Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Painted Pottery Culture

Posted by Fredsvenn on March 21, 2015

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Map of late neolithic China

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.

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.

The Yang-shao culture takes its name from a prehistoric settlement in the west of the present province of Honan, where Swedish investigators discovered it.  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.  We are now able to divide this painted pottery into several sub-types of specific distribution, and we know that this style existed from c. 2200 B.C. on.  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.

The typical Yang-shao 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.  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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture (known as Cucuteni in Romanian and Trypilska Трипільська in Ukrainian), 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.

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.

Painted Pottery Culture: 5000-2500 BC

More about Taiji Symbols of Ukraine Pavilion at Expo 2010

Painted Pottery Cultures

Archaeological Researches in Sinkiang

Archaeological Researches in Sinkiang (intro)

Chinese civilization and the majestic Scythia

China – Archaeology

Bronze Age

Pathways and highways: routes in Bronze Age Eurasia

China Archaeology

Seima-Turbino Phenomenon

Qijia culture

Majiayao culture

Yangshao culture

Hemudu/Liangzhu’s link to Austronesian tenable

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