5. Research on the Technology of Lithic Production and the Discoveries of the Production Locations in China

Although grinding is the main characteristic of Neolithic stone tools, An Zhimin (1955) suggests that various techniques were used in their creation. Raw material and shape selection, truncating, chipping, pecking, grinding and perforating were investigated through Tong Zhuchen's (1978) analysis of lithic production from the Yangshao and the Longshan cultures.

Tong Zhuchen considered that local availability determined the selection of raw material, while the hardness and the structural planes of the rocks affected the type of tool being produced. Axes and adzes were generally made of hard raw materials, while arrowheads and knives were usually made of shale or slate due to their laminar structure. Additionally, less labour would be required if the shape and size of the desired tool was considered when initially selecting blocks or pebbles, hence raw material was selected more carefully with respect to size and shape during the Yangshao period, prior to the introduction of advanced production technologies.

One technique to shape the blanks is truncating, which is to break off one end of the object, which can be either by sawing or incising according to the motion used. The grooves created by the former are U-shaped and V-shaped by the latter. Tool blanks were made by various chipping techniques, including chipping to one point, unifacially, bifacially, handheld, along the baseline, facet, pitting etc. Each chipping technique has particular advantages during manufacture and different signatures that can be individually identified (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Chipping and sawing

A specific chipping technique was selected depending on the various needs of the manufacturer. Pecking is an approach used to shape or retouch the blanks and could make the blanks into tools, such as a stone ball; this technique is generally employed on big blanks rather than small ones as small ones could not withstand the pecking force. Pecking can be classified into three types – vertical, along the ridge and by layer – and can be used to facet, circulate, groove, perforate, make a shoulder and notch. Grinding techniques can be classified into two types: vertical and horizontal. Additionally, the use of different anvils can be distinguished. Stable anvils were used for large tools and the grinding trace was very uniform. Portable anvils were employed for small tools and the trace was very irregular. Eight approaches to perforating have been identified, including awl drilling, pecking then drilling, engraving hole, engraving then drilling, chiselling, chiselling then drilling and pipe drilling (with sand and water as abrasives).

Overall, the production techniques employed during the Longshan period appear to be an improvement over those of the Yangshao period. In his book Chinese Neolithic Artefact Research, Tong Zhuchen considered that the techniques described above were generally employed during the Chinese Neolithic period. In addition, techniques such as wheel grinding, polishing and filing also occurred. Pecking, grinding and perforating occurred as early as the Upper Palaeolithic period, while the earliest example of incising has been identified on the chisel-shaped object at the Xianrendong site in Wannian county, Jiangxi province, dating to the early Neolithic period. Incising is therefore the characteristic of the technology of the Neolithic period. During the middle Neolithic period, filing technique (e.g. stone sickle) appeared in the Peiligang culture. Pipe drilling technique occurred in the Hemudu culture and polishing technique at the Xiaoshan site, Aohanqi, Inner Mongolia. By the late Neolithic period, many techniques were in use and the technology peak was approaching.

The study of the production technology related to ground stone relies on observations from blanks, preformed artefacts, substandard artefacts and debitage, which are found at the production locations, as diagnostic traces of production on the ground stones were often removed by grinding. Many small-area production locations have been found in Neolithic villages. For instance, some roundhouses and ash pits with abundant raw materials and preformed tools dating to the Yangshao period have been found at the Xichuan Xiawanggang and Mengjing Zhouli sites, Henan province. Moreover, several large-area production locations and quarries have been found. The Xiqiaoshan site in Nanhai, Guangdong province, was the first of these discovered. Xiqiaoshan is an ancient volcanic dome in the Zhujiang river delta. Dozens of lithic locations were discovered and a large quantity of lithic objects, including debitage, preformed artefacts, substandard objects and a few completed stone tools, were collected or unearthed within a 12 km² area around Xiqiaoshan. These artifacts can be divided into two types based on the raw materials: artifacts made of chert microlithic and felsite. The former are mostly distributed at the east root of Xiqiaoshan Mount, such as Xuanfenggang, where siliceous rocks outcrops are present. The latter are distributed at the base and the top of Xiqiaoshan Mount, where felsite outcrops are present at the northwest area, such as the Hutouyan, Jinyan, Dishuiyan.

Felsite lithic artefacts, the raw material possibly sourced from Xiqiaoshan, are the principal stone objects from the late Neolithic period in the Zhujiang river delta. Lu Liedan (1994) studied the exploitation of felsite at Xiqiaoshan through practical experiments, and argued that this involved involved heating and watering. After comparing the products from the experiment and the excavated lithic objects, she suggested that the felsite was struck directly from the outcrop or the weathering rocks. Feng Mengqin and Lu Youhong (1996) suggested that felsite pebbles on the ground might also be collected directly. They calculated that 76,800 stone tools could be supplied from stratum 7 at the Fuozimiao site, based on the proportion of 1:26 of unearthed felsite blanks and the flakes.

Along with Xiqiaoshan, Jia Lanpo has labelled the Emaokou site in Huairen, Shanxi province, as one of the two big lithic production workshops from the Neolithic period. The lithic artefacts were distributed within a 20,000m² area, and the raw material was tuff, which was struck directly from the outcrop. The lithic artefacts included axes, hoes, sickles etc., which could be dated to the Neolithic period.

Two lithic production quarries – the Gujiao site in Taiyuan and the Dagudui site in Xiangfen – were discovered in the early 1980s in Shanxi province. The Dagudui site is 6km south of the Taosi site and the lithic artefacts were distributed within a 7 to 8 km² area around the Dagudui Mountain. The lithic artefacts were collected mainly on the southern slope of Dagudui, and the deposit was up to 4m deep. The raw material is mostly metamorphic sandstone and the lithic artefacts include blocks, debitage, flakes, hammer stones and blanks. Blanks include spade-shaped, axe-shaped, wedge-shaped, V-shaped knife and Chime stone blanks (a chime stone is a kind of musical instrument in ancient China), most of which share similar characteristics with the artefacts from the site of Taosi. In addition, similar blanks were unearthed from Taosi. It has been concluded that the Dagudui site was a quarry and a lithic primary production location during the late Neolithic period. After studying the exploitation of the raw material at Dagudui and the primary lithic production techniques, Tao Fuhai suggested that there were two methods of exploiting the raw material – hitting the bedrock with a big block or splitting with wedges along the structural planes of the bedrock – and the main characteristic of the production technology was the modification of flakes, specifically by detaching the distal end of the flake, and then using the proximal portion as the blank body (Fig. 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2: The process of modifying a flake

Several lithic production workshops were found at the Honghuatao site, Yidu county, Hubei province, which was discovered on the Yangzi River east of the Three Gorges in the mid-1970s. These workshops were round and half-sunken structures of about 10m², in which there were generally several gravels, along with watermelon-sized stones as the anvils and stools, with hammer stones and grinding stones alongside. A very large quantity of gravel material, waste material and preformed tools were discovered in these structures (Fig. 3), for instance, over 1500 lithic objects were found in H11.

Figure 3

Figure 3: The distribution of the raw materials and the stone tools in 74F102 at the Honghuatao site

Many lithic production features with similarities to Honghuatao were also discovered from the Daxi culture both near and to the east of the Three Gorges on the Yangzi River, where a large lithic industry area seems to have existed. The raw material for these lithic artefacts might come from alluvial deposits and diluvial gravels on the banks of the Yangzi River. After having studied the lithic artefacts from Honghuatao, Tong Zhuchen (1998) classified the tens of thousands of raw material pieces with production traces into flakes and blanks. He further considered that the flakes were mainly used to make spades and the blanks for axes, adzes and chisels. Chipping techniques were mostly employed during the process of producing the blanks. Sawing techniques could not be observed and incising techniques could be seen occasionally. Pecking techniques may have been used on axes and adzes, while perforating techniques were not particularly developed. Many stone spades identified by Tong that lacked pecking and grinding have not been seen in other sites of the Daxi culture, and might merit further discussion.


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Last updated: Wed Jul 29 2009