Tanged Points, Microblades and Late Palaeolithic Hunting in Korea
Seong, Chuntaek, Antiquity
The present study examines the stone weapons available in Late Palaeolithic Korea, showing how the change in lithics signals a change in hunting strategy. In advance of the Late Glacial Maximum, a tanged spear tip flourished, reflecting the hunting of large mammals associated with the colder climate. In the more variable climate that followed, the prevalence of microliths suggests lightweight composite hunting weapons mostly used in pursuit of small game and diverse food resources. These weapons eventually included bow and arrows in the final Pleistocene.
Keywords: Korea, Palaeolithic, lithics, spears, arrows
It is generally accepted that systematic hunting was a crucial activity for Upper Palaeolithic 'modern' humans (e.g. Ellis 1997; Knecht 1997; Bar-Yosef 2002), and that stone-tipped projectile weaponry was adopted in a hypothetical 'revolution' in this period (Schmitt et al. 2003; Shea 2006). However, discussions of this issue have been mostly targeted on archaeological evidence from Western Europe and the Middle East. Early Late Palaeolithic assemblages in Korea, examined here, are marked by a distinctive type of artefact, called the tanged point, but during the Last Glacial, microblades and microcores became major components of many lithic assemblages (Seong 2006). These changes in the type of artefact employed provide a valuable means to explore the evolution of hunting strategies during the Upper Pleistocene.
Late Palaeolithic point types and chronology
Tanged points and other point types
Tanged points, the most conspicuous artefacts in Korean earlier Late Palaeolithic assemblages, were first recovered from the site of Seokjang-ri, the first Palaeolithic site to be excavated in southern Korea. They became well-defined at the Suyanggae excavations in the 1980s, where 48 tanged points were uncovered (Lee & Kong 2002). Despite the relatively short history of this research, we now have some 15 Late Palaeolithic sites yielding tanged points, mostly dating between 31 000 and 18 000 uncal BP and distributed all over the southern Korean Peninsula (Figure 1, Table 1).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Most tanged points, with some exceptions such as those from Hwadae-ri, were made from blades by retouching the proximal end to form a stem or tang (Figure 2). While blades with a pointed distal end were likely to be preferred, many examples have a deliberate retouch along the side (Figures 2 and 3). Some show a denticulated retouch with a functional implication discussed below.
The recently excavated Yongsan-dong site yielded 37 tanged points (Kim 2004; Figures 2d-h and 3k-m). The tips of some were missing probably due to hitting hard surfaces, such as bone, wood or rock. Other artefacts had broken bases or only a basal part or tangs were present. The breakage pattern probably indicates that the site was a hunting camp. There are also specimens showing a pattern of alternating (dorsal and ventral) retouch on the base (Figure 2h).
Most tanged points were made from siliceous shale or tuff, which was the most widely used raw material in Late Palaeolithic central and southern Korea. Four Hwadae-ri artefacts were made of a cruder raw material known as porphyry (or porphyritic tuff) with visible feldspar and quartz minerals. No tanged points are so far known in obsidian except for bilaterally retouched points from Suyanggae and Sam-ri (Figure 3c-d). Although there is no direct evidence recovered from Korea, it is generally assumed that the points were mounted for use in spears and knives. Similar technologies are recognised over the vast region of adjacent north-eastern Asia suggesting their wide dispersal during the late Pleistocene.
Among other point types, bifacially worked points were collected from recent excavations at Sinbuk and Wolpyeong (Figure 3e) in the south-western Korean Peninsula (Lee 2002; 2004). …