Double-Shouldered Barkcloth Beaters and Prehistoric Seafaring in South China and Southeast Asia

  • Maya Hayashi TangEmail author
  • Kim Dung Nguyen
  • Mana Hayashi Tang
  • Chung Tang
Part of the The Archaeology of Asia-Pacific Navigation book series (AAPN, volume 1)


Barkcloth, also known as tapa, is a non-woven fabric that took on great importance in cultures of the Pacific Islands. Archaeological evidence traces the origins of barkcloth culture to East Asia. Stone beaters are the major tools associated with barkcloth production. The double-shouldered barkcloth beater (Hainan-type beater) is the only club beater found on both the East Asian mainland, as well as in Hainan Island, Taiwan and Island Southeast Asia. It is an important archaeological indicator of Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age seafaring between South China and the neighboring regions. Double-shouldered stone beaters first appeared in mainland South China during the Late Neolithic. They began to spread across the ocean by 4,000 BP and by 3,500 BP they existed on both the mainland and in Island Southeast Asia. Thus evidence suggests that ancient seafarers carried their barkcloth culture across the ocean as early as the Late Neolithic. The distribution of double-shouldered stone beaters allows the identification of three oceanic interaction spheres. One reached from the Vietnam coast of the Gulf of Tonkin to Hainan and the Leizhou Peninsula. The second interaction sphere extended across the South China Sea, from Hainan and the mainland to northern Luzon in the Philippines. This likely marks the beginning of systematic seafaring across distances of over one thousand kilometers. The third interaction sphere, occurred in the islands of western Pacific, may have reached northward from Luzon to the northeast coast of Taiwan and possibly the Ryukyu Islands. The abundant archaeological data on barkcloth stone tools have created a new foundation for the studies of prehistoric maritime link of the region.



This research was supported by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council’s General Research Fund Project Nos. CUHK431000 and 450413. The authors thank Professor Tang Lingling, Professor Zhou Weimin, Deputy Director Iksam Djahidin Djorimi, Research Fellow Kuo Su-chiu, and the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology, Hainan Museum, and Hainan Baisha Museum for providing important archaeological data regarding barkcloth beaters in these regions. We would also like to thank Professor Wu Chunming for the opportunity to publish here and for his kind patience during this entire process.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maya Hayashi Tang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kim Dung Nguyen
    • 2
  • Mana Hayashi Tang
    • 3
  • Chung Tang
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of HistoryThe Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongChina
  2. 2.Vietnam Institute of ArchaeologyHanoiVietnam
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.Institute of Cultural HeritageShandong UniversityQingdaoChina

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