The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Research Grants/Awards

Title of Project:
Functional analysis of prehistoric stone beaters in Southeast Asia from archaeological and ethnographical perspectives

Total Fund Awarded:
HK$426,000

Principal Investigator:
Professor TANG Chung, Department of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Funding Source:
RGC General Research Fund 2013/14

Abstract of Research:
        Barkcloth is a non-woven fabric that was once a major clothing material in the tropics. It is made by beating the inner bark of trees with stone or wooden beaters. In recent decades, a large number of prehistoric stone beaters comparable to barkcloth beaters were excavated on the Southeast Asian mainland. The oldest ones known so far were excavated in the Pearl River Delta and Hong Kong, dating to 7,000-6,000 Before Present. These discoveries pose an important question for what we know about the earliest barkcloth clothing in human history.
        This project aims to investigate the function of the prehistoric Southeast Asian stone beaters through a multidisciplinary approach. We will conduct use-wear analyses, experimental archaeology, ethnographic surveys of barkcloth stone beaters and their users in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and starch grain residue analyses.
        Our collaborative study draws on necessary and complementing expertise from the fields in Archaeology, Ethnography, Pacific studies, and Palaeobotany.
        In summary, this is the first ethnoarchaeological study to attempt an investigation on the prehistoric origins of barkcloth in Southeast Asia. The study is urgently necessary, because the elderly barkcloth producers in Central Sulawesi are the last living generation of barkcloth stone beater users today. This study will likely determine the function of the prehistoric stone beaters in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. It will also make significant contributions to the prehistory of the region and the global history of barkcloth clothing.