4. Neolithic Stone Tools

The microlithic stone tool is one of several different types of flaked stone tool occurring during the Chinese Neolithic period; it has the longest and most widespread distribution of all stone tool types in the Chinese archaeological record. The earliest discovery of microlithic stone tools in China dates to the beginning of the 20th century; it is ascribed to Sven Hedin's discovery in Luobuchuor, XinJang, and to those of Torii Ryuzo in ChiFeng and LinXi in south-western Inner Mongolia. Reports published during the 1920s and 1930s described similar stone tool types, for example by Licent and Teilhard de Chardin; N.C. Nelson; Kazuchika Komai, Seiichi Mizuo, Namio Egami, and Sven Hedin (Chen Xingcan 1997). Around one hundred microlithic sites were discovered in XinJiang, Inner Mongolia and northern HeBei Provinces. Liang Siyong excavated a microlithic site at Angangxi Province (1933). In 1947, Pei Wenzhong proposed that the microlithic site at Zhafennuoer in Inner Mongolia belonged to the Mesolithic, but later changed this view (1987). During the 1950s and 1960s, microlithic tools were widely regarded as representing a single culture, but it was soon realised that this flaked tool type existed alongside ground stone tools and pottery that characterised both the Neolithic and Bronze Age (Yan Wenming 1998). During the 1970s, the widespread discovery of microlithic stone implements in central, south-western and northern China, especially at Xiqiaoshan in Guangdong Province, confirmed this view.

The earliest stone microlithic stone implements were discovered at XiaChuan and Qinshui in ShanXi Province; LingJing and XuChang in HeNan Province; and Hutouliang and Yangyuan in HeBei Province. In his paper of 1978, An Zhimin discussed the microlithic culture, pointing to the limitations of what had become the traditional view: that the microlithic culture extended over a considerable time-space continuum. He suggested that the concept of a microlithic culture had become of very limited value. Consequently, he proposed that the microlithic stone tool-type probably originated in northern China during the late Palaeolithic period and extended throughout the Mesolithic period – typical shapes dating to the Mesolithic had been discovered in XiaChuan, LingJing and Hu Tou Liang. Further discoveries confirmed the view that the Hutouliang microlithic stone tools were, in fact, contemporary with the earliest pottery in northern China, dated to before 11,000 BP (Xie Fei and Li Jun (1998). This discovery led to a renewed interest in research into the regional characteristics and the origins of microlithic stone tools in China.

The earliest discovery of Neolithic flaked stone implements in southern China occurred in 1935, when Pei Wenzhong surveyed four cave-sites at Yuming, Baoqiao, Baxun and Tengxiang in GuiLin Province. Pei believed that most of the stone implements had been manufactured during the Mesolithic using river pebbles. However, after reinvestigating his finds in 1956, he discovered that other archaeological material associated with the flaked stone tools belonged to the Neolithic period (Pei Wenzhong 1987, 158-175). During the 1960s and 1970s, many caves were excavated in the limestone areas to the north and south of QinLing Mountain, for example Xiarendong, JiangXi, Dushizi, GuangDong, Huangyandong, FengKai, Zengpinyan, Guilin, JiangXi, Liyazuiang, Bailiandong, Dalongtan and LiuZhou. Common features across the excavated material began to occur. For example, the preference for river pebbles, and that tools made from flint and quartz were generally smaller in size than other stone tools that were discovered in the same strata as early pottery. During the 1990s, the earliest evidence of paddy field rice agriculture found in Xianrendong and Yuchanyan, Daoxian in HuNan Province was dated to around 10,000 BP. The associated flaked stone tools are thought to pre-date the Early Neolithic period of southern China. Other small stone implements belonging to the Pengtoushan Culture have been reported from Hunan, confirming the dating of these flaked stone tools from southern China to the Early and Middle Neolithic periods.

Evidence from the Late Neolithic period of the Yellow River valley, especially the Yang Shao cultural relics, has been characterised by a range of large, flaked stone tools, which resemble the plate-shaped tool studied by An Zhimin (1960). Similarly flaked stone tools were discovered at around ten different sites belonging to the LiangZhu and SongZe Cultures in the Ningzhen area of the lower Yangze River valley. One of these is the Mopandun site, for which the borer associated with the manufacture of ornamental jade rings is the most characteristic tool type (Chen Chun and Zhang Zufang 1986).


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Last updated: Wed Jul 29 2009