Raw material preferences for scapular tools: Evaluating water buffalo age bias in the early Hemudu culture, China

L. Xie, M. C. Stiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Our research on scapular earth-working implements from the early Hemudu culture (7000–6000 bp) in China reveals prehistoric raw material selection in bone tool manufacture, specifically in regard to animal age. Although the scapula normally would not be considered for distinguishing among adult age classes, the maturity and thickness of the bone were an important consideration for its technological performance. Statistical analysis of the width and rugosity level of the scapular neck show that scapulae from older adult wild buffalo was strongly preferred for crafting earth-working implements. This raw material was less commonly available to tool makers in comparison with the bones of younger animals. In order to conserve the scapulae of old buffalo for tool production, the Hemudu people likely took these heavy bones from kill sites. They seldom transported scapulae from younger animals; such raw material was rarely used, and presumably only when the desirable material was unavailable. Our approaches for reconstructing buffalo mortality patterns are based on the development of the scapular bone. In addition to water buffalo and cattle, the approach is applicable to other ungulate scapulae that have been transformed into artefacts (tools and oracle bones) in prehistoric and historic cultures. This attempt at testing for age bias in scapular raw material selection can further stimulate methodological development to reveal activities surrounding bone acquisition in preindustrial societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-655
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Hemudu culture
  • animal mortality pattern
  • osseous technology
  • raw material selection
  • scapular tool
  • water buffalo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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