Lithic Raw Material Use at the Late Middle Pleistocene Site of Panxian Dadong

Article excerpt

AT STRATIED MIDDLE PLEISTOCENE SITES where the use of several lithic raw materials is observed, it is possible to examine patterns of resource exploitation to test hypotheses about cognitive abilities and behavioral change over time. Numerous studies have attempted to explain the organization of technologies, including raw material diversity and strategies of resource management, at localities in Europe, the Levant, and China.

Mallol (1999) analyzed lithics from the Lower and Middle Pleistocene levels TD6 and TD10A at Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain. She demonstrates that paleoeconomic strategies can be identified by examining relationships between lithic raw material selection and technical traditions. The Lower Paleolithic, pre-Acheulean level (TD6) exhibits little standardization with regard to raw material selection while the Middle Paleolithic core and flake technology of level TDIOA shows a pattern of preferential use of fine-textured stone as well as more standardization in tool form. Similarly, Martinez (1998) relates planning behavior involving the processing of animal carcasses to the differential use of local raw materials from five localities in the Iberian Peninsula (Aridos 01,02, Torralba, Ambrona, and Sierra de Atapuerca).

Technological planning behaviors, as evidenced by material selection, curation, and artifact transport have also been examined in relation to mobility and subsistence (Andrefsky 1994; Kuhn 1991, 1992, 1994). Kuhn (1992) argues that the organization of technology is most dependent on patterns of land use and foraging strategies. With regard to mobile toolkits he suggests that optimal artifact utility reflects both edge length and the potential for resharpening (Kuhn 1994). On the other hand, Andrefsky (1994) documents a close relationship between abundance and quality of raw material and tool typology. From ethnographic and archaeological data he demonstrates that poor-quality raw materials are most often made into informal tools while high-quality stone is fashioned into formal tool types. When high-quality material is abundant, toolkits contain both informal and formal tool types. Other studies attest to the transport of quality raw materials from distant sources and detail the efforts Middle Pleistocene hominids made to select particular resources (Meignen 1988).

Researchers analyzing Chinese lithic assemblages have focused on evaluating the effects of raw material quality on typological variability, technological attributes, and operational sequences of tool manufacture (Gao 2000; Hou et al. 1999; Jia and Huang 1985; Keates 2001; Miller-Antonio 1992; Schick 1994). Much of this work highlights the poor quality of Chinese raw materials. The most readily available material often is stone that fractures in unpredictable ways. Leng (2001) suggests that tool manufacture from recalcitrant material offered a considerable challenge to the cognitive abilities of these Chinese toolmakers. The question then becomes, how did these early humans meet that challenge? Did they experiment with other, less obtainable or scarcer materials? The deposits at Zhoukoudian Locality 1 (Fig. 1) contain 40 different raw materials, yet 88.8 percent of the tools are made from just one type of poor quality stone (Keates 200l). Did they develop new technologies using non-lithic resources, as has been argued for bamboo (Pope 1989) and dental faunal remains (Miller-Antonio et al. 2000)? Or did they develop new flaking techniques, specifically to work the most readily available, difficult materials? A notable example of a flaking strategy specifically associated with intractable raw material is the bipolar flaking of vein quartz at Zhoukoudian Locality 1, while direct hard hammer percussion was applied to the more tractable materials like chert and sandstone. Technological change through time is also apparent at Locality 1. The artifacts in later layers are more frequently made of better raw materials and appear more standardized in form (Zhang 1985, 1989). …