6. Discussion and Conclusion

The extensive discovery of ground stone implements during the early part of the 20th century has had considerable implications for our understanding of the Neolithic in China. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, the results of large-scale investigations and fieldwork have suggested new ways in which stone implements might be interpreted; how stone tool production and distribution chains might have operated; how similar tool types acquired a range of different morphologies; and how the shape of stone tools became an important diagnostic feature in differentiating archaeological cultures. Regional variations in the type, culture, chronology, typology and association with other evidence, has increased. Since then, research on stone tools has been eclipsed to some extent by work on pottery. Currently, the main concern is to construct a comprehensive system for interpreting stone tool production systems and their products in different parts of China, leading to a better understanding of the significance of morphological characteristics and the use of stone tools at different times and in different places. There is an urgent need to understand more clearly the relationship between different tool types, how they evolved, their chronology, and how they are regionally distributed. Currently, there is insufficient agreement about how evidence from the different categories of stone implement types should be combined, analysed and interpreted to provide a cohesive and comprehensive account of Chinese Neolithic stone implements.

It is a reasonable assumption that the study of stone implements in China should not be more complicated than an equivalent study of pottery, especially considering that the source materials for stone tool making are likely to be less numerous than the sources of clay for making pots. It seems clear that the working properties of different types of stone influenced stone tool technology, production and usage; the preference for particular types of stone; and the dispersal patterns for flaked and ground stone implements away from their sources. Petrological techniques are being used increasingly to characterise stone implements and their sources; these studies provide a more secure basis for constructing new theories about stone implements, from production to consumption.

Today, the Marxist ideology of materialism is shaping the direction of archaeological research and development in China. In this context, for example, studies are focusing increasingly on different aspects of prehistoric economies, with stone tools especially important sources for evaluating the productivity of agriculture during the Neolithic. In the mid 1980s, Professor Yan Wenming warned about the dangers of over-simplifying the interpretations of stone tools from the Yangshao Culture (1989b). He suggested that stone implements were being used as markers of economic development and, although prehistoric communities varied in their use of stone implements, this was not always made sufficiently clear. He proposed the need for stronger evidence to support the view that similar types of stone implements fulfilled similar agricultural purposes. He argued that stone implements needed to be examined more critically before making generalisations about their assumed function. Further reference to ethnographical models are needed to clarify the use made of different types of stone implement, supported by the results of microwear analysis and experimental archaeology. Although recommendations to investigate use wear were proposed more than a decade ago, their implementation is comparatively slow. Additionally, the inter-relationship between the factors affecting the procurement and use of ground stone implements, their archaeological and cultural settings, and their impact on the evolution of agriculture in Chinese prehistory, are not being sufficiently considered.

When compared internationally, ground stone implements from the Chinese Neolithic often equate with apparently similar stone tools elsewhere, which range in age from the Late Palaeolithic through to the Early Neolithic. The emergence of grinding and polishing techniques, recognised, for example, at sites in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangze River and Yellow River valleys, have been dated to the Late Neolithic. They are thought to have influenced the development of techniques used in the production of jade implements, in which Chinese artisans may have been the most advanced, worldwide. When compared to other countries, there appears to be a greater range of stone implement types in the Chinese archaeological record than elsewhere in the world. Similarly, it seems that stone implement-related technology developed more rapidly in China than in other parts of the world. It is disappointing, therefore, that more serious research is not being focused on investigating the role and function of stone implements of Neolithic age in China. Such a programme of sustained research into stone implements has the capacity to provide the world archaeological community with substantial benefits.


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Last updated: Wed Jul 29 2009