Cradle of Civilization

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  • The Fertile Crescent

    The Fertile Crescent is a term for an old fertile area north, east and west of the Arabian Desert in Southwest Asia. The Mesopotamian valley and the Nile valley fall under this term even though the mountain zone around Mesopotamia is the natural zone for the transition in a historical sense.

    As a result of a number of unique geographical factors the Fertile Crescent have an impressive history of early human agricultural activity and culture. Besides the numerous archaeological sites with remains of skeletons and cultural relics the area is known primarily for its excavation sites linked to agricultural origins and development of the Neolithic era.

    It was here, in the forested mountain slopes of the periphery of this area, that agriculture originated in an ecologically restricted environment. The western zone and areas around the upper Euphrates gave growth to the first known Neolithic farming communities with small, round houses , also referred to as Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) cultures, which dates to just after 10,000 BC and include areas such as Jericho, the world’s oldest city.

    During the subsequent PPNB from 9000 BC these communities developed into larger villages with farming and animal husbandry as the main source of livelihood, with settlement in the two-story, rectangular house. Man now entered in symbiosis with grain and livestock species, with no opportunity to return to hunter – gatherer societies.

    The area west and north of the plains of the Euphrates and Tigris also saw the emergence of early complex societies in the much later Bronze Age (about 4000 BC). There is evidence of written culture and early state formation in this northern steppe area, although the written formation of the states relatively quickly shifted its center of gravity into the Mesopotamian valley and developed there. The area is therefore in very many writers been named “The Cradle of Civilization.”

    The area has experienced a series of upheavals and new formation of states. When Turkey was formed in the aftermath of the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians perpetrated by the Young Turks during the First World War it is estimated that two-thirds to three-quarters of all Armenians and Assyrians in the region died, and the Pontic Greeks was pushed to Greece.

    Israel was created out of the Ottoman Empire and the conquering of the Palestinian terretories. The existence of large Arab nation states from the Maghreb to the Levant has since represented a potential threat to Israel which should be neutralised when opportunities arise.

    This line of thinking was at the heart of David Ben Gurion’s policies in the 1950s which sought to exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims in the Lebanon for the fruits of acquiring regional influence by the dismembering the country and the possible acquisition of additional territory.

    The Christians are now being systematically targeted for genocide in Syria according to Vatican and other sources with contacts on the ground among the besieged Christian community.

    According to reports by the Vatican’s Fides News Agency collected by the Centre for the Study of Interventionism, the US-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and ever more radical spin-off factions are sacking Christian churches, shooting Christians dead in the street, broadcasting ultimatums that all Christians must be cleansed from the rebel-held villages, and even shooting priests.

    It is now time that the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians is being recognized, that the Israeli occupation, settlements and violence against the Palestinians stop, and that the various minorities in the area start to live their lifes in peace – without violence and threats from majority populations, or from the West, and then specificially from the US.

    War in the Fertile Crescent

    Everyone is free to use the text on this blog as they want. There is no copyright etc. This because knowledge is more important than rules and regulations.

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Painted Pottery Culture

Posted by Sjur Cappelen Papazian on March 21, 2015

Painted pottery culture

Map of late neolithic China

This study compares the matrial assemblages of distinctively painted pottery vessels associated with findings of millet in different regions, such as the Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture of Southeast Europe, the Anau Culture of Central Asia,and the Majiayao Culture of China. These painted pottery vessels have been argued to be similar to each other with a geographical distribution across Eurasia.

Painted Pottery culture

Painted Pottery Cultures are the general name accepted in the literature for archaeological cultures of the late Neolithic period and of the Aeneolithic period. The name is based on the characteristic feature of the cultures—painted decorative pottery.

The painted pottery cultures are characterized by the predominance of farming using the hoe, combined with stock raising, fishing, and hunting; the appearance of copper tools at a time when flint prevailed; large, usually pisé, houses; and clay female statuettes.

The oldest settlements with painted pottery existed in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Painted pottery cultures later appeared in what is now the Ukraine and Moldavia (Tripol’e culture), Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, Iran (Sialk), Middle Asia (Anau and Namazga-Tepe), India, and China (Yang-shao).

The painted pottery cultures were created by different tribes. The similarities of the cultures were probably determined by the tribes being at the same stage of economic and social development and living under similar geographical conditions.

The common source for all these pottery cultures was probably the Old European Culture found in Mesopotamia and Iran that preceded the Yangshao culture of China by 2000 years.

Swedish archaeologist, Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874 – 1960), has come to a conclusion that the pottery of China came from the west, after comparing the Yangshao, Anau and Tripilja culture. Rene Grousset (1885 – 1952), a French historian, has also explored the possibilities of China pottery having Siberia and Ukraine origin.

Hassuna – Halaf – Samarra

The Neolithic started in around 10,200 BC in the Levant, arising from the Natufian culture, when pioneering use of wild cereals evolved into early farming. The Natufian period or “proto-Neolithic” lasted from 12,500 to 9,500 BC, and is taken to overlap with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNA) of 10,200–8800 BC.

As the Natufians had become dependent on wild cereals in their diet, and a sedentary way of life had begun among them, the climatic changes associated with the Younger Dryas (about 10,000 BC) are thought to have forced people to develop farming.

By 10,200–8800 BC farming communities had arisen in the Levant and North Mesopotamia and spread to the Armenian Highland, Asia Minor and North Africa. Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution from around 10,000 BC.

Early Neolithic farming was limited to a narrow range of plants, both wild and domesticated, which included einkorn wheat, millet and spelt, and the keeping of dogs, sheep and goats. By about 6900–6400 BC, it included domesticated cattle and pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) is a Neolithic culture centered in upper Mesopotamia. It was typed by Kathleen Kenyon during her archaeological excavations at Jericho in the West Bank. Like the earlier PPNA people, the PPNB culture developed from the Mesolithic Natufian culture. However, it shows evidence of a northerly origin, possibly indicating an influx from the region of north eastern Anatolia.

Pyrotechnology was highly developed in this period. During this period, one of the main features of houses is evidenced by a thick layer of white clay plaster floors highly polished and made of lime produced from limestone. Sites from this period found in the Levant utilizing rectangular floor plans and plastered floor techniques were found at Ain Ghazal, Yiftahel (western Galilee), and Abu Hureyra (Upper Euphrates). The period is dated to between ca. 10,700 and ca. 8,000 BP or 7000 – 6000 BCE.

It is believed that the use of clay plaster for floor and wall coverings during PPNB led to the discovery of pottery. The earliest proto-pottery was White Ware vessels, made from lime and gray ash, built up around baskets before firing, for several centuries around 7000 BC at sites such as Tell Neba’a Faour (Beqaa Valley). It has been noted that this type of pottery was more prevalent and dated earlier in the Beqaa than at Byblos.

White Ware was commonly found in PPNB archaeological sites in Syria such as Tell Aswad, Tell Abu Hureyra, Bouqras and El Kowm. Similar sherds were excaveated at Ain Ghazal in northern Jordan. White pozzolanic ware from Tell Ramad and Ras Shamra is considered to be a local imitation of these limestone vessels. It was also evident in the earliest neolithic periods of Byblos, Hashbai, Labweh, Tell Jisr and Tell Neba’a Faour in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. A mixed form was found at Byblos where the clay was coated in a limestone slip, in both plain and shell combed finishes.

The similarities of White Ware and overlapping time periods with later clay firing methods have suggested that Dark Faced Burnished Ware, the first real pottery developed in the western world, came as a development from this limestone prototype.

It was produced after the earliest examples from the independent phenomenon of the Jōmon culture in Japan and is predominantly found at archaeological sites in Lebanon, Israel southwest Syria and Cyprus. Some notable examples of Dark Faced Burnished Ware were found at Tell Judaidah (and nearby Tell Dhahab) in Amuq by Robert Braidwood as well as at Ras Shamra and Tell Boueid. Other finds have been made at Yumuktepe in Mersin, Turkey where comparative studies were made defining different categories of ware that have been generally grouped as DFBW.

Because of discoveries of earlier pottery traditions made starting in the 1990s, the time frame for the initial Late Neolithic ceramic period is thought to be roughly 7000-6700 BCE. These earliest pottery traditions may be known in literature as ‘Initial Pottery Neolithic’ in the Balikh River area of Syria and Turkey, for example Tell Sabi Abyad. Or it may be known as ‘Halula I’ in the Syrian Euphrates area; the main site is Tell Halula. Also, it may be known as ‘Rouj 2a’ in Northern Levantine Rouj basin (Idlib, Syria).

Tell Sabi Abyad is an archaeological site in the Balikh River valley in northern Syria. The site consists of four prehistoric mounds that are numbered Tell Sabi Abyad I to IV. Extensive excavations showed that these sites were inhabited already around 7500 to 5500 BC, although not always at the same time; the settlement shifted back and forth between these four sites. The Pre Pottery Neolithic B horizon is present; later the site shows an uninterrupted sequence from the pre-pottery to ceramic phase

The earliest pottery of Syria was discovered here; it dates at ca. 6900-6800 BC, and consists of mineral-tempered, and sometimes painted wares. It was discovered that around 6700 BC, pottery was already mass-produced.

The pottery of Tell Sabi Abyad is somewhat similar to what was found in the other prehistoric sites in Syria and south-eastern Turkey; for example in Tell Halula, tr:Akarçay Tepe Höyük, de:Mezraa-Teleilat, and Tell Seker al-Aheimar. Yet in Sabi Abyad, the presence of painted pottery is quite unique.

Archaeologists discovered what seems like the oldest painted pottery here. Remarkably, the earliest pottery was of a very high quality, and some of it was already painted. Later, the painted pottery was discontinued, and the quality declined.

Our finds at Tell Sabi Abyad show an initial brief phase in which people experimented with painted pottery. This trend did not continue, however. As far as we can see now, people then gave up painting their pottery for centuries.

Instead, people concentrated on the production of undecorated, coarse wares. It was not until around 6200 BC that people began to add painted decorations again. The question of why the Neolithic inhabitants of Tell Sabi Abyad initially stopped painting their pottery is unanswered for the time being.

Pottery found at the site includes Dark Faced Burnished Ware and a Fine Ware that resembled Hassuna Ware and Samarra Ware. Bowls and jars often had angled necks and ornate geometric designs, some featuring horned animals. Only around six percent of the pottery found was produced locally.

Tell Sabi Abyad I, the biggest of the sites, was first occupied between 5200 and 5100 BC during the Neolithic. It showed a later phase of occupation, termed “transitional” by Akkermans, between 5200 and 5100 BC, which was followed by an early Halaf period between 5100 and 5000 BC.

In the Halaf period, Tell Sabi Abyad had a fully developed farming economy with animal domestication of predominantly goats, but also sheep, cattle and pigs. A small number of gazelle were also hunted, although evidence for hunting and fishing is not well attested at the site.

Trees that would have grown at the time included poplar, willow and ash. Domesticated emmer wheat was the primary crop grown, along with domesticated einkorn, barley and flax. A low number of peas and lentils were found compared to similar sites.

Around 5500 BC a distinctive style of pottery spread across the whole of northern Mesopotamia. They were made by hand (the potter’s wheel had not yet been invented) and decorated with very fine geometric designs in one or two colours. The painted pottery was then fired, and generally to a high standard.

The period is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia. The Halaf period was succeeded by the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period which comprised the late Halaf (c. 5400-5000 BC), and then by the Ubaid period.

The best known, most characteristic pottery of Tell Halaf, called Halaf ware, produced by specialist potters, can be painted, sometimes using more than two colors (called polychrome) with geometric and animal motifs. Other types of Halaf pottery are known, including unpainted, cooking ware and ware with burnished surfaces. There are many theories about why the distinctive pottery style developed.

The theory is that the pottery came about due to regional copying and that it was exchanged as a prestige item between local elites is now disputed. The polychrome painted Halaf pottery has been proposed to be a “trade pottery”—pottery produced for export—however, the predominance of locally produced painted pottery in all areas of Halaf sites including potters settlement questions that theory.

Halaf pottery has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region.

In addition, the Halaf communities made female figurines of partially baked clay and stone and stamp seals of stone. The seals are thought to mark the development of concepts of personal property, as similar seals were used for this purpose in later times. The Halaf people used tools made of stone and clay. Copper was also known, but was not used for tools.

It is not yet understood how this style spread over such an enormous area. It was made locally in many places, but may also have been exchanged because of its beauty and prestige value. Perhaps itinerant potters may have moved across the region producing examples and starting a fashion in different areas.

The high quality of the firing means that many examples of Halaf pottery have survived and have been found by archaeologists. This plate and bowl, typical examples of the Halaf style, come from Arpachiyah in northern Mesopotamia, one of the most important sites for understanding the period and its pottery. Arpachiyah was excavated by Max Mallowan in 1933.

By around 6000 BC people had moved into the foothills (piedmont) of northernmost Mesopotamia where there was enough rainfall to allow for “dry” agriculture in some places. These were the first farmers in northernmost Mesopotamia. Hassuna people lived in small villages or hamlets ranging from 2 to 8 acres (3.2 ha).

The Hassuna culture is a Neolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia dating to the early sixth millennium BC. It is named after the type site of Tell Hassuna in Iraq. Other sites where Hassuna material has been found include Tell Shemshara.

They made Hassuna-style pottery (cream slip with reddish paint in linear designs). At Tell Hassuna, adobe dwellings built around open central courts with fine painted pottery replace earlier levels with crude pottery. Hand axes, sickles, grinding stones, bins, baking ovens and numerous bones of domesticated animals reflect settled agricultural life. Female figurines have been related to worship and jar burials within which food was placed related to belief in afterlife. The relationship of Hassuna pottery to that of Jericho suggests that village culture was becoming widespread.

The site of Umm Dabaghiyah in the same area of Iraq is believed to have the earliest pottery in this region, and is sometimes described as a ‘Proto-Hassuna culture’ site. Other related sites in the area are Sotto, and Kul Tepe (Iraq). Another pre-Hassuna or proto-Hassuna site in Iraq is Tell Maghzaliyah. More recently, the concept of a very early ‘Pre-Proto-Hassuna’ pottery tradition has been introduced by some scholars. This has been prompted by more recent discoveries of still earlier pottery traditions.

Pre-Proto-Hassuna refers to the Late Neolithic period in Upper Mesopotamia when the ceramic containers were just being introduced, and the pottery vessels were still very few in number in these early settlements. At that time, the main emphasis was on the pottery with a mineral temper, as opposed to the plant-tempered pottery which came to predominate later.

The time frame for this initial Late Neolithic ceramic period was about 7000-6700 BC, and at this time stone vessels and White Ware were still being used in addition to pottery. Because of the narrow local emphasis in many pottery studies as of now, these earliest pottery traditions may be known in literature as;

Pre-Proto-Hassuna (in Khabur, and northern Iraq), Initial Pottery Neolithic (in Balikh River area, for example Tell Sabi Abyad), Transitional (in Turkish Euphrates area; main sites are Mezraa Teleilat and Akarcay Tepe, with pottery dated to c. 6800 BC), Halula I (in Syrian Euphrates area; the main site is Tell Halula), and Rouj 2a (in Northern Levant); several archaeological sites are located in the Rouj basin, Idlib, Syria).

Nevertheless, all of these nomenclatures may refer to quite similar types of pottery, depending on some specific geographic region of Upper Mesopotamia.

The Samarra culture is a Chalcolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia that is roughly dated to 5500–4800 BCE. It partially overlaps with Hassuna and early Ubaid. Samarran material culture was first recognized during excavations by German Archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld at the site of Samarra. Other sites where Samarran material has been found include Tell Shemshara, Tell es-Sawwan and Yarim Tepe.

At Tell es-Sawwan, evidence of irrigation—including flax—establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known for its finely made pottery decorated with stylized animals, including birds, and geometric designs on dark backgrounds.

This widely exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra. The term may be extended to include sites in Syria such as Tell Chagar Bazar, Tell Boueid II, Tell Sabi Abyad or Tell Halula, where similar pottery is currently being found.

The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period. At Tell Sabi Abyad and other Late Neolithic sites in Syria, scholars adopt increasingly vague terms such as Samarra “influenced”, Samarra-“related” or even Samarra “impulses”, largely because we do not understand the relationships with the traditional Samarra heartlands.

Approximately sometime in the late 6th millennium BC pottery was introduced into the southern Levant and it became widely used. The supposedly sophisticated forms and technological and decorative aspects suggested to archaeologists that it must have been received as an imported, technological advance from adjacent regions to the north and was not developed locally.

Shulaveri-Shomu culture is a Late Neolithic/Eneolithic culture that existed on the territory of present-day Georgia, Colchis, Azerbaijan and the Armenian Highlands. The culture is dated to mid-6th or early-5th millennia BC and is thought to be one of the earliest known Neolithic cultures and Colchis.

Shulaveri-Shomu culture covers the 6th-5th millennia BC. According to the material culture examples found in the sites depict that the main activities of the population were farming and breeding. Shulaveri culture predates the Kura-Araxes culture which flourished in this area around 4000–2200 BC.

Later on, in the middle Bronze Age period (c. 3000–1500 BC), the Trialeti culture emerged. Sioni culture of Eastern Georgia possibly represents a transition from the Shulaveri to the Kura-Arax cultural complex.

Many of the characteristic traits of the Shulaverian material culture (circular mudbrick architecture, pottery decorated by plastic design, anthropomorphic female figurines, obsidian industry with an emphasis on production of long prismatic blades) are believed to have their origin in the Near Eastern Neolithic (Hassuna, Halaf).

The technology and typology of bone-based instruments are similar to those of the Middle East Neolithic material culture. The similarities between the macrolithic tools and the use of ochre also bring Shulaveri-Shomu culture closer to the culture of Halaf. Pestles and mortars found in Shulaveri-Shomu sites and Late Neolithic layers of Tell Sabi Abyad in Syria are also similar to each other.

Cucuteni-Trypillian culture

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture (known as Cucuteni in Romanian and Trypilska, is a Neolithic–Eneolithic archaeological culture (ca. 4800 to 3000 BC) in Eastern Europe.

It extends from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dniester and Dnieper regions, centered on modern-day Moldova and covering substantial parts of western Ukraine and northeastern Romania, encompassing an area of some 350,000 km2 (140,000 sq mi), with a diameter of some 500 km (300 mi; roughly from Kiev in the northeast to Brasov in the southwest).

Most Cucuteni-Trypillian pottery was hand coiled from local clay. Long coils of clay were placed in circles to form first the base and then the walls of the vessel. Once the desired shape and height of the finished product was built up the sides would then be smoothed to create a seamless surface.

This technique was the earliest form of pottery shaping and the most common in the Neolithic; however, there is some evidence that they also used a primitive type of slow-turning potter’s wheel, an innovation that did not become common in Europe until the Iron Age.

Central Asia

The Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilization) is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age civilisation of Central Asia, dated to ca. 2300–1700 BCE, located in present day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River).

There is archaeological evidence of settlement in the well-watered northern foothills of the Kopet Dag during the Neolithic period. This region is dotted with the multi-period hallmarks characteristic of the ancient Near East, similar to those southwest of the Kopet Dag in the Gorgan Plain in Iran.

At Jeitun (or Djeitun), mudbrick houses were first occupied c. 6000 cal. BCE. The inhabitants were farmers who kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley, with origins in southwest Asia.

The discovery of a single tiny stone seal (known as the “Anau seal”) with geometric markings from the BMAC site at Anau in Turkmenistan in 2000 led some to claim that the Bactria-Margiana complex had also developed writing, and thus may indeed be considered a literate civilization.

It bears five markings strikingly similar to Chinese “small seal” characters, but such characters date from the Qin reforms of roughly 100 AD, while the Anau seal is dated by context to 2,300 BCE. It is therefore an unexplained anomaly. The only match to the Anau seal is a small jet seal of almost identical shape from Niyä (near modern Minfeng) along the southern Silk Road in Xinjiang, assumed to be from the Western Han dynasty.

BMAC materials have been found in the Indus civilisation, on the Iranian plateau, and in the Persian Gulf. Finds within BMAC sites provide further evidence of trade and cultural contacts. They include an Elamite-type cylinder seal and an Harappan seal stamped with an elephant and Indus script found at Gonur-depe.

The relationship between Altyn-Depe and the Indus Valley seems to have been particularly strong. Among the finds there were two Harappan seals and ivory objects. The Harappan settlement of Shortugai in Northern Afghanistan on the banks of the Amu Darya probably served as a trading station.


The Chinese Neolithic stage was first demonstrated by Andersson in 1921 when he revealed the now famous ‘Yangshao’ culture-objects with a pottery painted in bold, and ‘primitive’ style. Similar objects to these Honan province ‘Yangshao’ culture were later found in Kansu and elsewhere. Early, Middle, Late and Transitional phases are now recognized.

Some scholars also group Neolithic culture sites into two broad cultural complexes: the Yangshao cultures in central and western China, and the Longshan cultures in eastern and southeastern China. The Yangshao archaeological culture is well known for its painted pottery.

The connection of this early Chinese ware with the pottery of Anau, with that of Tripolye in South Russia and with that of the Baltic ‘passage graves’ seems fairly clear. This western material may be, perhaps, dated to about 2200 to 1800 BC.

The Yangshao culture (5000-3000 B.C.)of the middle Yellow River valley, known for its painted pottery, and the later Longshan culture (2500-2000 B.C.) of the east, distinguished for its black pottery, are te best known of the ancient Chinese Yellow River cultures.

The Yangshao culture was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the Yellow River in China. It is dated from around 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The culture is named after Yangshao, the first excavated representative village of this culture, which was discovered in 1921 in Henan Province by the Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874–1960).

The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi. Early studies indicated that the Longshan (3000 BC to 2000 BC) and Yangshao cultures were one and the same. It is now widely accepted that the Longshan culture is in fact a later development of the Yangshao culture.

Some scholars also mentions the Longshan culture to be a successor of the Dawenkou culture (4100- 2600 BC), a name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in Shandong, but also appeared in Anhui, Henan and Jiangsu, China.

Physical anthropologists have determined that the skeletal remains of Yangshao culture are closest to modern day southern Chinese, Indonesians and some Indo-Chinese.

The subsistence practices of Yangshao people were varied. They cultivated millet extensively; some also cultivated wheat or rice. The exact nature of Yangshao agriculture, small-scale slash-and-burn cultivation versus intensive agriculture in permanent fields, is currently a matter of debate. However, Middle Yangshao settlements such as Jiangzhi contain raised-floor buildings that may have been used for the storage of surplus grains.

The Yangshao people kept such animals as pigs, chickens and dogs, as well as sheep, goats, and cattle, but much of their meat came from hunting and fishing. Their stone tools were polished and highly specialized. They may also have practiced an early form of silkworm cultivation.

The Yangshao people mainly cultivated millet, but some settlements grew rice. They also grew vegetables like turnips, cabbage, yams and other vegetables. The Yangshao people domesticated chickens, ducks, pigs, dogs and cattle. Millet and rice was made into gruel for the morning while millet was made into dumplings. Meat, most of which was obtained by hunting or fishing, was eaten on only special occasions and rice was ground into flour to make cakes.

Although early reports suggested a matriarchal culture, others argue that it was a society in transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, while still others believe it to have been patriarchal. The debate hinges around differing interpretations of burial practices.

Traditionally it was believed that Chinese civilization arose in the Yellow River valley and spread out from this center. Recent archaeological discoveries, however, reveal a far more complex picture of Neolithic China, with a number of distinct and independent cultures in various regions interacting with and influencing each other.

Other major Neolithic cultures were the Hongshan culture in northeastern China, the Liangzhu culture in the lower Yangzi River delta, the Shijiahe culture in the middle Yangzi River basin and primitive settlements and burial grounds found at Liuwan in Qinghai Province, Wangyin in Shandong Province, Xinglongwa in Inner Mongolia, and the Yuchisi in Anhui Province, among many others.

Yangshao culture in central China can be divided into two main phases: Banpo (ca. 4800–ca. 4300 B.C.) and Miaodigou (ca. 4000–ca. 3500 B.C.). The archaeological site at Banpo was located just east of modern-day Xi’an in Shaanxi province. Banpo was discovered in 1953 and excavated between 1954 to 1957. Little is known about the daily lives of the people at Banpo, but excavations have uncovered a settlement covering around 50,000 square feet that included dwelling areas, subterranean storage pits, pens for holding livestock, several pottery kilns, and cemetery areas.

The settlement was also located above a stream that provided a reliable water source, and terraces were built to prevent flooding. The Miaodigou phase is named after a site in northwestern Henan province. The type of ceramic produced in this phase was commonly decorated with painted black lines, dots, leaf-like shapes, and roundels. This decorative vocabulary appears to be the basis for designs on later Miajiayao culture pottery.

These Chinese Neolithic men enjoyed a fairly high culture, with domesticated animals, and probably also with features recalling those of the ‘circumpolar9 peoples of to-day, e.g., shaman-complex, totemism and mask-complex. Traces of early and bar­barous things, but half-hidden, can be perceived, streaking down far into historical times of North China.

And, although we cannot, of course, assert that these Neolithic dwellers along the banks of the Wei and the Yellow Rivers contributed much or little to the Chinese ‘Shang’ civilization, we can assert that the Chinese Neolithics were in touch with, and doubtless influenced by, cultures much farther west in the Eurasiatic continent.

The Yangshao culture was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the Yellow River in China. It is dated from around 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The typical Yangshao culture seems to have come to an end around 1600 or 1500 BC.  It continued in some more remote areas, especially of Kansu, perhaps to about 700 BC.

The culture is named after the prehistoric settlement Yangshao, the first excavated site of this culture, which was discovered in 1921 in Mianchi County, in the west of the present province of Henan Province. The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi.

The Yangshao culture crafted pottery. Yangshao artisans created fine white, red, and black painted pottery with human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Typical of this culture is its wonderfully fine pottery, apparently used as gifts to the dead.

It is painted in three colours, white, red, and black.  The patterns are all stylized, designs copied from nature being rare. This painted pottery is divided into several sub-types of specific distribution. In general, it tends to disappear as does painted pottery in other parts of the world with the beginning of urban civilization and the invention of writing.

Remnants of this painted pottery have been found over a wide area from Southern Manchuria, Hopei, Shansi, Honan, Shensi to Kansu; some pieces have also been discovered in Sinkiang.  Thus far, it seems that it occurred mainly in the mountainous parts of North and North-West China.

The people of this culture lived in villages near to the rivers and creeks.  They had various forms of houses, including underground dwellings and animal enclosures.  They practiced some agriculture; some authors believe that rice was already known to them.  They also had domesticated animals.

Their implements were of stone with rare specimens of bone.  The axes were of the rectangular type.  Metal was as yet unknown, but seems to have been introduced towards the end of the period.  They buried their dead on the higher elevations, and here the painted pottery was found.  For their daily life, they used predominantly a coarse grey pottery.

After the discovery of this culture, its pottery was compared with the painted pottery of the West, and a number of resemblances were found, especially with the pottery of the Lower Danube basin and that of Anau, in Turkestan.

Some authors claim that such resemblances are fortuitous and believe that the older layers of this culture are to be found in the eastern part of its distribution and only the later layers in the west.  It is, they say, these later stages which show the strongest resemblances with the West.

Other authors believe that the painted pottery came from the West where it occurs definitely earlier than in the Far East; some investigators went so far as to regard the Indo-Europeans as the parents of that civilization.

As we find people who spoke an Indo-European language in the Far East in a later period, they tend to connect the spread of painted pottery with the spread of Indo-European-speaking groups.  As most findings of painted pottery in the Far East do not stem from scientific excavations it is difficult to make any decision at this moment.  We will have to wait for more and modern excavations.


From our knowledge of primeval settlement in West and North-West China we know, however, that Tibetan groups, probably mixed with Turkish elements, must have been the main inhabitants of the whole region in which this painted pottery existed.  Whatever the origin of the painted pottery may be, it seems that people of these two groups were the main users of it.  Most of the shapes of their pottery are not found in later Chinese pottery.

We are inclined to think of the Chinese as a typically Mongoloid people. However, they might be more accurately described as ‘Mongolized’ than Mongoloid. The ‘Mongolization’ becomes increasingly less noticeable as one proceeds south, and in south-western China there are many regions where the population is no more Mongoloid than among the Annamese of Indo-China where the ‘Indonesian’ substratum is never entirely hidden.

There is a good deal of difference between most types of even northern Chinese and the real Mongols. The centre of Mongoloid dispersion may probably be sought for in north-eastern Asia. We may not be going far wrong if we think of the ancestors of most of the northern Chinese as having been Mongolized through contact with peoples perhaps now represented (in the physical sense) by such tribes as the Gilyaks, Chukchis and Golds.

It would seem as though in Palaeolithic times the Yellow River valley was inhabited by settled communities, although no skeletal remains have, as yet, turned up that would allow us to compare these Yellow Valley men with those of the Upper Cave at Choukoutien, a cave system in suburban Fangshan District, Beijing.

From the North China Neolithic, however, we have an abundance of skeletal material and ‘from every major site in which human skeletal remains were recovered, one or more of the graves contain bones which were coloured with bright red pigment.’ So we have for the northern Chinese Neolithic evidence of a practice that is not only widespread over different parts of the world but is also noted to the Upper Cave Palaeolithic peoples of Choukoutien.

These Neolithic northern ‘Chinese’ seem to have been, physically, essentially the same people as those living in northern Honan at Anyang in the ‘times of the Shang-Yin or first historical Chinese dynasty. And these Shang-Yin Chinese are indistinguishable from the modern Chinese of Honan. There has not been, therefore, any radical physical change in the make-up of the northern Chinese for at least four thousand years.

The Kansu Yang-shao Neolithic pottery culture

The Kansu Yang-shao Neolithic pottery culture derives from the later phases of the Yang-shao culture. This finer western Yang-shao group is more artistic and by any standards the more technologically, advanced. It consists of both funeary wares and pottery for general use. Most come from cemeteries at Pan-Shan and Ma-Chang in Kansu Province. They are difficult to date accurately, but a date in the 3rd millennium BC is generally accepted.

The painted funerary urns are the most refined and richly decorated of all Yang-shao wares. The fine textured body is buff or reddish-brown. The pots were built up by hand by the coiling method, and in order to rotate them, especially in the final stages when the lip was finished, they were sometimes set on a piece of matting which could easily be turned on a flat surface of earth or on a large flat stone. Pieces exist with impressions of these rotating mats on their bases.

However the fast potter’s wheel was never used. The urns are all ovoid or globular, some quite imposing forms. Most are brush painted with bold, abstract, swirling patterns in black, white, red, and purple-brown pigments. Other good examples of Kansu painted ware found in graves include jugs, jars, bowls and cups in made in fine quality clay then painted and burnished. These pots were fired in simple updraft kilns to about 1020°C.

Kansu painted ware is superior in technique to much of the later pre-Han pottery of dynastic times so far known. Kansu is the gateway to China from the West, and urns related in style have been found as far west as the Ukraine and intereseting, if superficial, resemblances to the painted pottery found at Anau, Susa, and other Western Asiatic sites of later neolithic date.


Majiayo culture

The Majiayao culture was a group of neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River region in eastern Gansu, eastern Qinghai and northern Sichuan, China. The culture existed from 3300 to 2000 BC.

The Majiayao culture represents the first time that the Upper Yellow River region was widely occupied by agricultural communities and it is famous for its painted pottery, which is regarded as a peak of pottery manufacturing at that time.

Longshan culture

While the Yang-shao culture flourished in the mountain regions of northern
and western China around 2000 B.C., there came into existence in the plains of eastern China, in the province of Shantung, near Chinan-fu, another culture, which is called the Longshan (or Lung-shan) culture, also sometimes referred to as the Black Pottery Culture.

The Longshan culture was a late Neolithic culture in the middle and lower Yellow River valley areas of northern China from about 3000 to 1900 BC. The culture is named after the nearby modern town of Longshan (lit. “Dragon Mountain”) in Zhangqiu, Shandong.

The people of the Lung-shan culture lived on mounds produced by repeated building on the ruins of earlier settlements, as did the inhabitants of the “Tells” in the Near East. They were therefore a long-settled population of agriculturists. Their houses were of mud, and their villages were surrounded with mud walls.

There are signs that their society was stratified. So far as is known at present, this culture was spread over the present provinces of Shantung, Kiangsu, Chekiang, and Anhui, and some specimens of its pottery went as far as Honan and Shansi, into the region of the painted pottery. This culture lasted in the east until about 1600 B.C., with clear evidence of rather longer duration only in the south.

As black pottery of a similar character occurs also in the Near East, some authors believe that it has been introduced into the Far East by another migration (Pontic migration) following that migration which supposedly brought the painted pottery.

This theory has not been generally accepted because of the fact that typical black pottery is limited to the plains of East China; if it had been brought in from the West, we should expect to find it in considerable amounts also in West China. Ordinary black pottery can be simply the result of a special temperature in the pottery kiln; such pottery can be found almost everywhere.

The typical thin, fine black pottery of Lung-shan, however, is in the Far East an eastern element, and migrants would have had to pass through the area of the painted pottery people without leaving many traces and without pushing their predecessors to the East.

On the basis of our present knowledge we assume that the peoples of the Lungshan culture were probably of Tai and Yao stocks together with some Tunguses. Recently, a culture of mound-dwellers in Eastern China has been discovered, and a southern Chinese culture of people with impressed or stamped pottery. This latter seems to be connected with the Yüeh tribes. As yet, no further details are known.

At the time in which, according to archaeological research, the painted pottery flourished in West China, Chinese historical tradition has it that the semi-historical rulers, Yao and Shun, and the first official dynasty, the Hsia dynasty ruled over parts of
China with a centre in southern Shansi.

While we dismiss as political myths the Confucianist stories representing Yao and Shun as models of virtuous rulers, it may be that a small state existed in south-western Shansi under a chieftain Yao, and farther to the east another small state under a chieftain Shun, and that these states warred against each other until Yao’s state was destroyed. These first small states may have existed around 2000 BC.

Black pottery

The Lungshan culture was noted for its highly polished black pottery (or egg-shell pottery). The population expanded dramatically during the 3rd millennium BC, with many settlements having rammed earth walls. It decreased in most areas around 2000 BC until the central area evolved into the Bronze Age Erlitou culture.

This culture is distinguished by a black pottery of exceptionally fine quality and by a similar absence of metal. The pottery has a polished appearance on the exterior; it is never painted, and mostly without decoration; at most it may have incised geometrical patterns. The forms of the vessels are the same as have remained typical of Chinese pottery, and of Far Eastern pottery in general. To that extent the Lung-shan culture may be described as one of the direct predecessors of the later Chinese civilization.

As in the West, we find in Lungshan much grey pottery out of which vessels for everyday use were produced. This simple corded or matted ware seems to be in connection with Tunguse people who lived in the north-east.

The Black Pottery was first found (in 1928) at Lungshan, near Tsinan, in the province of Shantung, and recently new Black Pottery sites have been discovered near Hangchow, in the province of Chekiang, and at Chin Shan Lake.

It is rather surprising to find this Black Pottery so far south — a good four hundred and fifty miles from Tsinan. The Chinese South, undoubtedly, still reserves surprises for us. The Black Pottery people apparently practised ancestor-worship and textile impressions suggest weaving.

The Black Pottery people apparently laid the foundations of Shang culture, or some of its foundations, since at Anyang (the classical Shang site) there is a Neolithic substratum — we may indeed suppose that for long, perhaps indeed for the whole length of the Shang period, the common people lived still in what was essentially a Neolithic culture-complex.

The painted pottery at this lowest level of Anyang shows little relationship to the white modelled pottery found at the level of the first bronzes, but a layer of plain Black Pottery separates the two and at one of the sites where Black Pottery has been recovered there is evidence of a transition leading up to the white ware which was contemporaneous with and bore the designs of the Anyang bronze age.

As far as we can see, the bronze age at Anyang may be dated to about 1,500 b.c. — the conventional dates for the commencement of the Shang-Yin dynasty are too early — and as far as we can see this bronze age civilization, already in its main lines comparable with certain permanent features of historical Chinese culture, was of the nature of a rapid nationalistic evolution probably induced by a clash of cultures one of which, we may be sure, came from the West while another, perhaps, came up from the South.

Both impinged upon the old Neolithic culture of the Han, Wei and Yellow Rivers. Judging by analogy such blossomings of civilization may be in terms of generations quite rapid. The development of Chinese civilization in northern China may be compared with the quick flowering of the sophisticated Mayan art from the naive products of North American agriculturalists of the archaic level.

In China we pass suddenly from a Neolithic culture to Shang civilization. It is arguable to state that at the present time, as far as we can see, the Shang high culture or ‘pre-civilization’ resulted, like most high cultures, from a clash and we may suppose that the anvil was constituted by the Eneolithic culture of north-east China.

Although the Shang shared with their predecessors, the ‘Black Pottery, people,’ such ‘culture-traits as pounded earthern walls and foundations, white pottery made (already!) from porcelain clay, and (perhaps) the use of bones for divinatory purposes and domesticated oxen and horses, there are ‘new’ elements. Bronze casting, the potter’s wheel and horse-drawn chariots seem definitely to have been imported from the West in what is called an ‘integrated complex.’

During the Bronze Age the Far East was demonstrably in touch with Europe. Polychrome pottery with spirals of one type is found from Rumania to China. Axe-hammers with sockets (some in bronze and others in stone — the latter copied from bronze models by men who could not get metal) and of a peculiar form sometimes covered with a stylized animal decoration are found spread from northern and central Europe across Siberia (at Krasnoiarsk and Minussinsk).

On the other hand, the reflex bow, probably the divinatory bones and the so-called 7t’ tripod seem to belong to the North China area. The reflex bow, it is true, suggests a circum-polar culture as do the rectangular or semi-lunar knives, ‘tailored’ clothes (i.e., with sleeves), but these may well have spread northwards.


The discovery of bronze enabled people to create metal objects which were harder and more durable than previously possible. Bronze tools, weapons, armor, and building materials such as decorative tiles were harder and more durable than their stone and copper (“Chalcolithic”) predecessors.

Initially, bronze was made out of copper and arsenic, forming arsenic bronze, or from naturally or artificially mixed ores of copper and arsenic, with the earliest artifacts so far known coming from the Iranian plateau in the 5th millennium BC. It was only later that tin was used, becoming the major non-copper ingredient of bronze in the late 3rd millennium BC.

Tin bronze was superior to arsenic bronze in that the alloying process could be more easily controlled, and the resulting alloy was stronger and easier to cast. Also, unlike arsenic, metallic tin and fumes from tin refining are not toxic. The earliest tin-alloy bronze dates to 4500 BC in a Vinča culture site in Pločnik (Serbia). Other early examples date to the late 4th millennium BC in Egypt, Susa (Iran) and some ancient sites in China, Luristan (Iran) and Mesopotamia (Iraq).

An ancient civilization is defined to be in the Bronze Age either by producing bronze by smelting its own copper and alloying with tin, arsenic, or other metals, or by trading for bronze from production areas elsewhere. Bronze itself is harder and more durable than other metals available at the time, allowing Bronze Age civilizations to gain a technological advantage.

Worldwide, the Bronze Age generally followed the Neolithic period, with the Chalcolithic serving as a transition. Western Asia and the Near East was the first region to enter the Bronze Age, which began with the rise of the Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer in the mid 4th millennium BC. The Maykop culture, c. 3700 BC–3000 BC, was a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the western Caucasus region of southern Russia.

The Altai Mountains in what is now southern Russia and central Mongolia have been identified as the point of origin of a cultural enigma termed the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon. It is conjectured that changes in climate in this region around 2000 BC and the ensuing ecological, economic and political changes triggered a rapid and massive migration westward into northeast Europe, eastward into China and southward into Vietnam and Thailand across a frontier of some 4,000 miles.

This migration took place in just five to six generations and led to peoples from west to east employing the same metal working technology and, in some areas, horse breeding and riding. Recent genetic testings of sites in south Siberia and Kazakhstan (Andronovo horizon) support a spreading of the bronze technology via Indo-European migrations eastwards, as this technology was well known for quite a while in western regions.

The term “Bronze Age” has been transferred to the archaeology of China from that of Western Eurasia, and there is no consensus or universally used convention delimiting the “Bronze Age” in the context of Chinese prehistory. However, in China the earliest bronze artifacts have been found in the Majiayao culture site (between 3100 and 2700 BC).

By convention, the “Early Bronze Age” in China is sometimes taken as equivalent to the “Shang dynasty” period of Chinese prehistory (16th to 11th centuries BC), and the “Later Bronze Age” as equivalent to the “Zhou dynasty” period (11th to 3rd centuries BC, from the 5th century also dubbed “Iron Age”), although there is an argument to be made that the “Bronze Age” proper never ended in China, as there is no recognizable transition to an “Iron Age”.

Significantly, together with the jade art that precedes it, bronze was seen as a “fine” material for ritual art when compared with iron or stone, stone only becoming popular for tombs in the Han on probable Indian influence (replacing wooden temple in that instance).

Bronze metallurgy in China originated in what is referred to as the Erlitou (Wade–Giles: Erh-li-t’ou) period, which some historians argue places it within the range of dates controlled by the Shang dynasty. Others believe the Erlitou sites belong to the preceding Xia dynasty. The U.S. National Gallery of Art defines the Chinese Bronze Age as the “period between about 2000 BC and 771 BC,” a period that begins with the Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule.

The widespread use of bronze in Chinese metallurgy and culture dates to significantly later, probably due to Western influence. While there may be reason to believe that bronzework developed inside China separately from outside influence, the discovery of Europoid mummies in Xinjiang suggests a possible route of transmission from the West beginning in the early second millennium BC, however, this is still just speculation since it’s lack of direct evidences, few human mummies alone cannot provide sufficient explanation of metallurgy transmission, the oldest bronze objects found in China so far were discoverd at Majiayao site in Gansu rather than Xinjiang.

The Shang dynasty (also known as the Yin dynasty) of the Yellow River Valley rose to power after the Xia dynasty around 1600 BC. While some direct information about the Shang dynasty comes from Shang-era inscriptions on bronze artifacts, most comes from oracle bones – turtle shells, cattle scapulae, or other bones – which bear glyphs that form the first significant corpus of recorded Chinese characters.

Iron is found from the Zhou dynasty, but its use is minimal. Chinese literature dating to the 6th century BC attests knowledge of iron smelting, yet bronze continues to occupy the seat of significance in the archaeological and historical record for some time after this. Historian W.C. White argues that iron did not supplant bronze “at any period before the end of the Zhou dynasty (256 BC)” and that bronze vessels make up the majority of metal vessels all the way through the Later Han period, or to 221 BC.

The Chinese bronze artifacts generally are either utilitarian, like spear points or adze heads, or “ritual bronzes”, which are more elaborate versions in precious materials of everyday vessels, as well as tools and weapons. Examples are the numerous large sacrificial tripods known as dings in Chinese; there are many other distinct shapes. Surviving identified Chinese ritual bronzes tend to be highly decorated, often with the taotie motif, which involves highly stylized animal faces.

These appear in three main motif types: those of demons, of symbolic animals, and of abstract symbols.[46] Many large bronzes also bear cast inscriptions that are the great bulk of the surviving body of early Chinese writing and have helped historians and archaeologists piece together the history of China, especially during the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC).

The bronzes of the Western Zhou dynasty document large portions of history not found in the extant texts that were often composed by persons of varying rank and possibly even social class. Further, the medium of cast bronze lends the record they preserve a permanence not enjoyed by manuscripts.

These inscriptions can commonly be subdivided into four parts: a reference to the date and place, the naming of the event commemorated, the list of gifts given to the artisan in exchange for the bronze, and a dedication. The relative points of reference these vessels provide have enabled historians to place most of the vessels within a certain time frame of the Western Zhou period, allowing them to trace the evolution of the vessels and the events they record.

The forms of the oldest weapons and their ornamentation show similarities with weapons from Siberia; and both mythology and other indications suggest that the bronze came into China from the north and was not produced in China proper. Thus, from the present state of our knowledge, it seems most correct to say that the bronze was brought to the Far East through the agency of peoples living north of China.

At first the forms of the weapons were left unaltered. The bronze vessels, however,
which made their appearance about 1450 BC. are entirely different from anything produced in other parts of Asia; their ornamentation shows, on the one hand, elements of the so-called “animal style” which is typical of the steppe people of the Ordos area and of Central Asia. But most of the other elements, especially the “filling” between stylized designs, is recognizably southern (probably of the Tai culture), no doubt first applied to wooden vessels and vessels made from gourds, and then transferred to bronze.

This implies that the art of casting bronze very soon spread from North China, to the east and south, which quickly developed bronze industries of their own. There are few deposits of copper and tin in North China, while in South China both metals are plentiful and easily extracted, so that a trade in bronze from south to north soon set in.

The Siba culture, also called Huoshaogou culture, was a Bronze Age archaeological culture that flourished circa 1900 to 1500 BC in the Hexi Corridor, in Gansu Province of Northwest China. Siba culture is found mainly to the west of the Gansu corridor. The locations are found at Yongchang, Minyue, Jiuquan, Yumen counties, and others.

Siba type pottery vessels are different from the others in Gansu. Siba produced painted pottery with coloured decorations; these were painted after the vessels had been fired. Similar pottery was used by the Tianshanbeilu culture at Hami basin to the west.

The Siba engaged in agricultural activities like millet farming and pig farming. Their metallurgy was highly developed. Siba culture is bordered by the Qijia cultureto the east. The later period of Qijia is very close to Siba culture. The Siba culture may have developed independently.

Siba culture played an intermediary role between the cultures to the east and west. There were also contacts with the Eurasian steppe. Research indicates that there was close interaction between agricultural and pastoral/hunting communities in this wide geographical area; pastoral/hunting communities also possessed many metal artefacts.


Towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC, the population decreased sharply in most of the region and many of the larger centres were abandoned, possibly due to environmental change linked to the end of the Holocene Climatic Optimum. This was matched by the disappearance of high-quality black pottery found in ritual burials.

In contrast, there was a rapid growth of population and social complexity in the basin of the Yi and Luo rivers of central Henan, culminating in the Erlitou culture. The material culture in this area shows a continuous development, through a Xinzhai phase centred on the Song Mountains immediately to the south. In the Taosi area, however, there is no such continuity between Longshan and Erlitou material culture, suggesting a collapse in that area and later expansion from the Erlitou core area.

The Erlitou culture was an early Bronze Age urban society and archaeological culture that existed in the Yellow River valley from approximately 1900 to 1500 BC. The culture was named after the site discovered at Erlitou in Yanshi, Henan. The culture was widely spread throughout Henan and Shanxi and later appeared in Shaanxi and Hubei.

The Erlitou culture may have evolved from the matrix of Longshan culture. After the rise of the Erligang culture, the site at Erlitou diminished in size but remained inhabited.

Chinese archaeologists generally identify the Erlitou culture as the site of the Xia dynasty, but there is no firm evidence, such as writing, to substantiate such a linkage. The origin of the Xia state may have been a consequence of the progress due to bronze.

The Chinese tradition speaks of the dynasty, but can say scarcely anything about it. The excavations, too, yield no clear conclusions, so that we can only say that it flourished at the time and in the area in which the painted pottery occurred, with a centre in south-west Shansi. It is dated to somewhere between 2000 and 1600 BC. It is further believed that it was an agrarian culture with bronze weapons and pottery vessels but without the knowledge of the art of writing.

The Xia dynasty is the legendary, possibly mythical first dynasty in traditional Chinese history. It is described in ancient historical chronicles such as the Bamboo Annals, the Classic of History and the Records of the Grand Historian. According to tradition, the Xia dynasty was established by the legendary Yu the Great after Shun, the last of the Five Emperors gave his throne to him. The Xia was later succeeded by the Shang dynasty.

According to the traditional chronology based upon calculations by Liu Xin, the Xia ruled between 2205 and 1766 BC; according to the chronology based upon the Bamboo Annals, it ruled between 1989 and 1558 BC. The Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project commissioned by the Chinese government in 1996, concluded that the Xia existed between 2070 and 1600 BC.

The tradition of tracing Chinese political history from heroic early emperors to the Xia, and on to succeeding dynasties, comes from the idea of the Mandate of Heaven, in which only one legitimate ruler exists at a given time. This political philosophy was promoted by the Confucian school in the Eastern Zhou period, later becoming the official position of imperial historiography and ideology.

Although the Xia is an important element of early recorded Chinese history, reliable information on the history of China before 13th century BC can only come from archaeological evidence, as China’s first established written system on a durable medium, the oracle bone script, did not exist until then.

No mention of the Xia, or the supposed conquest of the Xia by the Shang, has been found in any Shang period oracle bones. The first documentary reference to the Xia dates from more than a thousand years later, in the records of the Zhou dynasty.

However, archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the possible existence of the Xia dynasty at locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts. There exists a debate as to whether or not the Erlitou culture was the site of the Xia dynasty.

Radiocarbon dating places the site at c. 2100 to 1800 BC, providing physical evidence of the existence of a state contemporaneous with and possibly equivalent to the Xia dynasty as described in Chinese historical works. In 1959, a site located in the city of Yanshi was excavated containing large palaces that some archaeologists have attributed to capital of the Xia dynasty.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs in the same locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts regarding Xia; at a minimum, the era traditionally denoted as the Xia dynasty marked an evolutionary stage between the late Neolithic cultures and the urban civilization of the Shang dynasty.

In 2011, Chinese archaeologists uncovered the remains of an imperial sized palace—dated to about 1700 BC—at Erlitou in Henan, further fueling the discussions about the existence of the dynasty.

Archaeological evidence of a large outburst flood that destroyed the Lajia site on the upper reaches of the Yellow River has been dated to about 1920 BC. This date is shortly before the rise of the Erlitou culture in the middle Yellow River valley and the Yueshi culture in Shandong, following the decline of the Longshan culture in the North China Plain.

The authors suggest that this flood may have been the basis for the later myth, and contributed to the transition of cultures. They further argue that the timing is further evidence for the identification of the Xia with the Erlitou culture.[20] However, no evidence of contemporaneous widespread flooding in the North China Plain has yet been found.

The Yueshi culture of the Shandong region of China, is dated from 1900 to 1500 BC. It spanned the period from the Late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age. In the Shandong area, it followed the Longshan culture period (c. 2600–1900 BC), and was later replaced by the Erligang culture.

Yueshi culture saw a relative decline of cultural development. Groups of settlements were dissolved and the highly developed pottery technology of the Shandong Longshan culture was lost. In the early 11th century BC, oracle bone inscriptions refer to campaigns by the late Shang king Di Yi against the Rénfāng, a group occupying the area of southern Shandong and northern Jiangsu.

Scholars often identify the Renfang with the Dongyi (“Eastern barbarians”) mentioned in later Zhou dynasty documents, and thus many Chinese archaeologists apply the historical name “Dongyi” to the archaeological Yueshi culture. Other scholars, such as Fang Hui, consider this identification problematic because of the high frequency of migrations in prehistoric populations of the region.

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Bronze Age

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Seima-Turbino Phenomenon

Qijia culture

Majiayao culture

Yangshao culture

Yangshao culture

Hemudu/Liangzhu’s link to Austronesian tenable

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