3. The Functions of Chinese Stone Implements

Just like metal tools today, the patterns of distribution and use of stone tools in Neolithic China are complex. For example, the production and use of some types of tool may have continued in some areas when their production and use had ceased long before in other areas. Ethnoarchaeological and environmental models are most frequently used when interpreting such distribution patterns and other evidence. To date, comparatively little attention has been paid to microwear and other use-wear studies associated with Neolithic stone implements in China. That said, Li Yangsong (1980) has provided detailed discussions on the functions of the stone axe, hoe, sickle, knife, adze, chisel and a plate-shaped implement. Later interpretations suggest that the plate-shaped implement, which is trapeziform, broad-edged, and has one curved and one straight side, should be classified as a stone hoe. The shouldered shovel is also regarded as a hoe, and the axe is regarded as a strip-hoe. In his study of stone knife tools, An Zhimin (1955) proposed that not all the knives fell into the claw-shaped sickle category for reaping corn, and that knives with straight edges and curved edges were also used for similar purposes, with the flange-edge knife being a specialist reaping tool. Mou Yongkang and Song Zhaolin (1981) studied the stone hammer implement used in the Liangzhu Culture for breaking up the ground, associated with paddy field agriculture. Further, Yang Hongxun studied the axe and adze from the Hemudu site (1982), concluding that many axes with work-worn ends were wedges used as log splitters.

These log-splitting tools were typically long and thick with a relatively narrow cutting edge. Some tools may have been multi-functional. For example, the thin adze may also have functioned as a carpenter's shovel, and for shaving wood. Qi Yun Xiang studied the toothed stone tool (1984). He distinguished this saw tool from the sickle tool, suggesting that the sickle was more typically small, asymmetrical, toothed, and fitted with a vertically positioned handle. Conversely, the bigger, symmetrical toothed tools with handles at a different angle, were used as saws. Fu Xianguo (1985), however, after considering the hafting methods of the Yue axes and their use as grave goods, challenged the previous belief that the Yue axe was a shovel. Zhang Shouqi reviewed the disc implement from the Yangshao Culture, suggesting that the larger tool types were cutting tools, and the smaller tool types were scraping or polishing tools. Wang Ningsheng compared the disc tool from the Chinese Neolithic to similar tools found in Australia and the Philippines (1989). He concluded that the range of use for the tool could be increased by hafting it in different ways; for example, for chopping, scraping, crushing and cutting, thereby performing the functions of axe, hammer and knife. Wang also compared the perforated stone tool, ritual axe and butterfly-shaped stone excavated from the Hemudu site (1989). He proposed that the perforated stone tool might have been a macehead, sceptre or stick weight, a view shared by other researchers (e.g. Xu Yulin 1984). However, not all researchers agree, another interpretation being that this tool was a loom weight used in the spinning process (Zhang Ying and Jia Ying 1988). Wang suggested that the butterfly-shaped stone was used for throwing the javelin, whereas Wang Renxiang and Yuan Jing, reflecting similar interests, thought it more likely used as a directional marker associated with javelin throwing (1984).

Tong Zhuchen used replication studies to investigate the microwear evidence from stone implements of the Yangshao and Longshan Cultures (1982). He used such morphological features as the trapezoidal shape, the location of the straight bevelled edge to the curved bevelled edge, and the relationship of work-wear patterns to the cutting edges, to propose two types of use – adze and axe. Use-wear patterns enabled him to distinguish the chopping and cutting functions of an axe from the digging function of the adze or shovel, and to comment on the hardness of the material that was being worked. He was also able to demonstrate, by comparison with a stone sickle, that a stone knife was also used for reaping and cutting. He also made a study of the hafting of stone tools (Tong Zhuchen 1989b).


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Last updated: Wed Jul 29 2009