Stone tool production-distribution systems during the Early Bronze Age at Huizui, China

22nd April 2013

Anne Ford

MA, Archaeology Program, La Trobe University, October 2007

The Erlitou culture (1900-1500 BC) has been postulated as the earliest state-level society in China, with evidence for social stratification, palatial/temple remains, craft specialisation and elite good production. Recent research into the political economy of the Erlitou culture has identified a complex system of resource procurement and elite good production. Several high status items, including bronze and turquoise, were produced in circumscribed areas associated with the palace areas of the Erlitou urban centre. These restricted production areas, and the lack of these items within Erlitou regional areas, has been argued as evidence for tight control by the Erlitou elite over both the production and use of these items, thus maintaining their dominance of symbolic elite items. Other subsistence and elite items may also have been acquired by the Erlitou urban centre from its hinterland, including white pottery, salt and copper and tin for producing bronze. Although the source of white pottery is not yet known, the procurement of copper, tin and salt appears to have involved the establishment of regional centres close to the raw material sources, which has been argued as a method of controlling the access to these particular goods through monopolising the acquisition of the raw material. Based on the presence of these regional centres, it has been argued that the Erlitou culture developed into a centralised society, which expanded primarily to acquire vital resources needed by the Erlitou urban centre.

As a contrast to the elite goods, this thesis examines the production and distribution of utilitarian items; grounds stone tools produced at the site of Huizui, located in the Yiluo River Basin, central China, during the Erlitou period. The study of stone tool production-distribution systems involves examining the lifecycle of a stone tool through exploring raw material procurement, manufacture, use and discard, and the locations of these activities. As all these steps involve a choice made by the tool producer or user, the mapping of these systems can provide insights into what factors motivated these choices, including social, economic, political or technological factors.

The current study used an economic approach to identify if differences could be observed between the systems. Efficiency was selected as the parameter for comparison as it provides an economic baseline, removed from culturally specific issues, against which to compare archaeological examples, and is also a flexible measure which can be used to understand all aspects of the systems.

Two different aspects of stone tool production at Huizui were explored; raw material procurement and on-site production. Raw material procurement was shown to be efficient for all of the tool types studied, with particular focus on distance to source and the functional and extractive properties of the raw materials. Efficiency in production was less clear, with scale of production instead the distinguishing factor.

Two different stone tool production-distribution systems were identified; the mass produced oolitic dolomite spades which appear to be distributed regionally, including to the Erlitou urban centre, and the locally produced and consumed adzes, axes, chisels, knifes and grinding slabs. Both of these systems appeared to be retained within the household context and may have operated independently of Erlitou elite control, which is a direct contrast to the heavily circumscribed production and distribution of elite items. This study also showed that whilst efficiency is a useful tool to elicit detailed information from the stone tool production-distribution systems, further parameters need to be included to provide a more accurate contrast between systems.

Anne Ford
Stone tool production-distribution systems during the Early Bronze Age at Huizui, China
June 2010
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Thesis Abstracts
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