|Bar-Yosef splitting bamboo with simple stone tools|
There is a long held idea among prehistorians that maybe, only maybe, the peoples of SE Asia used bamboo-made tools instead of stone-made ones, what would explain the relative scarcity of stone tools in this area before the Hoabinhian (or rather its predecessor: the Son Vi culture) and the fact that they are mostly flakes and cobbles, not blades.
The hypothesis was floating around for decades but was never, I understand, tested in any practical way. Now a team lead by O. Bar-Yosef and manned by the expert hands of knapper Metin E. Eren, have attempted to reproduce these alleged bamboo knives.
They found that making with the simplest stone tools them was relatively straightforward (see video) but that, once created, they’d lose their edge quickly. Also the ability of bamboo knives to cut hides was poor even if they are useful to cut meat.
On the other hand, Eren was able to produce which is maybe the most critical bamboo tool needed: a spear or dart. While bamboo knives were surely useless in comparison with simple stone flakes, bamboo darts may have been a critical component of the Paleolithic toolkit: the hunter’s weapon.
Of course, bamboo proved itself ideal for basketry and container creation.
Ofer Bar-Yosef et al., Were bamboo tools made in prehistoric Southeast Asia? An experimental view from South China. Quaternary International, 2011. Pay per view.
- SMU Research Blog: Bamboo tool-making study shines light on East Asia’s Stone Age tool scarcity
- Related Flickr photo gallery
- Related video