Let Silent Stones Speak: A technological analysis of lithics and examination of cultural homogeneity and diversity in South China and Southeast Asia from 30,000 to 6,000 years ago

Apr 8 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Li Yinghua (Professor, School of History, Wuhan University; HYI Visiting Scholar 2018-19)
Chair/discussant: Rowan Flad (John E. Hudson Professor of Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

Co-sponsored with the Asian Archaeology Seminar and the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

The characterization of Paleolithic culture in South China and their relationship with mainland Southeast Asia remains ill-defined and unclearly known. The lithic industry of South China has been characterized as simple “cobble-tool” industry persisting from early Pleistocene to Holocene and the most representative industry of Southeast Asia was also marked by pebble-tool techno-complex termed Hoabinhian during late Pleistocene-early Holocene. The possible cultural link of the two regions was proposed by some scholars but the technological characteristics and variability within the two industries was elusive. We will present here technological analysis on several representative  “cobble-tool” industries from the Luobi Cave, Hainan Island, dated to ca. 11-10 ka, Bailian Cave, Guangxi Province, dated to ca. 36-7 ka and compared them with a well-studied typical Hoabinhian site of Laang Spean in Cambodia and typical Hoabinhian stones artifacts from Vietnam. Except a minimum similarity in operational sequence (chaîne opératoire) the major difference has rejected the Luobi Cave and Bailian Cave as potential Hoabinhian sites, indicating a high originality and variability in the tool-kit of modern human groups during late Pleistocene-early Holocene transition in South China and Southeast Asia. This study represents the first step towards deciphering the cultural variability in this region from a technological view and suggests that behavioral modernity and cultural variability should be evaluated in regional and sub-regional scale instead of defining them as a uniform progressive and incremental process.