Raw Material Selection and Evidence for Rhinoceros Tooth Tools at Dadong Cave, Southern China

Article excerpt

Standardization in tool form is a highly variable feature of Chinese Palaeolithic assemblages. For example, the site of Guanyindong in Guizhou province and the Bose Basin localities in Guangxi (FIGURE 1) are both assigned to the Lower Palaeolithic (Li 1989) but they have dramatically different lithic assemblage,;. The Guanyindong assemblage is dominated by scrapers and small flaked tools (Zhang 1985; Leng 1992), while the Bose lithics are primarily very large bifacially flaked cobbles (Huang 1987; Hou et al. 2000). Do these differences represent regional distinctions in lithic traditions or differences in subsistence strategies? Does the variation exist because Asian tool kits were not predominantly lithic based?


The technological nature of the Chinese Palaeolithic is largely tied to issues of raw material availability and the constraints that may be imposed by inferior flaking properties of some rock types. Researchers (Boriskovskii 1968; Hutterer 1977; 1988; Pope 1989) have suggested that versatile non-lithic resources, such as bone, bamboo and hardwoods, were used to supplement lithic tool kits in East and Southeast Asia. Bamboo, for example, could furnish flakes, cooking and food storage containers, spears, traps and rope (Pope 1989; Schick & Toth 1993). The lack of fossilized bamboo makes this hypothesis difficult to test. However, there is archaeological evidence for tools made of other non-lithic materials. Harrisson & Medway (1962) report tools made of turtle carapace and pig tusk from Niah Great Cave (about 40,000 BP ??OK/ we don't like `ka') in Borneo. Sohn (1988) reports the modification of bone at the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic Korean locality of Yonggul (Chommal) cave. The argument has been made for bone and antler use at Zhoukoudian (Pei 1938; Breuil 1939) and for worked bone from the Lower Palaeolithic localities of Donggutuo (Wei 1985) and Xujiayao (Jia & Ho 1990). Some authors maintain that the objective of the Asian chopper/chopping tool tradition was principally to produce stone flakes used to manufacture and maintain nonlithic tool kits (Hutterer 1988; Pope 1989), or that it may have developed as an adaptation to heavily forested environments (Watanabe 1985) where stone was difficult to locate and often of poor quality.

These general issues concerning raw material use are being investigated at Panxian Dadong, a middle Pleistocene cave site in Guizhou province. In this paper we propose that humans living in the cave supplemented their lithic tools with faunal raw material, specifically rhinoceros molars, that were selectively transported into the cave.

Panxian Dadong setting and environment

Dadong is a large karst cave located in a small valley on the western Guizhou Plateau (25[degrees]37'38" N, 104 [degrees] 44'E) (FIGURE 1). It is the middle cave in a series of three interconnecting caverns stacked within a 230-m high hill. The entrance is presently located 32.4 m above the valley floor as a result of recent uplift of the plateau. At the time of its prehistoric occupation, the entrance would have been closer to the valley floor and near the confluence of three small rivers that drained into the porous limestone of the lower cave.

The Pleistocene environment was mixed woodland, as indicated by the presence of water buffalo, musk deer, barking deer and rhinoceros. The occurrence of panda, orangutan and colobine monkeys (Pan & Yuan 1997) suggest some densely forested areas. This range of habitats is characteristic of montane environments with elevational diversity.

Dadong's 8000-sq. m main chamber contains deposits of bedded sandy travertines, clays, breccia, and large limestone blocks. The archaeological levels have stone tools in association with animal bone (Huang et al. 1995). Four human teeth were also discovered. In the 1996 and 1998 excavation seasons, 1215 artefacts (lithics 23. …