2. The Characteristics of Stone Implements from Different Geographical Regions

Research into the Neolithic period in China increased rapidly around 1959 as interest in archaeological cultures, stages of evolution and geographical distributions increased. Although this research was based mainly on the analysis of pottery, stone implements were also considered, though to a far more limited extent. A contributing factor in this was that there was no specialist research focus specifically on stone implements at this time.

During the early 1980s, Tong Zhuchen (1989a) conducted important research on stone tool assemblages from sites in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and the Yangze River. By this time, both of these areas had provided important information about cultural developments in the Chinese Neolithic. Zhuchen observed that there were comparatively few differences in the types of stone implements of the Yangshao and Longshan Periods from sites in the valley of the Yellow River. The most typical stone tools included the axe, adze, shovel, sickle and arrowhead. Although the range of tool types was similar for both periods, their style and shape differed significantly. These shapes ranged from rounded to square, and from curved to angular. It now became possible to establish geographical distribution patterns using a shape index based on implements from the Yangshao Period, using stone implements gathered from the Jinghe River and Weihe River valleys to the west and north of Henan, and in the southern Shanxi district. It emerged that the linguiform, heart-shaped stone shovels and shouldered pick-axes were restricted to the west of the Henan province. However, the rectangular wider stone shovel, rectangular stone knife and curved-blade stone axe were mainly restricted in occurrence to the north of Henan and south of Shanxi. Stone implements with similar characteristics from the Longshan Period were seen to be common across all three districts, which implied a continuity in the local production, distribution and use of stone implements across the region. However, although stone shovels were occasionally discovered in Shandong Province, the morphology of associated adze and chisel implements varied significantly. Interestingly, concentrations of flaked stone shovels of the Daxi Period from the western Hubei-Bashan mountainous region differed noticeably from the shouldered axes and adzes from the Dongtinghu Lake area, suggesting two different cultures. The rectangular stone axe and the square-section chisel are characteristic of the Qujiang Culture. Several stone implement cultures occur in the lower reaches of the Yangze River, including the Hemudu, Luojiajiao, Beiyinyanging and Xuejiagang Cultures. The stone implements of the Hemudu Culture are typically small and wide; the Luojiajio Culture extended across the Loujiajiao, Majiabang, Songze and Liangzhu Periods. The typical stone implement of the Beiyinyangying Culture is the drilled rectangular axe. The Xuejiagang Culture is characterised by the stone axe, perforated knife and stepped adze, which may have developed from the Beiyinyangying Culture.

Tong Zhuchen's research also indicated that microlithic stone tools first developed in northern China, where extensive discoveries of implements had been made in the XinJang and Inner Mongolia Provinces (Tong Zhuchen 1986). Based on the range of stone implements in the Hongshan Culture, he also suggested the existence of a mixed Neolithic economy, which included the use of a flaked and ground leaf-shaped (ploughshare-shaped) agricultural tool. Ground stone shovels, sickles, millstones and mullers (a handstone used for crushing millet or other grains, normally used with a millstone slab) occur in the Cishan-Peiligang Period in the Yellow River valley sites, which point to important agricultural developments in the region.

The use of stone implements also apparently increased during the Yangsho Period. For example, the rectangular stone knife became a dominant tool type, and the increased number of axes in comparison to adzes suggested a shift from agricultural use towards woodworking use. Trapeziform and claviform adzes are typical shapes of this period. The tube-drilled, thin and flat stone adze and shovel were the most widespread tool-forms in the southern reaches of the Yellow River during the Early Neolithic period. Important patterns began to emerge; for example, flaked stone implements were much more common than ground stone implements, and the stepped adze and shouldered adze became the most typical tool types of the Tanshishan Culture along the coast of south-eastern China. The grinding and polishing technology of the Shiaxia Cultures developed during this period.

In 1998, Tong Zhuchen published the results of fifty years of research into Chinese stone implements. His detailed analysis enabled him to comment on the morphology, manufacture, distribution and use of stone implements from different regions of China, and their cultural significance. This was a very important and comprehensive study, especially of stone implements from the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and Yangze River valleys. He also commented on the characteristics of stone implement cultures from the Middle Neolithic, for example, Cishan, Peiligang and Laoguantai Cultures. He proposed that, while possessing some individual stylistic traits, stone implements from these cultures shared several common characteristics. He extended his stone implement research to cover new geographical areas, including the south-eastern coast, Taiwan, the south-west, the north-west, Inner Mongolia and the north-eastern parts of China.

A case study of two stone implement types – the stepped tool and the shouldered tool – is illuminating. The stepped adze occurs extensively along the west coast of the Pacific Ocean, and became known as Type A. Lin Huixiang (1958) used a wide geographical spread of stone implements to establish a typology of Primary, Mature and Advanced types. He proposed the stepped adze as the characteristic stone tool type for the prehistoric cultures of south-western China, and also that the centre for manufacture would be found in that region. Discussing shouldered stone implements, Wang Renxiang (1987), argued that three distinct types of shouldered stone implements were used quite extensively across the grassland areas of north-eastern, south-eastern, middle, southern and south-western areas of China. The same tool type originated independently in each geographic area. Fu Xianguo studied stepped adzes and shouldered stone implements from southern China and concluded that the earliest stepped adze originated in the lower reaches of the Yangze River valley (Fu Xianguo 1988). The shouldered stone implements, however, originated in southern China around the Pearl River estuary, from where they diffused across south-western Asia and the Pacific Ocean region, including the Philippines. Other similar studies include An Zhimin's study of the stone knife (An Zhimin 1955), the Jia Weiming and Zhao Hui study of stone arrowheads of northern China (1985), Fu Xianguo's study of the Yue axe (1985), the Wu Jiaan study of millstones (1986) and Jiu Zhuangsi's study on the stone spade-shaped plough (1991).


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