(1) Could complex stone tools be knapped on regional toolstones?
(2) Is it possible to chop bamboo down with replicated choppers,
and if so, what is involved, and how long does it take?
(3) How does one create bamboo knives with replicated East Asian
stone tool types?
Fig. 9. The ease of chopping a stalk of D. latiorus munro (a), was offset by its fastened position (b) due to the entanglement of its upper parts with nearby stalks.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e21 15
(4) Is it possible with replicated cobble/core and aketypes to
produce bamboo strips thin enough to weave into basketry, as
well as other tools?
3.1. Potential of regional toolstones
Cobbles were collected in three areas of Hunan Province, along
rivers in the north, west and south. They included the following
materials: metaquarzite, orthoquarzite, feldspathic quartz-arenite,
and indurated sandstone rich with silica elements. Eren was able to
produce discoid cores and handaxes on all cobbles (Fig. 5), but
a typical Levallois tortoisecore was obtained from indurated
sandstone rich in silica (Fig. 6). In some cases knapped limestone,
quartz, and quartzite can be much more difcult to manipulate
than ner raw materials such as int or obsidian. Even so, toolstone
constraints in Hunan province would not have prevented an expert
knapper from accomplishing advanced lithic reduction sequences.
However, a novice or intermediate knapper might have encoun-
tered substantial obstacles. While this assertion is amenable to
experimental testing, it also leads to the question of whether
tougher toolstones could have ultimately enhanced the
suppression of innovation already initiated by other factors
(demography, Lycett, 2007). Nevertheless, we add a proviso eall of
the knapped cobbles were hard and crypto-crystalline. A rock type
such as a coarse quartz may indeed impose formidable constraints,
but this also needs to be empirically veried.
3.2. Chopping down bamboo
In total, 14 bamboo stalks were chopped down (Table 1). Phyl-
lostachys pubescens was the hardest bamboo species to chop
through, while other species were quite easy to chop either due to
tiny diameters (Pleioblastus amarus,Phyllostachys viridis,Phyllos-
tachys heteroclada) or to softer culm tissue (Dendrocalamus lati-
orus munro).
Crudely knapped choppers performed surprisingly well for
chopping bamboo, with only three of fourteen choppers needing
resharpening. When a bamboo culm was growing nearby to other
culms, chopping could only take place upon one side of the bamboo
(Fig. 7a, b). However, when a bamboo culm stood isolated, chopping
could take place around the entire diameter (Fig. 7c, d), which for
thick culms was more effective for chopping: once the outer green
Fig. 10. Knapping an unifacial chopping tool on a river cobble (a) results in a sharp
edge (b), while additional bifacial strikes (c) were found to dull the functional edge by
increasing the edge angle (d). Fig. 11. Making a bamboo knife. Descriptions are provided in the text.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e2116
halm was chopped through around the entire diameter, the
bamboo shoot could be easily knocked over by kicking. When
chopping on only one side of the bamboo, the intact outer halm was
too strong to break.
Overall, only 84 min of bamboo chopping yielded 65.56 m of
bamboo (Table 1). This is strong evidence that simple aked choppers
are veryeffective for procuring bamboo, especially when considering
that neither MIE nor YL had worked with bamboo previously other
than during the 2007 pilot study. If two inexperienced modern
people can achieve suchimpressive results, surely prehistoric people
would fare even better if they depended on bamboo regularly.
Nevertheless, not all bamboo is created equal, and two short
anecdotes may serve to illustrate some potential problems prehis-
toric people may have had duringbamboo procurement. First, many
species of bamboo can grow quite tall. After chopping down
a particularly tall specimen of P. pubescens, it fell and wedged itself
into the upper trunk of a nearby tree (Fig. 8a). This required one of us
(MIE) to climb the tree in order to lift the bamboo shoot out of the
trunk wedge, while others pulled the plant from the bottom (Fig. 8b).
Second, while D. latiorus munro possesses quite soft culm to chop
through, it often growsin tight thickets (Fig. 9a). Despitesuccessfully
chopping through one rather thick specimen, its upper branches
were so entwined with the neighboring branches around it that the
specimen was essentially locked in place and left hanging (Fig. 9b).
Only after 30e40 min of wrangling and chopping with a metal
machete was it possible to wrangle the bamboo down.
One nal note: during the course of bamboo chopping, it was
noticed that replicated unifacial choppers were generally more
effective than bifacial choppers for felling bamboo. Additionally,
given the nature of the aked raw material and its original cobble
morphology, it was found that it is easier to knap sharp, straight,
acute edges when only one side of cobble is aked, rather than
when a cobble is aked on two (Fig. 10). Watanabe (1985: 3) sug-
gested that there might have actually been an evolutionary
advantage to such forms:
I am thus led to the interpretation that the Chopper-Chopping
Tool Complex [of Southeast Asia] may be a typological degen-
erated industry that resulted from readaptation. The term
typological degenerateddoes not mean being functionally
inferior.On the contrary, it must be assumed that the industry,
though crude in appearance, was economically more efcient
and ecologically more adaptive in the rainforest environment
than the Acheulean and, accordingly, had greater survival value
in such an environment.
In other words, the overwhelming preponderance of unifacial
choppers found in Paleolithic assemblages in Southeast Asia may
simply represent a desire for sharp, acute edges. However,
whether unifacial choppers actually provide dramatic improve-
ment over bifacial ones for bamboo chopping should for now be
considered yet another hypothesis waiting to be systematically
Fig. 12. Making a bamboo knife. Descriptions are provided in the text.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e21 17
3.3. A reduction sequence for bamboo knives
West and Louys (2007: 513) note that bamboo can be shaped
into effective knives for cutting because the outer halm of bamboo
contains large amounts of silica and offers a thin, sharp edge.In
order to create their bamboo knives, they pounded small diameter
bamboo shoots with a rock or against a tree and from these tore
strips bearing the outer halm. However, this method for bamboo
knife production was inefcient for the small diameter bamboo
species (P. amarus,P. viridis,P. heteroclada): it not only failed to
produce suitable cutting edges, but wasted large amounts of
bamboo due to a total lack of control. For large diameter bamboo
species (P. pubescens,D. latiorus munro), their pounding method
was ineffectual. West and Louys do not provide the name of the
bamboo species they worked with (they only provided the genus
name), and thus this discrepancy is probably due to differences in
the bamboo species used in different experiments. Nevertheless,
regarding the ve species of bamboo used in these experiments,
West and Louysbamboo knife production method did not work.
Thus, bamboo knives were produced with cobbles and aked
stone implements. After numerous trials, a simple bamboo knife
reduction sequencewas uncovered, that produces sharp, durable
knives in minimal time. Using this sequence, 20 knives were
produced in about 5 h.
(1) First, a ake is knapped (Fig. 11a). Using the ake as a chisel,
initial splits are made into the bamboo by gently tapping the
ake with a cobble (Fig. 11b, c).
(2) When the ake reaches the hard bamboo nodes,continued
tapping of the ake would often result in its breakage or
damage due to the hardness of the bamboo node. However, the
tool-maker can take advantage of the extreme node hardness.
By pounding the nodes themselves with a cobble, the already
initiated splits are perpetuated predictably through the node
and further down the bamboo (Fig. 12a). Thus, depending on
how many initial splits are made, it is possible to control the
width of the eventual bamboo strips (Fig. 12b, c).
(3) Once bamboo strips of a desired width are made, the tool-
maker should slice through the bamboos outer halm with
a sharp ake just below a node (Fig. 13a). It may be necessary to
also make small incisions on the inner bamboo surface
(Fig. 13b). These incisions weaken the bamboo strip at a desired
point so that the bamboo can be snapped cleanly (Fig. 13c).
(4) The point at which the bamboo is snapped creates a platform
(Fig. 14a). This platform permits the primary access point for
sharpening the knife. Sharpening is done by using a ake as
a chisel again, but making sure the ake bisects the edge of the
bamboo strip (Fig. 14b). This exposes the bamboos outer halm,
which is necessary for a sharp edge. A small ake with
a durable edge should be used for shaving extraneous bers to
ensure the outer halm is sufciently isolated from the inner
brous tissue (Fig. 14c). This completes the knife.
The bamboo knives were tested for cutting ability on large
pieces of pork purchased from a local market. While the knives
could easily cut through the pigs meat (Fig. 15), the knives were
ineffective for cutting through the pigs skin. This was a surprising
result, and future experiments must address whether or not our
knives were properly sharpened with a ake tool, or whether they
simply cannot cut through thicker hides.
The efciency in knife production time versus cutting effec-
tiveness reveals two possible factors that may have inuenced
bamboo knife development and/or use. While the former may have
promoted the use of bamboo as medium, the latter may have
discouraged its use.
3.4. Making spears
A unifacial chopper is an efcient tool for making a sharp spear
with whichthere is no doubt onecould kill an animal usingan ambush
or intercept strategy. Chopping the edge of an already cut bamboo
stalk took about 30 min to produce this sharply pointed object.
3.5. Splitting bamboo into strips for baskets
With modern tools, bamboo can be reduced into strips thin
enough for weaving baskets (Fig. 16). After a number of trials, it
appears that replicated stone tools can also serve this purpose.
After following steps 1 and 2 from the knife reduction sequence
above, the tool-maker should use a ake as a chisel to carefully
remove a thin strip of bamboo from a wider strip (Fig. 17a). Next,
snap the inner brous tissues of the bamboo strip, leaving the
exible, green outer halm intact (Fig. 17b). It is then possible to peel
the inner portion away from the outer halm (Fig. 17c), leaving
a strip thin enough for weaving baskets. After producing a number
of thin strips, a local bamboo craftsman used the strips to weave the
beginnings of a small basket.
4. Discussion
This paper has not proven nor falsied the bamboo hypothesis
for East and Southeast Asia. Instead, it has examined one of its two
Fig. 13. Making a bamboo knife. Descriptions are provided in the text.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e2118
foundational assumptions, namely whether or not it is even
possible to effectively and efciently make bamboo tools with
simple stone choppers and akes. Had this endeavor been unfea-
sible, it would have been appropriate to reject the bamboo
hypothesis outright. But instead, once a few simple procedures
were mastered, bamboo tool production with replicated East Asian
stone implements was quite straightforward. However, as this
paper has shown, not all bamboo is created equal, either in the
production or use of bamboo tools, which should add a layer of
intricacy in need of consideration by any future promotion of the
Bamboo Hypothesis.
For bamboo tool use to be considered a proper contributing
factor to the lack of complex lithic technology in East and Southeast
Asia, two additional lines of research must be pursued. First, the
other foundational question already mentioned in the introduction
needs to be assessed: is there in fact widespread indirect evidence
of bamboo tool production and use on aked stone tool edges and
other remains? If not, there will be grounds to reject the bamboo
hypothesis. If so, why did the use of non-lithic tools specically
preclude the development and/or use of complex stone technolo-
gies in this vast East Asian region (Brumm, 2010; Lycett and Bae,
2010)? Here, functional efciency experiments may play an
important role if it can be demonstrated that for particular adaptive
tasks bamboo tools can signicantly outperform advanced stone
tools (Lycett and Bae, 2010: 529). However, preliminary examina-
tions of the cutting effectiveness of our replicated bamboo knives
seemed to show that they could not slice through thicker hides. One
is left to wonder, at least for butchery tasks, why a prehistoric
person would go to the trouble of producing a bamboo knife when
a stone ake would certainly do the trick.
Of course, it is possible that a number of factors were respon-
sible for the lack of advanced aked stone implements in East and
Fig. 14. Making a bamboo knife. Descriptions are provided in the text.
Fig. 15. The nal bamboo knives were sharp enough to cut meat, but were unsatis-
factory in cutting outer hides.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e21 19
Southeast Asia. For instance, it would be fascinating to assess
whether contracting bamboo forests chronologically correlate
with intermittent bifacial innovations that pepper the region
(Brumm, 2010), which did not ourish due to demographic
reasons (Lycett and Norton, 2010), in turn facilitating the re-
adoption of bamboo implements for some specictask(s)as
forests expanded again.
This paper concludes by echoing the sentiments of Lycett and
Bae (2010: 535), who note that the Indian subcontinent will play
a central role for understanding the range of aked stone adap-
tations in South Asia. Northeast India in particular exhibits large
quantities of bamboo, and thus it may be signicant for advocates
of the bamboo hypothesis that the Acheulean is absent there
(Chauhan, 2009:66). Petraglia (2006: 403) notes the intriguing
possibility that certain Indian assemblages lacking bifaces may
share particular characteristics with Chinese assemblages.
However, he also identies a major distinction between the Indian
assemblages and those from East Asia. There are vast quantities of
cleavers in India (though not evenly distributed) but not in East
and Southeast Asia. On the other end of the continent, Western
Asia has produced several sites with cleavers but the most
distinctive one is Gesher Benot Yaaqov, Goren-Inbar and
Saragusti, 1996). On techno-typological grounds Petraglia is
correct, but we wonder if the vast numbers of split cobbles found
in East Asia could be functional equivalents to the cleaver in terms
of working organic materials, thus serving as yet another link
between the two regions. Further experimental testing and arti-
fact analysis that compares similarities and differences between
India and Southeast and East Asia will go a long way towards
understanding the distribution of aked stone tool types across
South Asia, and whether the use of bamboo plays any signicant
role in that overall patterning.
The research design was proposed by OBY. MIE conducted the
stone tool knapping in both 2007 and 2008. DC, JY, MIE, OBY, and YL
all participated in the bamboo experiments. We are grateful to the
American School of Prehistoric Research (Peabody Museum, Harvard
University) for funding the project. We thank the Hunan Institute of
Fig. 16. A local bamboo basket-maker.
Fig. 17. Making strips for bamboo baskets . Descriptions are provided in the text.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e2120
Archaeology and Cultural Relics which facilitated the realization of
this project and took an active part in all of its phases. MIE is nan-
cially supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate
Research Fellowship and by Mustafa, Kathleen, and Nimet Eren. We
are grateful to Stephen Lycett and two anonymous reviewers for
providing comments that substantially improved this paper.
Bellwood, P., 1990. From late Pleistocene to early Holocene in Sundaland. In:
Gamble, C., Soffer, O. (Eds.), The World at 18,000 B.P. Low Latitudes, vol. 2.
Routledge, pp. 255e263.
Boaretto, B., Wu, X., Yuan, J., Bar-Yosef, O., Chu, V., Pan, Y., Kliu, K., Cohen, D., Jiao, T.,
Li, S., Gu, H., Goldberg, P., Weiner, S., 2009. Radiocarbon dated early pottery at
Yuchanyan cave, Hunan province, China. Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences 106, 9595e9600.
Brantingham, P., Gao, X., Madsen, D., Bettinger, R., Elston, R., 2004. The initial upper
paleolithic at Shuidonggou, Northwestern China. In: Brantingham, P., Kuhn, S.,
Kerry, K. (Eds.), The Early Upper Paleolithic beyond Western Europe. University
of California Press, pp. 223e241.
Brumm, A., 2010. The Movius line and the bamboo hypothesis: early hominin stone
technology in Southeast Asia. Lithic Technology 35, 7e24.
Chamberlain, A., 2006. Demography in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press.
Chauhan, P., 2009. The lower paleolithic of the Indian subcontinent. Evolutionary
Anthropology 18, 62e78.
Costa, A., 2010. A geometric morphometric assessment of plan shape in bone and
stone Acheule an bifaces from the Mi ddle Pleistocene si te of Castel di Guido,
Latium, Italy. In: Lycett, S., Chauhan, P. (Eds.), New Perspectives on Old Stones:
Analytical Approaches to Paleolithic Technologies. Springer, pp. 23e42.
Dennell, R., 2003. Dispersal and colonisation, long and short chronologies: how
continuous is the Early Pleistocene record for hominids outside East Africa?
Journal of Human Evolution 45, 421e440.
Dennell, R., 2008. The Paleolithic Settlement of Asia. Cambridge University Press.
Derevianko, A., Brantingham, P., Olsen, J., Tseveendorj, D., 2004. Initial upper
paleolithic blade industries from the North-Central Gobi desert, Mongolia. In:
Brantingham, P., Kuhn, S., Kerry, K. (Eds.), The Early Upper Paleolithic beyond
Western Europe. University of California Press, pp. 207e222.
Gao, X., Norton, C., 2002. A critique of the Chinese Middle paleolithic. Antiquity 76,
Goren-Inbar, N., Saragusti, I.U., 1996. An Acheulian biface assemblage from Gesher
Benot Yaaqov Israel: indications of African afnities. Journal of Field Archae-
ology 23, 15e30.
Henrich, J., 2004. Demography and cultural evolution: how adaptive cultural
processes can produce maladaptive losses ethe Tasmanian case. American
Antiquity 69, 197e214.
Hou, Y., Potts, R., Yuan, B., Guo, Z., Deino, A., Wang, W., Clark, J., Xie, G., Huang, W.,
2000. Mid-Pleistocene Acheulean-like stone technology of the Bose Basin,
South China. Science 287, 1622e1626.
Jahren, A., Toth, N., Schick, K., Clark, J., Amundson, R., 2007. Determining stone tool
use: chemical and morphological analyses of residues on experimentally
manufactured stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 24, 245e250.
Lycett, S., 2007. Why is there a lack of Mode 3 Levallois technologies in East Asia? A
phylogenetic test of the Movius-Schick hypothesis. Journal of Anthropological
Archaeology 26, 541e575.
Lycett, S., Bae, C., 2010. The Movius Line controversy: the state of the debate. World
Archaeology 42, 521e544.
Lycett, S., Norton, C., 2010. A demographic model for Palaeolithic technological
evolution: the case of East Asia and the Movius Line. Quaternary International
211, 55e65.
Marwick, B., 2008. What attributes are important for the measurement of assem-
blage reduction intensity? Results from an experimental stone artefact
assemblage with relevance to the Hoabinhian of mainland Southeast Asia.
Journal of Archaeological Science 35, 1189e1200.
McClure, F., 1966. Bamboo eA Fresh Perspective. Harvard University Press,
Mijares, A., 2002. The Minori Cave Expedient Lithic Technology. University of the
Philippines Press.
Mishra, S., 2006e2007. The Indian lower paleolithic. Bulletin of the Deccan College
Post-Graduate Research Institute 66e67, 47e98.
Movius, H., 1948. The lower palaeolithic cultures of Southern and Eastern Asia.
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 38, 329e426.
Norton, C., Bae, K., Harris, J., Lee, H., 2006. Middle Pleistocene handaxes from the
Korean Peninsula. Journal of Human Evolution 51, 527e536.
Ohrnberger, D., 1999. The Bamboos of the World. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Petraglia, M., 2006. The India n Acheulean in global perspective. In:
Goren-Inbar, N., Sharon, G. (Eds.), Axe-Age: Acheuliean Toolmaking f rom
Quarry to Disc ard. Equinox Press, pp. 389 e414.
Pope, G., 1988. Recent advances in far eastern paleoanthropology. Annual Review of
Anthropology 17, 43e77.
Pope, G., Keates, S., 1994. The evolution of human cognition and cultural capacity:
a view from the far east. In: Corruccini, R., Ciochon, R. (Eds.), Integrative Pathsto
the Past: Paleoanthropological Advances in Honor of F. Clark Howell. Prentice
Hall, pp. 531e568.
Thieme, H., 1997. Lower Palaeolithic hunting spears from Germany. Nature 385,
Toth, N., Schick, K., 1993. Early stone industries and inferences regarding
language and cognition. In: Gibson, K., Ingold, T. (Eds.), Tools, Language,
and Cognition in Human Evolution. Cambridge University Press, pp. 346e362.
Wang, S., 2007. The Paleolithic Open-air Sites in Luonan Basin, China. in Chinese.
Science Press, Beijing.
Wang, Y., 2005. The Roots of Pleistocene Hominids and Cultures in China. Science
Press, Beijing. in Chinese.
Watanabe, H., 1985. The chopper-chopping tool complex of Eastern Asia: an eth-
noarchaeological-ecological reexamination. Journal of Anthropological
Archaeology 4, 1e18.
West, J., Louys, J., 2007. Differentiating bamboo from stone tool cut marks in the
zooarchaeological record, with a discussion on the use of bamboo knives.
Journal of Archaeological Science 34, 512e518.
Westergaard, G., Suomi, S., 1995. The manufacture and use of bamboo tools
by monkeys: possible implications for the development of material
culture among East Asian hominids. Journal of Archaeological Science 22,
Yuan, J., 2002. Rice and pottery 10,000 yrs. BP at Yuchanyan, Dao County,
Hunan province. In: Yasuda, Y. (Ed.), The Origins of Pottery and Agriculture.
Yangtze River Civilization Programme, International Research Center for
Japanese Studies. Roli Books/Lustre Press, pp. 157e166.
O. Bar-Yosef et al. / Quaternary International 269 (2012) 9e21 21
... In this sense, we would focus on two topics: 1) the geoarchaeological observation of formation process that will explain how the SHRA palaeolithic localities were formed and their relatively younger ages were obtained; 2) the seemingly unsophisticated repertoires of the SHRA lithic assemblages will be examined and discussed in the context of "non-artifactual" hypothesis with relevance to the usage of organic materials (Brumm, 2010;Bar-Yosef et al., 2012;Kononenko et al., 2021). For the purpose of these tasks, we will begin with a brief account of the Korean palaeolithic chronological/technological framework. ...
... The utilitarian limitation of those tools necessitate other materials to be alternatively secured for some substitute and complementary tools. As has been early suggested elsewhere, the usage of bamboo as tools can be an option and it has been a dominant candidate that can explain the simple pebble-tools with lack of large cutting tools in Asia (Westergaard and Suomi, 1995;Brumm, 2010;Bar-Yosef et al., 2012). Ethnographic studies also emphasize bamboo as a reliable raw material in Asian monsoon area and it has been mass-produced and widely used even now (Fortier, 2009;Pérez et al., 2014). ...
... This hypothesis-stone tool as a complementary item for other important producer goodscannot be easily verified in the archaeological context though. Nonetheless it can facilitate discussions and contribute to the building of proper middle-range theories that will be tested with available archaeological/experimental data sets (e.g., Bar-Yosef et al., 2012) as well as some ethnographical accounts. ...
Full-text available
This article introduces palaeolithic assemblages from the South Han River Area (SHRA) of South Korea and examines their ages in the geoarchaeological context. This task will be a starting point to discuss major factors responsible for the relatively late predominance of seemingly simple-and-crude Mode 1 toolkits in East Asia. Eight palaeolithic sites of the SHRA are covered and formation processes of their assemblages are examined based on geological features and published chronometric dates as well as additional proxy data. The ages of SHRA assemblages are roughly Late Pleistocene from MIS 5c to MIS 2. The lithic type variability of the SHRA is of typical Mode 1 technology which is principally composed of pebble-tools and minimally modified flakes. The issue of such a simple technology flourished in a limited area of East Asia during a quite late temporal range is discussed. A hypothetical explanation is that stone tools in the SHRA served as complementary items for making perishable primary living items out of organic materials and that local hominins were not obliged to be sedulous on such subsidiary items as stone tools. As a result, the nature of the SHRA assemblage looks apparently unlabored and expedient; this nature of lithic technology tends to be timeless and even survive anywhere anytime in East Asia, which can be recognized as retarded and not advanced.
... wood, bamboo) which is unlikely preserved over the long-term [27,77,79,81,82]. According to the latter argument, the bamboo hypothesis was historically developed to explain the absence of handaxes in East Asia in the Middle Pleistocene [82,83]. Indeed bamboo residues have been found on some stone tools in archaeological contexts [84,85], and experimental work has demonstrated that bamboo may provide viable cutting edges, though stone artefacts are more efficient in keeping their edges sharper for a longer time [83,86]. ...
... According to the latter argument, the bamboo hypothesis was historically developed to explain the absence of handaxes in East Asia in the Middle Pleistocene [82,83]. Indeed bamboo residues have been found on some stone tools in archaeological contexts [84,85], and experimental work has demonstrated that bamboo may provide viable cutting edges, though stone artefacts are more efficient in keeping their edges sharper for a longer time [83,86]. ...
Full-text available
Recent archaeological investigations in Sri Lanka have reported evidence for the exploita- tion and settlement of tropical rainforests by Homo sapiens since c. 48,000 BP. Information on technological approaches used by human populations in rainforest habitats is restricted to two cave sites, Batadomba-lena and Fa-Hien Lena. Here, we provide detailed study of the lithic assemblages of Kitulgala Beli-lena, a recently excavated rockshelter preserving a sedimentary sequence from the Late Pleistocene to the Holocene. Our analysis indicates in situ lithic production and the recurrent use of the bipolar method for the production of micro- liths. Stone tool analyses demonstrate long-term technological stability from c. 45,000 to 8,000 years BP, a pattern documented in other rainforest locations. Foraging behaviour is characterised by the use of lithic bipolar by-products together with osseous projectile points for the consistent targeting of semi-arboreal/arboreal species, allowing for the widespread and recurrent settlement of the wet zone of Sri Lanka.
... We adopt a technological approach to re-study the chipped stone artifacts. This approach was established in French academic context in the 1960-1970s thanks to the chaîne ope´ratoire concept Please cite this article in press as: Zhou, Y., et al., Between simplicity and complexity: The knapping flexibility on cobbles at the early Neolithic site of Zengpiyan Cave (12-7 ka), Guangxi Zhuang (Audouze and Karlin, 2017;Pelegrin, 1991;Pelegrin et al., 1988b,a;Schlanger, 2004;Sellet, 1993;Shott, 2003). Based on the technological reading (lecture technique) of the scars/negatives on the artifacts and physical refitting (when possible), researchers could reconstruct the knapping chronology and infer the intentions of each step of knapping. ...
The cobble industry in southern Chinese provinces was for a long time called large and simple “chopper-chopping tool tradition,” which persisted from the Early Pleistocene to the Middle Holocene. This recognition is 50% true and 50% false because it does not reflect the entire archaeological reality. On the one hand, the so-called “chopper-chopping tool” category often characterizes or dominates the lithic assemblages; on the other hand, a “chopper” from site A could be different from another “chopper” in site B. This distinction is important since the typological names lost their validity when conducting comparative studies inter- and intra-sites. The cobble tool industry of the Zengpiyan cave site (Guilin City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China) is an excellent example of this terminological dilemma, which presents some extent of both simplicity and complexity, underestimated in its production strategies. We could also find substantial flexibility between the two ends (simplicity and complexity) during the selection and exploitation of the cobble/pebble blanks. Although chopper-chopping tools are predominant at the site, the variability of their morpho-structures and techno-functional organization indicate that they are not just simple chopper-chopping tools sensu stricto but have their specific characteristics which could not be found in their typological names. In this context, we need to re-evaluate the previously so-called “choppers” in south China with a techno-functional approach before comparing different lithic assemblages. Compared with other contemporary sites, the Zengpiyan technical system is not far from those found in South China and mainland Southeast Asia. For example, it has similarities with the Sonvian phenomenon in northern Vietnam and some other sites in southern China. While very different from the Hoabinhian technocomplex, the Zengpiyan assemblage raises questions about the kinship with other Late Pleistocene lithic facies. Further technological studies on a larger number of sites in these regions are still needed to understand better the prehistoric techno-cultural relationships between the industrial assemblages of southern China and those bordering the Far East.
... Osseous tool technology, here referentially encompassing bone, wood, and antler tools, appear sporadically in ISEA's late Pleistocene records (Piper, 2016:29;Rabett and Piper, 2012:39), where arguments for an organic projectile tool preference have been proposed for the late Pleistocene ( Bar-Yosef et al., 2012;Brumm, 2010;Jahren et al., 1997). ...
Development of projectile hunting tools remains a significant tenant associated with modern humans' adaptive and migratory success. Technological innovations which accompanied the human odyssey between the now submerged ice-age shelves of Sunda and Sahul (the first major sea crossings by our species) are amongst the most decisive topics of human evolution today. With recent discoveries affirming the Indonesian archipelago's importance as a hub for these studies, technological records remain essential to reveal details of early human life across this strategic region. One such adaption, projectile technology, may appear quintessentially an early human technology, although this review shows projectile tools are poorly documented across Island South East Asia (ISEA), prior to the onset of major climatic change at the close of the last ice-age. Records of hunting and subsistence related to projectile technology, include flaked stone and osseous tools, rock art, and historical records – each reviewed here, to produce a vanguard methodological approach for identification of projectile tools in the early archaeological records of ISEA. Traceology backed by empirical data and contextualised within tool life histories, are found to be of dire need to advance the archaeological understanding of technological adaptations. Methodological advances elsewhere, outlay the latest techniques in recognising projectile tools, here adapted to the unique and globally relevant study area, spanning the extant lands and islands of Eastern Sunda, to Sahul.
... However, a heavy reliance on plant resources has frequently been proposed by scholars for South China and Southeast Asia. For instance, coining the term 'Bamboo Hypothesis', Pope (1988) proposed the use of wooden tools in these regions during the Pleistocene, and this hypothesis was further supported by experimental replications conducted by Bar-Yosef et al. (2012). Fortunately, a recent excavation of the Gantangqing lakeshore site in Yunnan Province (SW China) has yielded important evidence for early hominids' exploitation of plant resources during the Middle Pleistocene. ...
New research in recent years has enriched our understanding of the spatio-temporal distribution of Large Cutting Tool (LCT) technology in Paleolithic China. Yet, few studies have focused on hominid social behaviors, and by analyzing LCTs from the Baise Basin in southern China, this case study aims to clarify some of these strategies for the region. Specifically, by employing two primary lines of evidence that consider both quantitative environmental variables and technological tool attributes, the results suggest that hominids preferred to adopt behav-ioral strategies associated with short-distance travelling and small-territory ranging. Furthermore, given the low density of stone artifacts and LCTs in all excavated sites, the somewhat homogenous landscape, and the even distribution of plant-dominated resources throughout the basin, site occupation and/or settlement was likely temporary in nature. Overall, the use of ecological simulations and analogous approaches in this study provides a series of new data for understanding lifeways of early humans in the humid subtropical forests of South China, and equally important, promote new research avenues for understanding the dynamics of the Chinese Paleolithic.
Use-wear, microwear, or traceological analysis is a method for the identification of prehistoric tool use and associated activities. While this method can be applied to any lithic and some non-lithic materials, use-wear analysis plays, in particular, an important role in understanding amorphous flake tools from Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) during the Late Pleistocene. The absence of formal tool types, including those that are considered as ‘projectiles’ or ‘hafted’ implements, may have hindered our views regarding the actual role these tools played in the development of cognition, behavioural capacity, and complex technologies in the region. Use-wear analysis of unretouched flakes, however, indicate that these were used in a variety of activities, beyond simple actions such as cutting or scraping. In this paper, we provide an overview of the beginnings and development of use-wear analysis in ISEA. Then, we discuss its role in addressing issues such as the bamboo hypothesis, the interpretation of the apparent absence of ‘complex’ lithic technologies from a functional point of view, and in the context of the chronological development of lithic technology. Technological and traceological studies in the region often highlight the presumed presence of a bamboo technology in the past. However, there seem to be limited recurring microscopic wear traces that would allow to verify the hypothetical presence of a ‘vegetal technology’ that would make up for the seemingly simple lithic technology in ISEA. An evaluation of the current state of the art and future directions of use-wear analysis attempts to provide context for the current understanding of prehistoric technology in ISEA. In general, this paper critically examines the development of use-wear analysis as a specialisation in archaeology that was established and developed in the region out of necessity.
Stone that fractured conchoidally was an important resource for prehistoric hunter‐gatherers. In recent years, archaeologists have come to realize that rather than defining stone “quality” simply and implicitly as “high” or “low,” a stone's quality can be best defined in several different explicit and often quantitative ways involving production, function, or social benefits. Here, we examine the stone quality—defined as “fracture predictability”—of Upper Mercer chert when it is locally versus nonlocally acquired by prehistoric people in Ohio, USA. By quantitatively assessing silicon dioxide (SiO2) content and loss on ignition, we compared stone tools from a site at the Upper Mercer outcrop (n = 42) to those found at archaeological sites over 100 km north of it (n = 126). Our results showed that the former on average were of significantly higher quality than the latter. We conclude with a consideration of factors that could cause this difference in quality, suggesting that the lower quality of Upper Mercer chert in northern Ohio might be explained by northern people's decreased familiarity with it during the Archaic period and by their decreased access to it during the Woodland and Late Precontact periods.
Full-text available
The Three Gorges region (TGR) located in the geographic center of China, is a transition zone between mountain and plain areas, and a probable migration corridor for hominins and other mammals between South and North China. Detailed chronological information of paleoanthropological evidence in this area could help us better understand the human evolution in East Asia. The OSL and U-series dating methods are two conventional dating methods generally adopted to date such sites; however, their applications were limited by the dating range—restricted to several hundred of millennia and ambiguous stratigraphic relationship between the archaeological remains and the dating target materials. Cosmogenic nuclide burial dating of quartzite stone artifacts and coupled electron spin resonance and uranium series dating (ESR/U-series) of fossil teeth have the potential to date Early–Middle Pleistocene hominin sites in Asia and were applied increasingly in China in recent years. However, the application of cosmogenic ²⁶ Al/ ¹⁰ Be burial dating is limited in TGR because most sites are dominated by limestone, leading to the scarcity of the quartz component. In this case, the coupled ESR/U-series method plays a more important role in the establishment of the chronology of human settlement. In TGR, by using the coupled ESR/U-series method, we have dated seven important Early and Middle Pleistocene hominin settlement sites, including Longgupo, Jianshi, Yunxian, Meipu, Bailongdong, Changyang, and Yumidong sites. Based on our dating results, we propose that hominins were settled in TGR probably from the early stage of Early Pleistocene (∼2.5−2.2 Ma) at the Longgupo site to the late Middle Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene of the Yumidong site (∼274−14 ka) and very likely to spread to other parts of East Asia during this time period. In view of the potential of coupled ESR/U-series dating on fossil teeth from the hominin sites in the TGR, future work may consider the micro damage or non-destructive analysis of enamel fragment with the ESR method and laser ablation ICP-MS techniques that will make possible the direct dating of precious human fossils in China.
Full-text available
Full-text available
Stone artifacts from the Bose basin, South China, are associated with tektites dated to 803,000 +/- 3000 years ago and represent the oldest known Large cutting tools (LCTs) in East Asia. Bose toolmaking is compatible with Mode 2 (Acheulean) technologies in Africa in its targeted manufacture and biased spatial distribution of LCTs, Large-scale flaking, and high flake scar counts. Acheulean-Like tools in the mid-Pleistocene of South China imply that Mode 2 technical advances were manifested in East Asia contemporaneously with handaxe technology in Africa and western Eurasia. Bose Lithic technology is associated with a tektite airfall and forest burning.
Full-text available
The Chinese Palaeolithic has traditionally been divided into three distinct cultural periods: Lower, Middle, and Upper. Analysis of four stone tool criteria (raw material procurement, core reduction, retouch, and typology) to determine if a distinct Middle Palaeolithic stage existed in China suggests that very little change occurred in lithic technology between the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. Accordingly, a two-stage progression is proposed: Early and Late Palaeolithic. The transition between these two cultural periods occurred with the development of more refined stone tool making techniques (e.g. introduction of blade and microblade technology) and the presence of other archaeological indicators of more modern human behaviour (e.g. presence of art and/or symbolism) (c. 30,000 years ago).
Demography in Archaeology, first published in 2006, is a review of current theory and method in the reconstruction of populations from archaeological data. Starting with a summary of demographic concepts and methods, the book examines historical and ethnographic sources of demographic evidence before addressing the methods by which reliable demographic estimates can be made from skeletal remains, settlement evidence and modern and ancient biomolecules. Recent debates in palaeodemography are evaluated, new statistical methods for palaeodemographic reconstruction are explained, and the notion that past demographic structures and processes were substantially different from those pertaining today is critiqued. The book covers a wide span of evidence, from the evolutionary background of human demography to the influence of natural and human-induced catastrophes on population growth and survival. This is essential reading for any archaeologist or anthropologist with an interest in relating the results of field and laboratory studies to broader questions of population structure and dynamics. © Andrew T. Chamberlain 2006 and Cambridge University Press, 2009.
This book provides the first analysis and synthesis of the evidence of the earliest inhabitants of Asia before the appearance of modern humans 100,000 years ago. Asia has received far less attention than Africa and Europe in the search for human origins, but is no longer considered of marginal importance. Indeed, a global understanding of human origins cannot be properly understood without a detailed consideration of the largest continent. In this study, Robin Dennell examines a variety of sources, including the archaeological evidence, the fossil hominin record, and the environmental and climatic background from Southwest, Central, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as China. He presents an authoritative and comprehensive framework for investigations of Asia's oldest societies, challenges many long-standing assumptions about its earliest inhabitants, and places Asia centrally in the discussions of human evolution in the past two million years.
This paper reviews the development of ideas about early hominin stone technology and behavior in Southeast Asia and the state of current thinking on the subject. Particular emphasis is placed on the enduring influence of the “Movius Line” concept, the decades-old notion that Acheulean handaxes are absent from Southeast Asia (and the Far East in general), marking this area off as distinct from the Palaeolithic developmental sequence elsewhere in the Old World. The most widely accepted explanation for the Movius Line is that organic-based tool technologies took precedence over stone in the endemic rainforests of Pleistocene Southeast Asia: the so-called “Bamboo Hypothesis. “The rationalefor the Bamboo Hypothesis is examined and the model called into question on empirical and theoreticalgrounds. Finally, thepaper reviews claims for early hominin stone tools in Southeast Asia and considers their implications for our understanding of Palaeolithic hominin behavior.