Blade production of Shuidonggou Locality1 (Northwest China): A technological perspective
Peng et al (2014) describes the technical aspects of an early Asian blade assemblage in Northwest China. The site, Shuidonggou Locality 1 (SDG1), represents a shift from the middle to upper Paleolithic. The stratigraphy and chronology of the site is contentious, but the authors here delineate the chronology into two sections (upper and lower) and name a conservative age range from 40000- 10000 BP. The article focuses mostly on the lower stratigraphic layer. This layer, too, has been split by some archaeologists into an upper and lower section based on a seeming change in the middle from large blades to simple core and flake tool assemblages. However, Peng et al revise this assertion by calling into question the accuracy of previously analysed stratigraphic layers and point out that the majority of blades were found in the upper layer, contradicting the idea that blade technology gave way to simpler flaked cores.
Methods and Materials
Peng et al analyses materials collected during the 1980s excavation of Shuidonggou. Out of 5500 stone artefacts, 2078 were analysed in this study. Within the study population, there were 110 cores, 100 chunks, 1866 flakes, and two ground stone artefacts. Laminar blade reduction was most common among these artefacts, and 559 were designated as resulting from complete blade production. Within these blades, 130 were considered standard blades, 424 were elongated flakes and 5 were bladlets. This typology is based on length/width ratios. Limestone and quartzite comprised 90.7% of the total material assemblage. While these materials are both available in the region of Shuiddongou, there were a few artefacts made from a higher quality flint not found in the region. Removal of blades from cores was most often (80%) done from opposed platforms in broad-faced cores, though some were prismatic. Most flaking was begun laterally, a method assumed by the author to be done with the intent of creating convexity on the striking surface. Although hard hammer/soft hammer relationships are difficult to extract from lithic assemblages, the authors believe that direct percussion was most often applied to the artefacts, and no evidence was found for pressure flaking. The authors present two methods most likely adopted by knappers at SDG1. The first is a reduction system using Levallois-like techniques that require only one faking surface. The other is profuction of blades from narrower faced cores . Retouched pieces were found in very small percentages, a fact perceived by the authors to indicate removal from SDG1 of more formal artefacts.
From these quantitative analyses, Peng et al conclude that recurrent, bidirectional, Levallois-type reduction was the most common reduction strategy and produced standard blades, elongated flakes, and bladlets with similar frequency. Their analyses prompt the authors to assert the position that definitions of Middle and Upper Paleolithic overlap in many areas. While blade technology is considered Middle- Upper Paleolithic in some areas (Altai region), it is strictly Upper in others (Siberia, China). Peng et al calls for a more specific technological comparison to be drawn between these regions while noting the complexity in the question, as these assemblages can be connected not only to Homo sapiens, but also to Neanderthals and Denisvoans.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
Connection This article provides a very comprehensive description of blade production and where it lies within the larger context of the Upper Paleolithic.It also questions assertions made by many archaeologists (including Bar-Yosef, 2009) that connect Homo sapiens, the Upper Paleolithic, and blade technology. In addition, Peng et al mention correlations seen between climating changes in the Upper Paleolithic and blade changes. This point is particularly interesting to me, as I have spent a lot of time looking at similar correlations in the North and South Pacific. One of the authors, Xin Gao, co-authored a paper examining this very question at SDG1* and reading these two papers presents a fuller idea of the mechanisms at work at this site.
Judgement Although it raises some larger questions of life and economy in the Upper Paleolithic, the majority of this article reads like a very focused site report. This does not particularly detract from the article, but more analysis of what the specific blade industry means for the Upper Paleolithic in China would have been appreciated. In addition, Peng et al brings ideas about the makers of the SDG1 assemblage into the paper during the discussion with little analysis. Connecting the specific blade technology at SDG1 with specific blade technology at other Neanderthal, H. sapiens or even (when possible) Denisovan sites would be an interesting progression.
- Mingjie Yi, Robert L. Bettinger, Fuyou Chen, Shuwen Pei, Xing Gao, The significance of Shuidonggou Locality 12 to studies of hunter-gatherer adaptive strategies in North China during the Late Pleistocene, Quaternary International, Volume 347, 9 October 2014, Pages 97-104