April 24, 2011

Bamboo knives? Darts?

Bar-Yosef splitting bamboo with simple stone tools
There is a long held idea among prehistorians that maybe, only maybe, the peoples of SE Asia used bamboo-made tools instead of stone-made ones, what would explain the relative scarcity of stone tools in this area before the Hoabinhian (or rather its predecessor: the Son Vi culture) and the fact that they are mostly flakes and cobbles, not blades.

The hypothesis was floating around for decades but was never, I understand, tested in any practical way. Now a team lead by O. Bar-Yosef and manned by the expert hands of knapper Metin E. Eren, have attempted to reproduce these alleged bamboo knives.

They found that making with the simplest stone tools them was relatively straightforward (see video) but that, once created, they'd lose their edge quickly. Also the ability of bamboo knives to cut hides was poor even if they are useful to cut meat.

On the other hand, Eren was able to produce which is maybe the most critical bamboo tool needed: a spear or dart. While bamboo knives were surely useless in comparison with simple stone flakes, bamboo darts may have been a critical component of the Paleolithic toolkit: the hunter's weapon.

Of course, bamboo proved itself ideal for basketry and container creation.


Direct sources:

2 comments:

  1. "once created, they'd lose their edge quickly. Also the ability of bamboo knives to cut hides was poor even if they are useful to cut meat".

    I have never accepted the idea that 'the peoples of SE Asia used bamboo-made tools instead of stone-made ones'. And it's not strictly correct to say, 'the relative scarcity of stone tools in this area before the Hoabinhian'. They're not especially rare, just especially 'primitive'. From your link:

    "Bacsonian is often regarded as a variation of the Hoabinhian industry characterized by a higher frequency of edge-grounded cobble artifacts compared to earlier Hoabinhian artifacts, dated to c. 8000–4000 BCE.[2][3]"

    So the first advance is the development of edge-ground tools. Microliths don't appear until the arrival of people from further north. I have an idea I've linked to this Peter Bellwood essay before, but if you haven't read it you should find it interesting. However I know you disagree completely with everything he has written:

    http://epress.anu.edu.au/pima/pdf/ch06.pdf

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  2. The Bellwood paper, regardless of his opinions, is very interesting (thanks). I do not know why the emphasis in "cobble" when most artifacts are blade-like. They may not be blades strictu senso (very much arguable) but they are much the same thing for all practical purposes.

    Interestingly there is one blade-like tool from Timor that is clearly a sickle (fig. 6.12.b). It does not imply agriculture on its own but it is a sickle in any case.

    Other anecdotes:

    · 6.11.c is almost like Clovis points (in some aspects more than Solutrean ones).

    · The Toalean microlithic (fig. 6.14) is quite impressive.

    In section E, the author acknowledges that the arrival of the "flake and blade" technocomplex implies no population replacement but continuity.

    ReplyDelete

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