via L’Anthropologie, 26 January 2022: A review article about lithic industries in Southeast Asia, suggesting that Western models of technological diffusion may not be applicable in this region.
Recent discoveries of ancient sites in mainland Southeast Asia confirm the presence of old lithic industries as early as 0.8 Ma, i.e., at the transition between the Early to Middle Pleistocene. Although these open-air sites still require geochronological and biostratigraphic precisions, they allow us to understand the oldest vestiges of human presence in the tropics and the technical orientations chosen by these hominins. This article aims to present an objective and critical synthesis of the material discovered at the main sites. Some sites in Cambodia and Thailand have been the subject of archaeological field missions by the Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires Étrangères (MEAE). The diversity of lithic tool types and manufacture methods encountered from the Middle Pleistocene in peninsular Asia shows a technical variability that stands out as a counterexample to diffusionist hypotheses of a cultural fabrication inherited from the West. The diversity of production methods, tools, and raw material matrices remains incomparable to those encountered in the West, Africa, or South Asia. To date, only evidence from China has allowed us to put forward the hypothesis of a common technical basis that would have spread from its southern territories; however, this hypothesis is currently under debate. Researchers have proposed the idea of continuous technical progress and the shift from heavy industry to a lighter and polished stone in Southeast Asia. However, the omnipresence of the pebble prevents a clear conclusion because these technical objects from Southeast Asia are quite simply incommensurable; a chopper in these regions may not be comparable with another chopper from the terraces of the Garonne or the Roussillon in France, for example. In other words, these tools are above all ‘tropical’ tools, and they belong to a distant cognitive world(s) with specific use(s), gesture(s), and meaning(s), making it impossible for them to be compared or evaluated by our faculty of Western judgment.