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Labor Costs for Prehistoric Earthwork Construction: Experimental and Archaeological Insights from the Lower Yangzi Basin, China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Liye Xie
Affiliation:
University of Toronto, Mississauga, Ontario L5L1C6, Canada (liye.xie@utoronto.ca)
Steven L. Kuhn
Affiliation:
School of Anthropology, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721
Guoping Sun
Affiliation:
Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, 26 Jiashanxincun, Jiashan Road, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang 310014, China
John W. Olsen
Affiliation:
School of Anthropology, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721
Yunfei Zheng
Affiliation:
Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, 26 Jiashanxincun, Jiashan Road, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang 310014, China
Pin Ding
Affiliation:
Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, 26 Jiashanxincun, Jiashan Road, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang 310014, China
Ye Zhao
Affiliation:
Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, 26 Jiashanxincun, Jiashan Road, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang 310014, China

Abstract

This paper examines choices of earth-working tools made by Neolithic Chinese populations. In the Hemudu Culture (7000–5000 B.P.), bone (scapula) digging tools were used from the earliest times, whereas peoples in surrounding areas used stone spades. A range of experiments on manufacturing costs, durability, and use efficiency under realistic conditions show that bone and stone spades are functionally equivalent when soils are soft, but that stone implements provide significant and easily perceived advantages when working harder soils. The persistence of scapular spades in the Hemudu Culture would have constrained decisions about undertaking large construction projects under normal soil conditions. Our results show that, in addition to generalized labor for construction, labor demands for producing earth-working implements for large-scale prehistoric earthworks could have also been substantial. These findings not only help explain the processes of intensifying rice-agriculture and sedentary settlements in the Lower Yangzi Basin, but also create a solid foundation for further investigation of how the recruitment of both generalized and specialized laborers, the organization of craft production, and the relevant logistics for large-scale earthworks may have paralleled concentrations of political power in prehistory.

Este artículo examina las elecciones de herramientas de excavación en poblaciones chinas del neolítico. Las herramientas de excavación hechas de hueso (escápula) fueron utilizadas desde los inicios de la cultura Hemudu (7000–5000 A.P), a diferencia de los habitantes de las zonas aledañas, quienes utilizaron palas líticas. Una serie de experimentos sobre costos de manufactura, durabilidad y eficiencia bajo condiciones reales demuestran que las palas líticas y de hueso son funcionalmente equivalentes en condiciones de suelo blando, sin embargo las herramientas líticas proveen importantes y evidentes ventajas en condiciones de suelo más duro. El persistente uso de las palas de escápula en la cultura Hemudu habría limitado decisiones relacionadas con grandes proyectos de construcción bajo condiciones normales de suelo. Nuestros resultados demuestran que, además de la labor de construcción, la demanda de labor de producción de implementos de excavación de gran escala habría sido substancial. Estos resultados no solo ayudan a explicar los procesos de intensificación de la producción de arroz y los asentamientos sedentarios en la cuenca baja de Yangzi, sino también a establecer una base sólida para investigaciones futuras relacionadas con el reclutamiento de obreros especializados y no especializados, con la organización de la producción artesanal y con la logística de trabajos agrícolas de gran escala, que podrían asociarse con concentraciones de poder político en la prehistoria.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 2015 by the Society for American Archaeology.

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