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Functionality and Morphology: Identifying Si Agricultural Tools from Among Hemudu Scapular Implements in Eastern China

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      Most Chinese archaeologists assume that the scapular implements used in the Hemudu culture in eastern China (7000–5000 BP) were the si agricultural implements (tools for breaking ground and turning soils over to assist in seeding) recorded in ancient Chinese literatures and, accordingly, assume the Hemudu culture was a farming society. However, ethnographic and historical literatures worldwide have suggested inconclusive functions for similar implements. We conducted a range of experiments under realistic conditions, including hide and plant processing and earth-working, followed by use-wear analysis, to identify the functions of the Hemudu scapular implements. The results suggest that no more than half of the implements were employed as si and that their penetrability and durability were rather limited. These findings help explain why Hemudu should not be labeled as a farming society. Through experimentation and use-wear analysis, we produced relatively large datasets that make a significant contribution to the identification of soil-derived wear patterns on bone tools. We also included quantitative measurements of soil properties to ensure similarities in use contexts between our experimental and archaeological analogies in order to reach reliable functional identifications. Our approaches and results, therefore, provided a solid base for re-evaluating previous research as well as building a standardized database of scientific value for future evaluation and adjustment, even if that future research is done in isolation and in different soil contexts.

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          Prompted by a recent article by Jiang and Liu in Antiquity (80, 2006), Dorian Fuller and his co-authors return to the question of rice cultivation and consider some of the difficulties involved in identifying the transition from wild to domesticated rice. Using data from Eastern China, they propose that, at least for the Lower Yangtze region, the advent of rice domestication around 4000 BC was preceded by a phase of pre-domestication cultivation that began around 5000 BC. This rice, together with other subsistence foods like nuts, acorns and waterchestnuts, was gathered by sedentary hunter-gatherer-foragers. The implications for sedentism and the spread of agriculture as a long term process are discussed.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]ISNI 0000 0001 2157 2938, GRID grid.17063.33, University of Toronto, ; Mississauga, ON L5L1C6 Canada
            [2 ]Hemudu Museum, Yuyao County, Ningbo City, Zhejiang 315414 China
            [3 ]Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang 310014 China
            (905) 828-3782 ,
            J Archaeol Method Theory
            J Archaeol Method Theory
            Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory
            Springer US (New York )
            6 January 2016
            6 January 2016
            : 24
            : 2
            : 377-423
            © The Author(s) 2016

            Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

            Funded by: Henry R. Luce Foundation Dissertation Fellowship
            Award ID: 943101180401-7301
            Award Recipient :
            Funded by: Haury Dissertation Fellowship from the School of Anthropology
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            © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017


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