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Scientists make bamboo tools to test theory explaining East Asia's Stone Age tool scarcity

of bamboo a resource readily available to them.

Scientists suggest several reasons for missing stone tool industry

Scientists have hypothesized various explanations for the lack of complex stone tools. On one hand, it's been suggested that human ancestors during the early Stone Age left Africa with rudimentary tools and were then cut-off culturally once they reached East Asia, creating a cultural backwater.

Others have suggested a lack of appropriate stone raw materials in East and Southeast Asia. In the new study, however, Bar-Yosef, Eren and colleagues showed otherwise by demonstrating that more complex stone tools could be manufactured on stone perceived to be "poor" in quality.

Studies set out to test "bamboo theory" by replicating stone tools

Prolific in East and Southeast Asia, bamboo stands grow fast and thick, reaching maturity in 5 to 7 years and totaling more than 1,000 species, the authors say.

In a 2007 pilot study and a 2008 expanded study the authors worked with the Archaeological Field Research Station of the Hunan Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics in Shimen, China. Experiments were carried out in three locations across Hunan province known to possess clusters of Paleolithic sites.

The researchers gathered different kinds of cobble-sized rocks along the banks of the Li, Wu and Xiao Shui rivers, similar to those that would have been available to prehistoric human ancestors.

From those rocks, Eren easily replicated flake tools and stone choppers, some of them flaked on one side and some flaked on two sides. The team then observed a local bamboo toolmaker who used metal tools to easily slice the bamboo to learn techniques for sawing, shaving, splitting, peeling and chopping bamboo.

Stone tools efficiently chopped down bamboo stalks and produced knives

Using the crudely knapped stone choppers, the researchers in 84 minutes

Contact: Margaret Allen
Southern Methodist University

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