1. Introduction

The Yiluo region witnessed a long trajectory of Neolithic development (c. 6000-2000 BC), followed by rapid social changes during the Bronze Age (c. 2000-200 BC). This is a core area of Chinese civilisation, since the earliest urban centre developed at the Erlitou site (c. 1900-1500 BC) in the Yiluo basin, marking the emergence of state-level society in north China. The Yiluo Archaeology Project, initiated in 1997, is a long-term internationally collaborative and interdisciplinary programme, which holds a key position in the quest for the origins of early states in China. We have focused on the eastern part of the Yiluo region near the Songshan Mountains, where natural resources occur in abundance, including lithic materials (Fig. 1). We have employed a number of methods and approaches to investigate many aspects relating to social change in the region, and craft specialisation in stone tool production is one of the research topics (Liu and Chen 2007).

Increased craft specialisation has been regarded as an important indicator of development of social complexity (Brumfiel and Earle 1987; Costin 1991). Many studies in other parts of the world have demonstrated that craft specialisation increased simultaneously in both urban and rural areas during the formation of archaic states (e.g., Blanton et al. 1982; Schwartz and Falconer 1994) and rural villages were closely involved in regional economic systems (Wright et al. 1989). Instead of being simple homogeneous food-producing sectors of state societies, rural areas often developed specialised craft productions, participated in trade systems, and formed hierarchical social organisation (e.g. Hester and Shafer 1994; Wattenmaker 1994). In the Yiluo region, the Erlitou culture witnessed the development of craft specialisation in several directions. The most prestigious elite items, such as bronze vessels and turquoise ornaments, were manufactured at the major centre of Erlitou (Liu and Chen 2003; Liu and Xu 2007). White pottery vessels, which were probably used as drinking vessels for ritual purposes, may have been produced at Nanwa, some 25km south of Erlitou (Liu et al. 2007; Liu 2003). In addition to these elite goods, some utilitarian items were also mass-produced, such as pottery and bone artefacts made at Erlitou (Institute of Archaeology 1999).

In this article we explore the relationship between craft specialisation and state formation in early China by focusing on one type of product, stone spades, which appear to have been produced in large quantities at a small number of sites near the Songshan Mountains. In contrast to most previous investigations, which emphasised prestigious material, the current study attempts to shed new light on the production mode of utilitarian goods at the time of early state formation. We will first describe the stages of production and possible sphere of distribution, and then discuss several theoretical implications derived from this study.


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