Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

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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 27, 2015


From the source of the Tigris, a tributary, the Khabur, flows northeast. Here sites such as Tell Halaf and Tell Brak, have revealed evidence of settled life from as early as the 7th millennium.

The Halaf culture is also characterized by a distinctive type of pottery, found from south-east Turkey across to Iran, but which may have its origins in the region of the River Khabur (modern Syria).

Named for the site of Tell Halaf in northern Syria, Halaf-style pottery has a wide distribu­tion from the Syrian Euphrates to the Taurus Mountains of Turkey to the Greater ‘Lab in northeastern Iraq. Halaf pottery was extremely well made and beautifully decorated which probably explains why it spread so far. 

The Halaf culture was eventually absorbed into the so-called Ubaid culture, with changes in pottery and building styles.

Painted Pottery

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 (Yangshao).

Fainted ceramic traditions were widespread across southwestern Asia in the Early Chalcolithic period (roughly 5500 to 5000 B.C.), distributed from the central plateau of modern-day Turkey, across northern Syria, through Iraq and highland Iran to western Turkmenistan and the borders of the Kara Kum Desert.

Roughly contemporary painted ceramic tra­ditions in the southern Mesopotamian lowlands include the Chogha Miami Transitional (CAT), the Ubaid l (or “Hajji Mohammed”), and Ubaid 2 tradi­tions. In Susiana, well-known painted ceramics of comparable date from the sites of Chogha Mish and affarabad arc termed “Susiana a-b.”

On the Anatolian plateau, sites like Hacilar, atal Hüyük West and Can Hasan illumi­nate an independent Early Chalcolithic tradition with striking red-on-cream painted pottery, including some anthropomorphic vessels.

East of Cheshmeh Alai, the distribution of related Early Chalcolithie painted pottery traditions fol­lows the piedmont region of the Elburz Mountains and is found, for example, at the site of Tepe Hissar, near modern-day Damghan.

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 in the west of the present province of Honan, China, that takes its name from a prehistoric settlement where Swedish investigators discovered it, by 2000 years.

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.

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.

Two areas are important, a northern and a southern. In the north Pumpelly conducted excavations at Anau near Askabad in Turkistan in 1904. He found four different cultures called respectively Anau I., II., III., IV.

The last culture was of Iron Age date. In the earliest period copper was relatively rare, but pottery was abundant, and the pots were handmade, painted, often polished and decorated with geometrical designs. In Anau II copper is abundant, but most of the ware is monochrome. It is therefore mostly with Anau I that parallels with the Chinese pottery must be found.

There are certain agreements; lattice work designs are common to both and in the straight-line patterns there appears to be a close parallelism. At Anau, however, curves are very rare and circles do not occur. There is therefore a disagreement in what appears to be one of the most marked characteristics of the eastern Chinese ware.

Pots which resemble the Anau I have been found near Nachitzevan in Transcaucasia, a site which can be dated at probably about 2500 BC., and the artifacts in which represented a highly developed Copper Age.

In the southern area parallels can be found with the Chinese pottery in Mesopotamia, Persia and Baluchistan. The Persian sites include Susa, the capital of ancient Elam, and the mounds of Pusht-i-Kuh west of Susa, the most important site being Tepe Mussain.

The earliest pottery from Susa may be divided into two classes, of which the first and most ancient shows certain resemblances with the eastern Chinese pottery, but it should be noted that copper implements are found in all strata at Susa.

A closer parallel is found, however, at Tepe Mussain, which in date probably coincides with the transition from Susa I to Susa II. In the pottery from this site all the motives are found which occur in the eastern Chinese pottery, except the meander, which is limited to the finds from Kansu.

The finds of painted pottery from Mesopotamia, notably at Kish and Jemdet-Nazr, in the north and south provide the necessary link between Anau and the Persian sites. The pottery from Baluchistan resembles very closely the Honan pottery, and indeed is closer to it than any other of the western material except possibly some of the Mesopotamian wares.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture 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.

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 BC. 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.

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 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 beginning

Anatomically modern Homo sapiens are demonstrated at the area of Mount Carmel, during the Middle Paleolithic dating from about c. 90,000 BC. This move out of Africa seems to have been unsuccessful and by c. 60,000 BC in Palestine/Israel/Syria, especially at Amud, classic Neanderthal groups seem to have profited from the worsening climate to have replaced Homo sapiens, who seem to have been confined once more to Africa.

A second move out of Africa is demonstrated by the Boker Tachtit Upper Paleolithic culture, from 52–50,000 BC, with humans at Ksar Akil XXV level being modern humans. This culture bears close resemblance to the Badoshan Aurignacian culture of Iran, and the later Sebilian I Egyptian culture of c. 50,000 BC. Stephen Oppenheimer suggests that this reflects a movement of modern human (possibly Caucasian) groups back into North Africa, at this time.

It would appear this set the date by which Homo sapiens Upper Paleolithic cultures begin replacing Neanderthal Levalo-Mousterian, and by c. 40,000 BC Palestine was occupied by the Levanto-Aurignacian Ahmarian culture, lasting from 39–24,000 BC. This culture was quite successful spreading as the Antelian culture (late Aurignacian), as far as Southern Anatolia, with the Atlitan culture.

After the Late Glacial Maxima, a new Epipaleolithic culture appears in Southern Palestine. Extending from 18–10,500 BC, the Kebaran culture shows clear connections to the earlier Microlithic cultures using the bow and arrow, and using grinding stones to harvest wild grains, that developed from the c. 24,000–17,000 BC Halfan culture of Egypt, that came from the still earlier Aterian tradition of the Sahara. Some linguists see this as the earliest arrival of Nostratic languages in the Middle East.

Kebaran culture was quite successful, and may have been ancestral to the later Natufian culture (10,500–8500 BC), which extended throughout the whole of the Levantine region. These people pioneered the first sedentary settlements, and may have supported themselves from fishing, and from the harvest of wild grains plentiful in the region at that time.

The Neolithic Era, or Period, from néos, “new”, and líthos, “stone”, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 10,200 BC, according to the ASPRO chronology, in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world and ending between 4,500 and 2,000 BC.

Domestication of sheep and goats reached Egypt from the Near East possibly as early as 6,000 BC. The first indisputable evidence for domestic plants and animals in the Nile valley is not until the early fifth millennium BC in northern Egypt and a thousand years later further south with cereals either indigenous or obtained through exchange. The primary stimulus for agriculture and domesticated animals (as well as mud-brick architecture and other Neolithic cultural features) in Egypt was from the Middle East.

In southeast Europe agrarian societies first appeared in the 7th millennium BC, attested by one of the earliest farming sites of Europe, discovered in Vashtëmi, southeastern Albania and dating back to 6,500 BC. Anthropomorphic figurines have been found in the Balkans from 6000 BC, and in Central Europe by c. 5800 BC (La Hoguette).

Among the earliest cultural complexes of this area are the Sesklo culture in Thessaly, which later expanded in the Balkans giving rise to Starčevo-Körös (Cris), Linearbandkeramik, and Vinča. Through a combination of cultural diffusion and migration of peoples, the Neolithic traditions spread west and northwards to reach northwestern Europe by around 4500 BC.

A 2010 study of ancient DNA suggested the LBK population had affinities to modern-day populations from the Near East and Anatolia, such as an overall prevalence of G2. The study also found some unique features, such as the prevalence of the now-rare Y-haplogroup F* and mitochondrial haplogroup frequencies.

The earliest Neolithic site in South Asia is Mehrgarh, dated to 7500 BC, in the Kachi plain of Baluchistan, Pakistan; the site has evidence of farming (wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep and goats).

In South India, the Neolithic began by 3000 BC and lasted until around 1400 BC when the Megalithic transition period began. South Indian Neolithic is characterized by Ashmounds since 2500 BC in Karnataka region, expanded later to Tamil Nadu.

Traditionally considered the last part of the Stone Age, the Neolithic followed the terminal Holocene Epipaleolithic period and commenced with the beginning of farming, which produced the “Neolithic Revolution”.

The beginning of the Neolithic culture is considered to be in the Levant (Jericho, modern-day West Bank) about 10,200–8,800 BC. It developed directly from the Epipaleolithic Natufian culture in the region, whose people pioneered the use of wild cereals, which then evolved into true farming.

The Natufian period was between 12,000 and 10,200 BC, and the so-called “proto-neolithic” is now included in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNA) between 10,200 and 8,800 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 are thought to have forced people to develop farming. By 10,200–8,800 BC, farming communities arose in the Levant and spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia.

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 6,900–6,400 BC, it included domesticated cattle and pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery.

It ended when metal tools became widespread (in the Copper Age or Bronze Age; or, in some geographical regions, in the Iron Age). The Neolithic is a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated animals.

In the Middle East, cultures identified as Neolithic began appearing by in the 10th millennium BC. Early development occurred in the Levant (e.g. Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) and from there spread eastwards and westwards. Neolithic cultures are also attested in southeastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia by c. 8,000 BC.

In 1981 a team of researchers from the Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée, including Jacques Cauvin and Oliver Aurenche divided Near East neolithic chronology into ten periods (0 to 9) based on social, economic and cultural characteristics. In 2002 Danielle Stordeur and Frédéric Abbès advanced this system with a division into five periods.

Natufian (1) between 12,000 and 10,200 BC, Khiamian (2) between 10,200-8,800 BC, PPNA: Sultanian (Jericho), Mureybetian, early PPNB (PPNB ancien) (3) between 8,800-7,600 BC, middle PPNB (PPNB moyen) 7,600-6,900 BC, late PPNB (PPNB récent) (4) between 7,500 and 7,000 BC and a PPNB (sometimes called PPNC) transitional stage (PPNB final) (5) where Halaf and dark faced burnished ware begin to emerge between 6,900-6,400 BC.

They also advanced the idea of a transitional stage between the PPNA and PPNB between 8,800 and 8,600 BC at sites like Jerf el Ahmar and Tell Aswad.


The Natufian in Upper Mesopotamia, contemporaneous with the Zarzian in the Zagros, is attested over a much wider region and is characterized by open-air sites which were semi-permanently occupied. In the Zagros, this period has been excavated at Zawi Chemi Shanidar and M’lefaat.

Natufian culture also demonstrates the earliest domestication of the dog, and the assistance of this animal in hunting and guarding human settlements may have contributed to the successful spread of this culture.

In the area of the Syrian Upper Euphrates, villages of Natufian hunter-gatherers that were occupied since the 11th millennium BC have been excavated at Abu Hureyra and Mureybet.

In the northern Syrian, eastern Anatolian region of the Levant, Natufian culture at Cayonu and Mureybet developed the first fully agricultural culture with the addition of wild grains, later being supplemented with domesticated sheep and goats, which were probably domesticated first by the Zarzian culture of Northern Iraq and Iran (which like the Natufian culture may have also developed from Kebaran).

Heavy Neolithic

Heavy Neolithic (alternatively, Gigantolithic) is a style of large stone and flint tools (or industry) associated primarily with the Qaraoun culture in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon, dating to the Epipaleolithic or early Pre-pottery Neolithic at the end of the Stone Age. The type site for the Qaraoun culture is Qaraoun II.

The term “Heavy Neolithic” was translated by Lorraine Copeland and Peter J. Wescombe from Henri Fleisch’s term “gros Neolithique”, suggested by Dorothy Garrod (in a letter dated February 1965) for adoption to describe the particular flint industry that was identified at sites near Qaraoun in the Beqaa Valley. The industry was also termed “Gigantolithic” and confirmed as Neolithic by Alfred Rust and Dorothy Garrod.

Gigantolithic was initially mistaken for Acheulean or Levalloisian by some scholars. Diana Kirkbride and Henri de Contenson suggested that it existed over a wide area of the fertile crescent. Heavy Neolithic industry occurred before the invention of pottery and is characterized by huge, coarse, heavy tools such as axes, picks and adzes including bifaces.

There is no evidence of polishing at the Qaraoun sites or indeed of any arrowheads, burins or millstones. Henri Fleisch noted that the culture that produced this industry may well have led a forest way of life before the dawn of agriculture.

Jacques Cauvin proposed that some of the sites discovered may have been factories or workshops as many artifacts recovered were rough outs. James Mellaart suggested the industry dated to a period before the Pottery Neolithic at Byblos (10,600 to 6900 BC according to the ASPRO chronology) and noted “Aceramic cultures have not yet been found in excavations but they must have existed here as it is clear from Ras Shamra and from the fact that the Pre-Pottery B complex of Palestine originated in this area, just as the following Pottery Neolithic cultures can be traced back to the Lebanon.”

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and B

The early Neolithic human occupation of Mesopotamia is, like the previous Epipaleolithic period, confined to the foothill zones of the Taurus and Zagros Mountains and the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period (10,000–8700 BC) saw the introduction of agriculture, while the oldest evidence for animal domestication dates to the transition from the PPNA to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB, 8700–6800 BC) at the end of the 9th millennium BC.

This transition has been documented at sites like Abu Hureyra and Mureybet, which continued to be occupied from the Natufian well into the PPNB. The so-far earliest monumental sculptures and circular stone buildings from Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey date to the PPNA/Early PPNB and represent, according to the excavator, the communal efforts of a large community of hunter-gatherers.

The Neolithic period is traditionally divided to the PPNA and PPNB and Pottery phases. PPNA developed from the earlier Natufian cultures of the area. This is the time of the agricultural transition and development of farming economies in the Near East, and the region’s first known megaliths (and Earth’s oldest known megalith, other than Gobekli Tepe, which is in the Northern Levant and from an unknown culture) with a burial chamber and tracking of the sun or other stars.

In addition, the Levant in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic was involved in large scale, far reaching trade. Obsidian found in the Chalcolithic levels at Gilat, Israel have had their origins traced via elemental analysis to three sources in Southern Anatolia: Hotamis Dağ, Göllü Dağ, and as far east as Nemrut Dağ itself 500 km East of the other two sources. This is indicative of a very large trade circle reaching as far as the Northern Fertile Crescent at Nemrut Dağ and as far North as Hotamis Dağ.

PPNA denotes the first stage in early Levantine and Anatolian Neolithic culture, dating around 8000 to 7000 BC. Archaeological remains are located in the Levantine and upper Mesopotamian region of the Fertile Crescent. The time period is characterized by tiny circular mud brick dwellings, the cultivation of crops, the hunting of wild game, and unique burial customs in which bodies were buried below the floors of dwellings.

The PPNA and the following PPNB were originally defined by Kathleen Kenyon in the type site of Jericho (Palestine). During this time, pottery was not in use yet. They precede the ceramic Neolithic (Yarmukian). PPNA succeeds the Natufian culture of the Epipaleolithic (Mesolithic).

Sedentism of this time allowed for the cultivation of local grains, such as barley and wild oats, and for storage in granaries. Sites such as Dhra′ and Jericho retained a hunting lifestyle until the PPNB period, but granaries allowed for year-round occupation.

The Neolithic 1 (PPNA) period began roughly 10,000 years ago in the Levant. A temple area in southeastern Turkey at Göbekli Tepe dated around 9,500 BC may be regarded as the beginning of the period. This site was developed by nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, evidenced by the lack of permanent housing in the vicinity and may be the oldest known human-made place of worship.

At least seven stone circles, covering 25 acres (100,000 m2), contain limestone pillars carved with animals, insects and birds. Stone tools were used by perhaps as many as hundreds of people to create the pillars, which may have supported roofs.

Other early PPNA sites dating to around 9,500 to 9,000 BC have been found in Jericho, Israel (notably Ain Mallaha, Nahal Oren, and Kfar HaHoresh), Gilgal in the Jordan Valley, and Byblos, Lebanon. The start of Neolithic 1 overlaps the Tahunian and Heavy Neolithic periods to some degree.

The major advance of Neolithic 1 was true farming. In the proto-Neolithic Natufian cultures, wild cereals were harvested and perhaps early seed selection and re-seeding occurred. The grain was ground into flour. Emmer wheat was domesticated, and animals were herded and domesticated (animal husbandry and selective breeding).

In the 21st century, remains of figs were discovered in a house in Jericho dated to 9,400 BC. The figs are of a mutant variety that cannot be pollinated by insects, and therefore the trees can only reproduce from cuttings. This evidence suggests that figs were the first cultivated crop and mark the invention of the technology of farming. This occurred centuries before the first cultivation of grains.

Settlements became more permanent with circular houses, much like those of the Natufians, with single rooms. However, these houses were for the first time made of mudbrick. The settlement had a surrounding stone wall and perhaps a stone tower (as in Jericho). The wall served as protection from nearby groups, as protection from floods, or to keep animals penned. There are also some enclosures that suggest grain and meat storage.

This period of cultivation is considered “pre-domestication”, but may have begun to develop plant species into the domesticated forms they are today. Deliberate, extended-period storage was made possible by the use of “suspended floors for air circulation and protection from rodents”. This practice “precedes the emergence of domestication and large-scale sedentary communities by at least 1,000 years”.

Granaries are positioned in places between other buildings early on 9500 BC. However beginning around 8500 BC, they were moved inside houses, and by 7500 BC storage occurred in special rooms. This change might reflect changing systems of ownership and property as granaries shifted from a communal use and ownership to become under the control of households or individuals.

It has been observed of these granaries that their “sophisticated storage systems with subfloor ventilation are a precocious development that precedes the emergence of almost all of the other elements of the Near Eastern Neolithic package—domestication, large scale sedentary communities, and the entrenchment of some degree of social differentiation”. Moreover, “Building granaries may … have been the most important feature in increasing sedentism that required active community participation in new life-ways”.

By 8500–7500 BC, the PPN A culture developed out of the earlier local tradition of Natufian in Southern Palestine, dwelling in round houses, and building the first defensive site at Jericho (guarding a valuable fresh water spring). This was replaced in 7500 BC by PPNB, dwelling in square houses, coming from Northern Syria and the Euphrates bend.

Like the earlier PPNA people, the PPNB culture developed from the Earlier Natufian but shows evidence of a northerly origin, possibly indicating an influx from the region of north eastern Anatolia. The culture disappeared during the 8.2 kiloyear event, a term that climatologists have adopted for a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BCE, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries.

The Neolithic 2 (PPNB) began around 8,800 BC according to the ASPRO chronology in the Levant (Jericho, Israel). As with the PPNA dates there are two versions from the same laboratories noted above. But this terminological structure is not convenient for southeast Anatolia and settlements of the middle Anatolia basin. This era was before the Mesolithic era.

Settlements have rectangular mud-brick houses where the family lived together in single or multiple rooms. Burial findings suggest an ancestor cult where people preserved skulls of the dead, which were plastered with mud to make facial features. The rest of the corpse may have been left outside the settlement to decay until only the bones were left, then the bones were buried inside the settlement underneath the floor or between houses.

The Neolithic 3 (PN) began around 6,400 BC in the Fertile Crescent. By then distinctive cultures emerged, with pottery like the Halafian (Turkey, Syria, Northern Mesopotamia) and Ubaid (Southern Mesopotamia). This period has been further divided into PNA (Pottery Neolithic A) and PNB (Pottery Neolithic B) at some sites.

The Chalcolithic period began about 4500 BC, then the Bronze Age began about 3500 BC, replacing the Neolithic cultures.

During the period of 8500–7500 BC, another hunter-gatherer group, showing clear affinities with the cultures of Egypt (particularly the Outacha retouch technique for working stone) was in Sinai.

This Harifian culture may have adopted the use of pottery from the Isnan culture and Helwan culture of Egypt (which lasted from 9000 to 4500 BC), and subsequently fused with elements from the PPNB culture during the climatic crisis of 6000 BC to form what Juris Zarins calls the Syro-Arabian pastoral technocomplex, which saw the spread of the first Nomadic pastoralists in the Ancient Near East.

These extended southwards along the Red Sea coast and penetrating the Arabian bifacial cultures, which became progressively more Neolithic and pastoral and extending north and eastwards, to lay the foundations for the tent-dwelling Martu and Akkadian peoples of Mesopotamia.

In the Amuq valley of Syria, PPNB culture seems to have survived, influencing further cultural developments further south. In the following Munhatta and Yarmukian post-pottery Neolithic cultures that succeeded it, rapid cultural development continues, although PPNB culture continued in the Amuq valley, where it influenced the later development of Ghassulian culture.

Nomadic elements fused with PPNB to form the Minhata Culture and Yarmukian Culture which were to spread southwards, beginning the development of the classic mixed farming Mediterranean culture, and from 5600 BC were associated with the Ghassulian culture of the region, the first chalcolithic culture of the Levant. This period also witnessed the development of megalithic structures, which continued into the Bronze Age.

During the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, it was common to separate the skull from the skeleton before burial. In several sites in the Levant such skulls had facial features modeled in layers of plaster. They were found in separate burials below house floors, probably reflecting a form of ancestor worship that may have reinforced the sense of land ownership during a period that witnessed a shift to sedentary villages.

Cardium Pottery or Cardial Ware

Cardium Pottery or Cardial Ware is a Neolithic decorative style that gets its name from the imprinting of the clay with the shell of the cockle, an edible marine mollusk, formerly Cardium edulis, now Cerastoderma edule. These forms of pottery are in turn used to define the Neolithic culture which produced and spread them, mostly commonly called the “Cardial Culture”.

The alternative name Impressed Ware is given by some archaeologists to define this culture, because impressions can be with sharp objects other than cockle shell, such as a nail or comb.

This pottery style gives its name to the main culture of the Mediterranean Neolithic: Cardium Pottery Culture or Cardial Culture, or Impressed Ware Culture, which eventually extended from the Adriatic sea to the Atlantic coasts of Portugal and south to Morocco.

Older Neolithic cultures existed already at this time in eastern Greece and Crete, apparently having arrived from the Levant, but they appear distinct from the Cardial or Impressed Ware culture. The ceramic tradition in the central Balkans also remained distinct from that along the Adriatic coastline in both style and manufacturing techniques for almost 1,000 years from the 6th millennium BC.

Early Neolithic impressed pottery is found in the Levant, and certain parts of Anatolia, including Mezraa-Teleilat, and in North Africa at Tunus-Redeyef, Tunisia. So the first Cardial settlers in the Adriatic may have come directly from the Levant.

Of course it might equally well have come directly from North Africa, and impressed-pottery also appears in Egypt. Along the East Mediterranean coast Impressed Ware has been found in North Syria, Palestine and Lebanon.


The Fertile Crescent was inhabited by several distinct, flourishing cultures between the end of the last ice age (c. 10,000 BC) and the beginning of history. One of the oldest known Neolithic sites in Mesopotamia is Jarmo, settled around 7000 BC and broadly contemporary with Jericho (in the Levant) and Çatal Hüyük (in Anatolia).

Jarmo, an archeological site located in northern Iraq on the foothills of Zagros Mountains east of Kirkuk city, is one of the oldest sites at which pottery has been found, appearing in the most recent levels of excavation, which dates it to the 7th millennium BC.

This pottery is handmade, of simple design and with thick sides, and treated with a vegetable solvent. There are clay figures, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic, including figures of pregnant women which are taken to be fertility goddesses, similar to the Mother Goddess of later Neolithic cultures in the same region.

It was one of the oldest agricultural communities in the world, dating back to 7090 BCE. Jarmo is broadly contemporary with such other important Neolithic sites such as Jericho in the southern Levant and Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia.

Jarmo was used to explain the origins of food production by Robert Braidwood, as the site dates to the later 7th millennium BC and there was carbonized wheat and barley. Its radiocarbon dates place it amongst the world’s earliest food-producing settlements. Goat and dog bones show domestication. The first 11 of its 16 levels had no pottery, though clay-lined pits were baked in situ.

Square houses of pisé were built with clay ovens and grain pits which included flint and obsidian chipped stone tools, stone bowls, and clay figurines. Flaked and ground stone were freely used for tools and utensils. It is the type site of the Jarmoan culture.

The excavations exposed a small village, covering an area of 12,000 to 16,000 m², and which has been dated (by carbon-14) to 7090 BC, for the oldest levels, to 4950 BC for the most recent. The entire site consists of twelve levels. Jarmo appears to be two older, permanent Neolithic settlements and, approximately, contemporary with Jericho or the Neolithic stage of Shanidar.

The high point is likely to have been between 6,200 and 5,800 BC. This small village consisted of some twenty five houses, with adobe walls and sun-dried mud roofs, which rested on stone foundations, with a simple floor plan dug from the earth. These dwellings were frequently repaired or rebuilt. In all, about 150 people lived in the village, which was clearly a permanent settlement.

In the earlier phases there is a preponderance of objects made from stone, silex- using older styles- and obsidian. The use of this latter material, obtained from the area of Lake Van, 200 miles away, suggests that some form of organized trade already existed, as does the presence of ornamental shells from the Persian Gulf. In the oldest level baskets have been found, waterproofed with pitch, which is readily available in the area.

Jarmo is part of the first village communities in the world that also includes Catal Huyuk in modern Turkey. This is where the first domestication of wild wheats, and construction of village communities happened. The earliest pottery, organised religion and many other firsts also originate with these “northern mesopotamian / south east anatolian” cultures.

Many sources indicate that with the retreat of the gulf starting about 6000BC encouraged people to move down from Catal Huyuk and Jarmo into the “new” areas of southern Iraq where the village communities evolved into the city states of the “Ubaid” and Sumerian era.

Halaf culture

Around 6,400 BC the Halaf culture appeared in Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Syria, Anatolia, and Northern Mesopotamia and subsisted on dryland agriculture.

In the period 6500–5500 B.C., a farming society emerged in northern Mesopotamia and Syria which shared a common culture and produced pottery that is among the finest ever made in the Near East. This culture is known as Halaf, after the site of Tell Halaf in northeastern Syria where it was first identified.

The Halaf potters used different sources of clay from their neighbors and achieved outstanding elaboration and elegance of design with their superior quality ware. Some of the most beautifully painted polychrome ceramics were produced toward the end of the Halaf period. This distinctive pottery has been found from southeastern Turkey to Iran, but may have its origins in the region of the River Khabur (modern Syria).

How and why it spread so widely is a matter of continuing debate, although analysis of the clay indicates the existence of production centers and regional copying. It is possible that such high-quality pottery was exchanged as a prestige item between local elites. The Halaf culture also produced a great variety of amulets and stamp seals of geometric design, as well as a range of largely female terracotta figurines that often emphasize the sexual features.

Among the best-known Halaf sites are Arpachiyah, Sabi Abyad, and Yarim Tepe, small agricultural villages with distinctive buildings known as tholoi. These rounded domed structures, with or without antechambers, were made of different materials depending on what was available locally: limestone boulders or mud and straw.

Halaf and dark faced burnished ware is the earliest form of pottery developed in the western world and is predominantly found at archaeological sites in Lebanon, Israel and southwest Syria. Other types of pottery were produced around the same time including coarse impressed ware, dark faced unburnished ware and washed impressed ware but these were less prevalent. DFBW has long been considered the forbear of the more polished examples such as Ancient Greek pottery.

The Halaf culture is a prehistoric period which lasted between about 6100 and 5100 BCE. 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.

While the period is named after the site of Tell Halaf in north Syria, excavated by Max von Oppenheim between 1911 and 1927, the earliest Halaf period material was excavated by John Garstang in 1908 at the site of Sakce Gözü, then in Syria but now part of Turkey.

Small amounts of Halaf material were also excavated in 1913 by Leonard Woolley at Carchemish, on the Turkish/Syrian border. However, the most important site for the Halaf tradition was the site of Tell Arpachiyah, now located in the suburbs of Mosul, Iraq.

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.

Previously, the Syrian plains were not considered as the homeland of Halaf culture, and the Halafians were seen either as hill people who descended from the nearby mountains of southeastern Anatolia, or herdsmen from northern Iraq.

However, those views changed with the recent archaeology conducted since 1986 by Peter Akkermans, which have produced new insights and perspectives about the rise of Halaf culture. A formerly unknown transitional culture between the pre-Half Neolithic’s era and Halaf’s era was uncovered in the Balikh valley, at Tell Sabi Abyad (the Mound of the White Boy).

Currently, eleven occupational layers have been unearthed in Sabi Abyad, levels from 11 to 7 are considered pre-Halaf, from 6 to 4 transitional, and from 3 to 1 early Halaf. No hiatus in occupation is observed except between levels 11 and 10.

The new archaeology demonstrated that Halaf culture was not sudden and was not the result of foreign people, but rather a continuous process of indigenous cultural changes in northern Syria, that spread to the other regions.

Although no Halaf settlement has been extensively excavated some buildings have been excavated: the tholoi of Tell Arpachiyah, circular domed structures approached through long rectangular anterooms. Only a few of these structures were ever excavated.

They were constructed of mud-brick sometimes on stone foundations and may have been for ritual use (one contained a large number of female figurines). Other circular buildings were probably just houses.

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.

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 earliest history of pottery production in the Near East can be divided into four periods, namely: the Hassuna period (7000-6500 BC), the Halaf period (6500-5500 BC), the Ubaid period (5500-4000 BC), and the Uruk period (4000-3100 BC).

The invention of the potter’s wheel in Mesopotamia sometime between 6,000 and 4,000 BC (Ubaid period) revolutionized pottery production. Specialized potters were then able to meet the expanding needs of the world’s first cities.

Pottery making began in the Fertile Crescent from the 7th millennium BC. The earliest forms, which were found at the Hassuna site, were hand formed from slabs, undecorated, unglazed low-fired pots made from reddish-brown clays. Within the next millennium, wares were decorated with elaborate painted designs and natural forms, incising and burnished.

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. The evidence for this hypothesis, however, remains equivocal for lack of documentation in the archaeological record. This hypothesis also does not take into account the bulk of simple, rudely fashioned vessels that were part of the ceramic repertoire of this period.

Neolithic pottery may well have arrived as a full-blown technological set from more northerly regions. Pottery appears to have become ubiquitous in the southern Levant by late in the 6th millennium and remained as an integral part of human material culture up to the present. Some local potters showed particular skill in their production, which suggests, as is the case with flint knappers, real craft specialization.

That is related to skills in finding and preparing raw materials, fashioning pots, decorating them, and controlling the pyrotechnology needed to turn them into pottery. Some aspects of pottery, form, fabric, modes of decoration are relatively reliable diagnostic indicators of chrono-cultural identities of human society. Pottery, mostly in the form of sherds, often makes up the bulk of material culture artifacts found on excavated sites dating from the PN period.

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 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.

Dryland farming was practiced by the population. This type of farming was based on exploiting natural rainfall without the help of irrigation. Emmer wheat, two-rowed barley and flax were grown. They kept cattle, sheep and goats.

Halaf culture ended by 5000 BC after entering the so called Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period. Many Halafians settlements were abandoned, and the remaining ones showed Ubaidian characters. The new period is named Northern Ubaid to distinguish it from the proper Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia, and two explanations were presented for the transformation.

The first maintain an invasion and a replacement of the Halafians by the Ubaidians, however, there is no hiatus between the Halaf and northern Ubaid which exclude the invasion theory. The most plausible theory is a Halafian adoption of the Ubaid culture, which is supported by most scholars including Oates, Breniquet and Akkermans.

Hassuna culture

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.

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. They made Hassuna-style pottery (cream slip with reddish paint in linear designs). Hassuna people lived in small villages or hamlets ranging from 2 to 8 acres (3.2 ha).

At Tell Hassuna, a tell or settlement mound, in the Nineveh Province (Iraq) approximately 35 kilometres (22 mi) southwest of modern Mosul, along the west bank of the Tigris River, 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.

Around 6,000 BC., people began moving to the foothills of northern Mesopotamia and practicing methods of dry agriculture. These people were the first known farmers, and Hassuna became one of the most ancient centers for the principal forms of producing economies, such as the cultivation of soil and raising livestock.

Evidence of this is shown in the oldest layers of Hassuna. The occupants of Hassuna also led the way in improving agriculture, settling the river valleys, the beginning of irrigation, and progress in all branches of production and culture.

Around 6,000 BC., at Tell Hassuna, adobe dwellings built around open central courts with fine painted pottery replaced earlier levels with crude pottery. Hand axes, sickles, grinding stones, bins, baking ovens and numerous bones of domesticated animals reflect settled agricultural life.

Stone tools found at Tell Hassuna do not seem to be as advanced as tools found at other sites of the Hassuna culture, such as Jarmo, and were typically made of flint and obsidian. Female figurines were also used in relation to worship and jar burials, within which food was placed due to belief in the afterlife.

Samarra culture

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 against dark-fired backgrounds with stylized figures of animals and birds and geometric designs.

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 Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period.

Choga Mami is a Samarran settlement site in Diyala province in Iraq in the Mandali region. It shows the first canal irrigation in operation at about 6000 BCE. It is no longer clear which way cultural developments were flowing in the 6500 to 4500 BCE period.

The site, about 70 miles northeast of Baghdad, has been dated to the late 6th millennium BCE. It was occupied in several phases from the Samarran culture to the Ubaid. Buildings were rectangular and built of mud brick, including a guard tower at the settlement’s entrance.

Irrigation supported livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) and arable (wheat, barley and flax) agriculture. Artifacts found at Choga Mami include Samarran painted pottery and elaborate clay female figurines.

Tell Shemshara is an archaeological site located along the Little Zab in Sulaymaniyah Governorate, northeastern Iraq. The site was excavated between 1957 and 1959 by Danish and Iraqi archaeologists and was inundated by Lake Dukan until recently. The excavations showed that the site was occupied, although not continuously, from the Hassuna period (early sixth millennium BCE) until the 14th century CE.

A small archive recovered from the Middle Bronze Age layers (early second millennium BCE) revealed that, at least in that period, the site was called Shusharra and was the capital of a small, semi-independent polity called māt Utêm or “land of the gatekeeper” ruled by a man called Kuwari.

Tell Shemshara sits along the Little Zab, a tributary of the Tigris. Its strategic location in the northeastern corner of the Ranya Plain in the Zagros Mountains gave Shemshara control over travelling routes in all directions, particularly toward the north and east.

Shemshara is a tell or settlement mound, that can be divided in two parts; a high main mound and an elongated lower mound. The main mound is 60 metres (200 ft) in diameter and 19 metres (62 ft) high, whereas the lower town is 270 metres (890 ft) long and 6 metres (20 ft) high. Shemshara is now partially submerged under Lake Dukan.

The excavations at the main mound revealed 16 occupation layers, ranging in date from the Hassuna period (early sixth millennium BCE) to the 14th century CE. Layers 16–9 dated to the Hassuna period. This occupation was characterized by rows of stones that are interpreted by the excavators as foundations for mudbrick walls, a pebble floor and a clay basin in the final occupation layer. Pottery, which has only been found in abundance in layers 13–9, shows stylistic links with that of Hassuna and Tell es-Sawwan.

Obsidian was the preferred material for stone tools, with flint making up only 15 percent of the total assemblage. Whereas the flint was procured locally, the obsidian was obtained from two sources in eastern Turkey – one as yet unidentified, the other one being the volcanic Nemrut Dağ more than 300 kilometres (190 mi) away from Shemshara.

A unique piece in this assemblage is a dagger of over 35.5 centimetres (14.0 in) in length, broken in four pieces due to a fire. Other artefacts that have been found at the site include stone bowls, bracelets and quern-stones and small objects made of bone.

Whereas the main mound seems to have been abandoned after the Hassuna occupation, scarce archaeological material from the Uruk (fourth millennium BCE) and Jemdet Nasr periods (early third millennium BCE) has been found on the lower town.

Shulaveri-Shomu culture

Shulaveri-Shomu culture is a Late Neolithic/Eneolithic culture that existed on the territory of present-day Georgia, 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.

The Shulaveri-Shomu culture begins after the 8.2 kiloyear event which was a sudden decrease in global temperatures starting ca. 6200 BC and which lasted for about two to four centuries.

Shulaveri culture predates the Kura-Araxes culture and surrounding areas, which is assigned to the period of ca. 4000 – 2200 BC, and had close relation with the middle Bronze Age culture called Trialeti culture (ca. 3000 – 1500 BC). Sioni culture of Eastern Georgia possibly represents a transition from the Shulaveri to the Kura-Arax cultural complex.

In around ca. 6000–4200 B.C the Shulaveri-Shomu and other Neolithic/Chalcolithic cultures of the Southern Caucasus use local obsidian for tools, raise animals such as cattle and pigs, and grow crops, including grapes.

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).

Ubaid culture

It as well as other early Neolithic sites, such as Samarra and Tell Halaf were in northern Mesopotamia; later settlements in southern Mesopotamia required complicated irrigation methods.

The first of these was Eridu, settled during the Ubaid period culture by farmers who brought with them the Samarran culture from the north. This was followed by the Uruk period and the emergence of the Sumerians.

The Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The name derives from Tell al-Ubaid where the earliest large excavation of Ubaid period material was conducted initially by Henry Hall and later by Leonard Woolley.

The Ubaid period is divided into three principal phases. The forst period, sometimes called Eridu (5300–4700 BC), a phase limited to the extreme south of Iraq, on what was then the shores of the Persian Gulf.

This phase, showing clear connection to the Samarra culture to the north, saw the establishment of the first permanent settlement south of the 5 inch rainfall isohyet. These people pioneered the growing of grains in the extreme conditions of aridity, thanks to the high water tables of Southern Iraq.

The second period, Ubaid 2 (4800–4500 BC), saw the development of extensive canal networks from major settlements. Irrigation agriculture, which seems to have developed first at Choga Mami (4700–4600 BC) and rapidly spread elsewhere, form the first required collective effort and centralised coordination of labour in Mesopotamia.

Ubaid 3/4, sometimes called Ubaid I and Ubaid II — In the period from 4500–4000 BC saw a period of intense and rapid urbanisation with the Ubaid culture spread into northern Mesopotamia and was adopted by the Halaf culture. Ubaid artifacts spread also all along the Arabian littoral, showing the growth of a trading system that stretched from the Mediterranean coast through to Oman.

During the Ubaid Period (5000-4000 BC.), the movement towards urbanization began. “Agriculture and animal husbandry [domestication] were widely practiced in sedentary communities”. There were also tribes that practiced domesticating animals as far north as Turkey, and as far south as the Zagros Mountains.

Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation.

Whatever the ethnic origins of this group this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers, with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.

Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oikumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period. “A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions”.

The Ubaid house is a dwelling used by the Ubaid culture of the Neolithic era. The Ubaid house is the predecessor of the Ubaid temple as well as Sumerian domestic and temple architecture.

In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvium although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. In the south it has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.

The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.

At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”. This might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.

In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC. It is preceded by the Halaf period and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.

Tell Zeidan is an archaeological site of the Ubaid culture in northern Syria, from about 5500 to 4000 BC. The dig consists of three large mounds on the east bank of the Balikh River, slightly north of its confluence with the Euphrates River, and is located about 5 km (3.1 mi) east of the modern Syrian city of ar-Raqqah (or Raqqa).

Leyla-Tepe culture

The Leyla-Tepe culture is a culture of archaeological interest from the Chalcolithic era. Its population was distributed on the southern slopes of the Central Caucasus (modern Azerbaijan, Agdam District), from 4350 until 4000 BC.

The Leyla-Tepe culture includes a settlement in the lower layer of the settlements Poilu I, Poilu II, Boyuk-Kesik I and Boyuk-Kesik II. They apparently buried their dead in ceramic vessels.

Similar amphora burials in the South Caucasus are found in the Western Georgian Jar-Burial Culture, an archaeological culture that was widespread in the second century B.C. to the eighth century A.D. in the basins of the Kura and Araks rivers in Transcaucasia, particularly in Caucasian Albania.

The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region (Arslan-tepe, Coruchu-tepe, Tepechik, etc.).

The Leyla-Tepe culture is a culture of archaeological interest from the Chalcolithic era. Its population was distributed on the southern slopes of the Central Caucasus (modern Azerbaijan, Agdam District), from 4350 until 4000 B.C. Similar amphora burials in the South Caucasus are found in the Western Georgian Jar-Burial Culture.

The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region. The settlement is of a typical Western-Asian variety, with the dwellings packed closely together and made of mud bricks with smoke outlets.

Maykop culture

After the discovery of the Leyla-Tepe culture in the 1980s it was suggested that elements of the Maykop culture migrated to the south-eastern slopes of the Caucasus in modern Azerbaijan.

It has been suggested that the Leyla-Tepe were the founders of the Maykop culture (ca. 3700 BC—3000 BC.), a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia.

An expedition to Syria by the Russian Academy of Sciences revealed the similarity of the Maykop and Leyla-Tepe artifacts with those found recently while excavating the ancient city of Tel Khazneh I, from the 4th millennium BC.

In the south it borders the approximately contemporaneous Kura-Araxes culture (3500—2200 BC), which extends into eastern Anatolia and apparently influenced it. To the north is the Yamna culture, including the Novotitorovka culture (3300—2700), which it overlaps in territorial extent. It is contemporaneous with the late Uruk period in Mesopotamia.

The Kuban River is navigable for much of its length and provides an easy water-passage via the Sea of Azov to the territory of the Yamna culture, along the Don and Donets River systems. The Maykop culture was thus well-situated to exploit the trading possibilities with the central Ukraine area.

New data revealed the similarity of artifacts from the Maykop culture with those found recently in the course of excavations of the ancient city of Tell Khazneh in northern Syria, the construction of which dates back to 4000 BC.

In 2010, nearly 200 Bronze Age sites were reported stretching over 60 miles between the Kuban and Nalchik rivers, at an altitude of between 4,620 feet and 7,920 feet. They were all “visibly constructed according to the same architectural plan, with an oval courtyard in the center, and connected by roads.”

Its inhumation practices were characteristically Indo-European, typically in a pit, sometimes stone-lined, topped with a kurgan (or tumulus). Stone cairns replace kurgans in later interments. The Maykop kurgan was extremely rich in gold and silver artifacts; unusual for the time.

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, whose views are highly controversial, suggest that the Maykop culture (or its ancestor) may have been a way-station for Indo-Europeans migrating from the South Caucasus and/or eastern Anatolia to a secondary Urheimat on the steppe. This would essentially place the Anatolian stock in Anatolia from the beginning, and only in this instance, agrees with Colin Renfrew’s Anatolian hypothesis.

Considering that some attempt has been made to unite Indo-European with the Northwest Caucasian languages, an earlier Caucasian pre-Urheimat is not out of the question. However, most linguists and archaeologists consider this hypothesis incorrect, and prefer the Eurasian steppes as the genuine IE Urheimat.

Tepe Sialk

Tepe Sialk is a large ancient archeological site (a tepe or Persian tappeh, “hill” or “mound”) in a suburb of the city of Kashan, Isfahan Province, in central Iran, close to Fin Garden.

The culture that inhabited this area has been linked to the Zayandeh River Culture (literally “Zāyandé-Rūd Civilization”), a hypothetical pre-historic culture that is theorized to have flourished around the Zayandeh River in Iran in the 6th millennium BC.

The Sialk ziggurat was built around the 3000 BC. A joint study between Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization, the Louvre, and the Institut Francais de Recherche en Iran also verifies the oldest settlements in Sialk to date back to 5500–6000 BC.

Archaeologists speculate that a possible early civilization existed along the banks of the Zayandeh River, developing at the same time as other ancient civilizations appeared alongside rivers in the region, such as the Sumerian civilization in Iraq and the Indus Valley civilization in ancient India.

During the 2006 excavations, the Iranian archaeologists uncovered some artifacts that they linked to those from Sialk and Marvdasht. Previous archeological excavations in the Zayandeh River basin unearthed a 50,000 year old cave containing Human and Animal remains.

“Following archaeological studies, we are going to excavate two historical hills, one of which is alongside Zayaneh River midway, and the other in the Gav khooni swamp.” said Mohsen Javeri, head of archaeological studies of the Cultural Heritage of Isfahan.

According to Javeri, both of the selected hills of the site for belong to the pre-historic period, but their exact date is not yet known. During the 2004 excavations within the perimeters of Isfahan city, it was determined that the city dates back to earlier than the 6th millennium BC.


Painted ceramic vessels from Susa in the earliest first style are a late, regional version of the Mesopotamian Ubaid ceramic tradition that spread across the Near East during the fifth millennium BC. Susa I style was very much a product of the past and of influences from contemporary ceramic industries in the mountains of western Iran.

In politics, Susa was the capital of a state called Šušan, which occupied approximately the same territory of modern Khūzestān Province centered on the Karun River. Control of Šušan shifted between Elam, Sumer, and Akkad. Šušan is sometimes mistaken as synonymous with Elam, but it was a distinctly separate cultural and political entity.

Susa is one of the oldest-known settlements of the region. Based on C14 dating, the foundation of a settlement there occurred as early as 4395 BCE (a calibrated radio-carbon date). Archeologists have dated the first traces of an inhabited Neolithic village to c 7000 BCE. Evidence of a painted-pottery civilization has been dated to c 5000 BCE.

Like its Chalcolithic neighbor Uruk, Susa began as a discrete settlement in the Susa I period (c 4000 BCE). The founding of Susa corresponded with the abandonment of nearby villages.

Potts suggests that the city may have been founded to try to reestablish the previously destroyed settlement at Chogha Mish, the site of a Chalcolithic settlement in Western Iran, located in the Khuzistan Province on the Susiana Plain, dating back to 6800 BC. and continuously from the Neolithic up to the Proto-Literate period.

Chogha in the Luri language means hill and mish means Ewe. Chogha Mish was a regional center during the late Uruk period of Mesopotamia and is important today for information about the development of writing. At Chogha Mish, evidence begins with an accounting system using clay tokens, over time changing to clay tablets with marks, finally to the cuneiform writing system.

Susa was firmly within the Uruk cultural sphere during the Uruk period. An imitation of the entire state apparatus of Uruk, proto-writing, cylinder seals with Sumerian motifs, and monumental architecture, is found at Susa. Susa may have been a colony of Uruk. As such, the periodization of Susa corresponds to Uruk; Early, Middle and Late Susa II periods (3800–3100 BCE) correspond to Early, Middle, and Late Uruk periods.

By the middle Susa II period, the city had grown to 25 ha. Susa III (3100–2900 BCE) corresponds with Uruk III period. Ambiguous reference to Elam appear also in this period in Sumerian records. Susa enters history during the Early Dynastic period of Sumer. A battle between Kish and Susa is recorded in 2700 BCE.

Shortly after Susa was first settled 6000 years ago, its inhabitants erected a temple on a monumental platform that rose over the flat surrounding landscape. The exceptional nature of the site is still recognizable today in the artistry of the ceramic vessels that were placed as offerings in a thousand or more graves near the base of the temple platform.

Nearly two thousand pots were recovered from the cemetery most of them now in the Louvre. The vessels found are eloquent testimony to the artistic and technical achievements of their makers, and they hold clues about the organization of the society that commissioned them.


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 first cities started developing in southern Mesopotamia during the 4th millennium BC. With these cities, ties of religion began to replace ties of kinship as the basis for society. During the Uruk phase, colonists and traders from Southern Iraq established important quarters in settlements throughout the northern part of the Levantine region (e.g. Amuq).

In Southern Iraq each city had a patron god, worshipped in a massive central temple called a ziggurat, and was ruled by a priest-king (ishakku). Society became more segmented and specialized and capable of coordinate projects like irrigation and warfare.

Along with cities came a number of advances in technology. By around the 31st century BC, writing, the wheel, and other such innovations had been introduced. By then, the Sumerian Peoples of south Mesopotamia were all organized into a variety of independent City-states, such as Ur and Uruk, which by around 26th century BC had begun to coalesce into larger political units.

By accommodating the conquered people’s gods, religion became more polytheistic and government became somewhat more secular; the title of lugal, big man, appears alongside the earlier religious titles, although his primary duty is still the worship of the state gods. This process came to its natural conclusion with the development of the first empires around the 24th century BC.

Hamoukar is a large archaeological site located in the Jazira region of northeastern Syria (Al Hasakah Governorate), near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. Most importantly, archaeologists believe that Hamoukar was thriving as far back as 4000 BC and independently from Sumer.

The origins of urban settlements has generally been attributed to the riverine societies of southern Mesopotamia (in what is now southern Iraq). This is the area of ancient Sumer, where around 4000 BC the Mesopotamian cities such of Ur and Uruk emerged.

In 2007, following the discoveries at Hamoukar, some archiologists have argued that the Cradle of Civilization could have extended further up the Tigris River and included the part of northern Syria where Hamoukar is located.

Archaeological discovery suggests that civilizations advanced enough to reach the size and organizational structure that was necessary to be considered a city and could have emerged before the advent of a written language.

Previously it was believed that a system of written language was a necessary predecessor of that type of complex city. Until now, the oldest cities with developed seals and writing were thought to be Sumerian Uruk and Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia.

The evidence at Hamoukar indicates that some of the fundamental ideas behind cities—including specialization of labor, a system of laws and government, and artistic development—may have begun earlier than was previously believed. The discovery of a large city is exciting for archaeologists.

While they have found small villages and individual pieces that date much farther back than Hamoukar, nothing compares to the discovery of this size. Discoveries have been made here that have never been seen before, including materials from Hellenistic and Islamic civilizations.

Excavation by a joint Syrian-American expedition (by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities) has been conducted since 1999.

Excavation work undertaken in 2005 and 2006 has shown that this city was destroyed by warfare by around 3500 BC – probably the earliest urban warfare attested so far in the archaeological record of the Near East. Contiuned excavations in 2008 and 2010 expand on that.

Eye Idols made of alabaster or bone have been found in Tell Hamoukar. Eye Idols have also been found in Tell Brak, the biggest settlement from Syria’s Late Chalcolithic period.

Yarmukian culture

The Yarmukian culture (ca. 6400–6000 BC) was a Neolithic culture of the ancient Levant. It was the first culture in prehistoric Palestine and one of the oldest in the Levant to make use of pottery. The Yarmukian derives its name from the Yarmouk River which flows near its type site at Sha’ar HaGolan, a kibbutz at the foot of the Golan Heights.

The greatest technological innovation of the Sha’ar HaGolan Neolithic was the manufacture of pottery. This industry, which appears here for the first time in Israel, gives this cultural stage its name of Pottery Neolithic. The pottery vessels are in a variety of shapes and sizes and were put to various domestic uses.

The Yarmukian culture was a Neolithic culture of the ancient Levant. It was the first culture in prehistoric Palestine and one of the oldest in the Levant to make use of pottery. The Yarmukian derives its name from the Yarmouk River which flows near its type site at Sha’ar HaGolan, a kibbutz at the foot of the Golan Heights.

The greatest technological innovation of the Sha’ar HaGolan Neolithic was the manufacture of pottery. This industry, which appears here for the first time in Israel, gives this cultural stage its name of Pottery Neolithic. The pottery vessels are in a variety of shapes and sizes and were put to various domestic uses.

Ghassulian culture

Ghassulian refers to a culture and an archaeological stage dating to the Middle Chalcolithic Period in the Southern Levant (c. 3800–c. 3350 BC). Considered to correspond to the Halafian culture of North Syria and Mesopotamia, its type-site, Tulaylat al-Ghassul, is located in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea in modern Jordan and was excavated in the 1930s. It seems that Ghassulian culture was an extension Zarin’s Circum Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex coupled with the Amuq valley’s relic PPNB culture.

The Ghassulian stage was characterized by small hamlet settlements of mixed farming peoples, and migrated southwards from Syria into Palestine Canaan. Houses were trapezoid-shaped and built mud-brick, covered with remarkable polychrome wall paintings.

Their pottery was highly elaborate, including footed bowls and horn-shaped drinking goblets, indicating the cultivation of wine. Several samples display the use of sculptural decoration or of a reserved slip (a clay and water coating partially wiped away while still wet). The Ghassulians were a Chalcolithic culture as they also smelted copper. Funerary customs show evidence that they buried their dead in stone dolmens.

Ghassulian culture has been identified at numerous other places in what is today southern Israel, especially in the region of Beersheba. The Ghassulian culture correlates closely with the Amratian of Egypt and may have had trading affinities (e.g., the distinctive churns, or “bird vases”) with early Minoan culture in Crete.

The Ghassulian period created the basis of the Mediterranean economy which has characterised the area ever since. A Chalcolithic culture, the Ghassulian economy was a mixed agricultural system consisting of extensive cultivation of grains (wheat and barley), intensive horticulture of vegetable crops, commercial production of vines and olives, and a combination of transhumance and nomadic pastoralism.

Y Chromosome J Haplogroups trace post glacial period expansion from Turkey and Caucasus into the Middle East confirms what I have argued about, i.e., that the West Asian highlands are responsible for the spread of haplogroup J, including, it seems into the Middle East itself. The chronology presented probably assumes the evolutionary mutation rate; also, the lack of haplogroup J in Europe pre-5ka argues for a late expansion.

Out of this West Asian highlander population came the two dominant groups of West Eurasian prehistory, the Indo-Europeans and the Semites, their spread associated with a “metallurgical edge” in technology and social complexity during the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

The latter probably picked their language from a T- or E-bearing population of the southern Levant as these two haplogroups might link the Proto-Semites with their African Afroasiatic brethren.

The interaction between african afroasiatic speakers and PPNB agro-pastoralists fits within the spectrum of Juris Zarins Circum Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex which supposedly spread Semitic throughout the area.

It is also simplistic to assume that these PPNB populations simply shifted their language, as PS is hypothesized to have had early ergative features (some of which can be observed in Aramaic)… Typologically, this is proves to be an interesting link to Northeast Caucasian languages which also exhibit extensive properties (and whose speakers have high J-M267 frequencies).

The J1 people who stayed behind in the north (and didn’t mix with the E/T Afroasiatics) continued to speak their own languages (perhaps some type of Northeast Caucasian-type language or others that are now extinct).

Pre-Pottery Neolithic C

Work at the site of ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan has indicated a later Pre-Pottery Neolithic C period. Juris Zarins has proposed that a Circum Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex developed in the period from the climatic crisis of 6200 BCE, partly as a result of an increasing emphasis in PPNB cultures upon domesticated animals, and a fusion with Harifian hunter gatherers in the Southern Levant, with affiliate connections with the cultures of Fayyum and the Eastern Desert of Egypt. Cultures practicing this lifestyle spread down the Red Sea shoreline and moved east from Syria into southern Iraq.

Kura–Araxes culture

The Kura–Araxes culture or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from 3400 BC until about 2000 BC, which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end, but it may have disappeared as early as 2600 or 2700 BC.

The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain; thence it spread northward in Caucasus by 3000 BC (but never reaching Colchis), and during the next millennium it proceeded westward to the Erzurum plain, southwest to Cilicia, and to the southeast into an area below the Urmia basin and Lake Van, and finally down to the borders of present day Syria. Altogether, the early Trans-Caucasian culture, at its greatest spread, enveloped a vast area approximately 1,000 km by 500 km.

The name of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. Its territory corresponds to parts of modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. It may have given rise to the later Khirbet Kerak ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire.

Archaeological evidence of inhabitants of the Kura–Araxes culture had shown that ancient settlements were found along the Hrazdan river, as shown by drawings at a mountainous area in a cave nearby.

Structures within settlements have not revealed much differentiation, nor was there much difference in size or character between settlements, facts that suggest they probably had a poorly developed social hierarchy for at least a significant stretch of their history. Some, but not all, settlements were surrounded by stone walls.

They built mud-brick houses, originally round, but later developing into subrectangular designs with structures of just one or two rooms, multiple rooms centered around an open space, or rectilinear designs.

At some point the culture’s settlements and burial grounds expanded out of lowland river valleys and into highland areas. Although some scholars have suggested that this expansion demonstrates a switch from agriculture to pastoralism, and that it serves as possible proof of a large-scale arrival of Indo-Europeans, facts such as that settlement in the lowlands remained more or less continuous suggest merely that the people of this culture were diversifying their economy to encompass both crop and livestock agriculture.

The economy was based on farming and livestock-raising (especially of cattle and sheep). They grew grain and various orchard crops, and are known to have used implements to make flour. They raised cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, and in its later phases, horses.

There is evidence of trade with Mesopotamia, as well as Asia Minor. It is, however, considered above all to be indigenous to the Caucasus, and its major variants characterized (according to Caucasus historian Amjad Jaimoukha) later major cultures in the region.

In its earliest phase, metal was scant, but it would later display “a precocious metallurgical development which strongly influenced surrounding regions”. They worked copper, arsenic, silver, gold, tin, and bronze.

Their metal goods were widely distributed, recorded in the Volga, Dnieper and Don-Donets systems in the north, into Syria and Palestine in the south, and west into Anatolia.

Their pottery was distinctive; in fact, the spread of their pottery along trade routes into surrounding cultures was much more impressive than any of their achievements domestically. It was painted black and red, using geometric designs for ornamentation. Examples have been found as far south as Syria and Israel, and as far north as Dagestan and Chechnya.

The spread of this pottery, along with archaeological evidence of invasions, suggests that the Kura-Araxes people may have spread outward from their original homes, and most certainly, had extensive trade contacts. Jaimoukha believes that its southern expanse is attributable primarily to Mitanni and the Hurrians.

They are also remarkable for the production of wheeled vehicles (wagons and carts), which were sometimes included in burial kurgans. Inhumation practices are mixed. Flat graves are found, but so are substantial kurgan burials, the latter of which may be surrounded by cromlechs. This points to a heterogeneous ethno-linguistic population.

Late in the history of this culture, its people built kurgans of greatly varying sizes, containing greatly varying amounts and types of metalwork, with larger, wealthier kurgans surrounded by smaller kurgans containing less wealth.

This trend suggests the eventual emergence of a marked social hierarchy. Their practice of storing relatively great wealth in burial kurgans was probably a cultural influence from the more ancient civilizations of the Fertile Crescent to the south.

Hurrian and Urartian elements are quite probable, as are Northeast Caucasian ones. Some authors subsume Hurrians and Urartians under Northeast Caucasian as well as part of the Alarodian theory.

The presence of Kartvelian languages was also highly probable. Influences of Semitic languages and Indo-European languages are also highly possible, though the presence of the languages on the lands of the Kura–Araxes culture is more controversial.

Trialeti culture

The Trialeti culture, named after Trialeti region of Georgia, is attributed to the first part of the 2nd millennium BC. In the late 3rd millennium BC, settlements of the Kura-Araxes culture began to be replaced by early Trialeti culture sites.

The Trialeti culture was a second culture to appear in Georgia, after the Shulaveri-Shomu culture which existed from 6000 to 4000 BC. The Trialeti culture shows close ties with the highly developed cultures of the ancient world, particularly with the Aegean, but also with cultures to the south, such as probably the Sumerians and their Akkadian conquerors.

The site at Trialeti was originally excavated in 1936–1940 in advance of a hydroelectric scheme, when forty-six barrows were uncovered. A further six barrows were uncovered in 1959–1962.

The Trialeti culture was known for its particular form of burial. The elite were interred in large, very rich burials under earth and stone mounds, which sometimes contained four-wheeled carts. Also there were many gold objects found in the graves. These gold objects were similar to those found in Iran and Iraq. They also worked tin and arsenic.

This form of burial in a tumulus or “kurgan”, along with wheeled vehicles, is the same as that of the Kurgan culture which has been associated with the speakers of Proto-Indo-European. In fact, the black burnished pottery of especially early Trialeti kurgans is similar to Kura-Araxes pottery.

In a historical context, their impressive accumulation of wealth in burial kurgans, like that of other associated and nearby cultures with similar burial practices, is particularly noteworthy.

Further developments

The Akkadians invaded the valley under Sargon I and established their supremacy over the Sumerians, and extended their control into Syria as far as the coast. The Ebla archive mentions the cities of Hazor and Jerusalem amongst other sites of the region. They were followed by the extension of Khirbet Kerak ware cultures, showing affinities with the Caucasus, and possibly linked to the later appearance of the Hurrians.

This was synchronous with the empires of Ur during the 22nd and 21st centuries BC and the Old Babylonian Kingdom during the 18th and 17th centuries BC, both of which did not extend as far as the Levant. During this time the Kingdom of Yamkhad on the Euphrates, and of Qatna on the Orontes, were important city states of the Syrian region.

Parallel developments were meanwhile occurring in Egypt, which by the 32nd century BC had been unified to form the Old Kingdom of Egypt, and amongst the peoples of the Indus Valley in north-western India. All of these civilizations lie in fertile river valleys where agriculture is relatively easy once dams and irrigation are constructed to control the flood waters.

This started to change around the end of the 3rd millennium BC as cities started to spread to the nearby hilly country: among the Assyrians in north Mesopotamia, the Canaanites in Syria-Palestine, to the Minoans in Crete, and to the Hittites in eastern Anatolia. Around this same time various immigrants, such as the Hittites in Anatolia and Mycenaean Greeks, started appearing around the peripheries of civilization.

These groups are associated with the appearance of the light two-wheeled war chariot and typically with Indo-European languages. Horses and chariots require a lot of time and upkeep, so their use was mainly confined to a small nobility. These are the “heroic” societies familiar to us from epics like the Iliad and the Ramayana.

Around the 17th and 16th centuries BC most of the older centres had been overrun. Babylonia was conquered by the Kassites, and the civilization of the Indus Valley was on decline probably due to climate. Another group, the Mitanni, subjugated Assyria and for a time menaced the Hittite kingdom, but was defeated by the two around the middle of the 14th.

Various Achaean kingdoms developed in Greece, most notably that of Mycenae and by the 15th century BC were dominant over the older Minoan cities. And the Semitic Hyksos used the new technologies to occupy Egypt, but were expelled, leaving the empire of the New Kingdom to develop in their wake. From 1550 until 1100, much of the Levant was conquered by Egypt, which in the latter half of this period contested Syria with the Hittite Empire.

At the end of the 13th century BC, all of these powers suddenly collapsed. Cities all around the eastern Mediterranean were sacked within a span of a few decades by assorted raiders. The Achaean kingdoms disappeared, and the Hittite empire was destroyed. Egypt repelled its attackers with only a major effort, and over the next century shrank to its territorial core, its central authority permanently weakened. Only Assyria and Egypt escaped significant damage.

Re-excavating Cheshmeh Ali

Pottery Southwest Asia


Halaf culture

The pottery of ancient Tell Halaf of Mesopotamia and my ceramics

Map of late neolithic China


Until recently we were dependent for the beginnings of Chinese history on the written Chinese tradition. According to these sources China’s history began either about 4000 BC. or about 2700 BC. with a succession of wise emperors who “invented” the elements of a civilization, such as clothing, the preparation of food, marriage, and a state system; they instructed their people in these things, and so brought China, as early as in the third millennium BC., to an astonishingly high cultural level.

However, all we know of the origin of civilizations makes this of itself entirely improbable; no other civilization in the world originated in any such way. As time went on, Chinese historians found more and more to say about primeval times. All these narratives were collected in the great imperial history that appeared at the beginning of the Manchu epoch. That book was translated into French, and all the works written in Western languages until recent years on Chinese history and civilization have been based in the last resort on that translation.

Modern research has not only demonstrated that all these accounts are inventions of a much later period, but has also shown why such narratives were composed. The older historical sources make no mention of any rulers before 2200 B.C., no mention even of their names. The names of earlier rulers first appear in documents of about 400 B.C.; the deeds attributed to them and the dates assigned to them often do not appear until much later. Secondly, it was shown that the traditional chronology is wrong and another must be adopted, reducing all the dates for the more ancient history, before 900 BC.

Finally, all narratives and reports from China’s earliest period have been dealt a mortal blow by modern archaeology, with the excavations of recent years. There was no trace of any high civilization in the third millennium BC., and, indeed, we can only speak of a real “Chinese civilization” from 1300 BC. onward. The peoples of the China of that time had come from the most varied sources; from 1300 BC. they underwent a common process of development that welded them into a new unity.

In this sense and emphasizing the cultural aspects, we are justified in using from then on a new name, “Chinese”, for the peoples of China. Those sections, however, of their ancestral populations who played no part in the subsequent cultural and racial fusion, we may fairly call “non-Chinese”. This distinction answers the question that continually crops up, whether the Chinese are “autochthonons”. They are autochthonons in the sense that they formed a unit in the Far East, in the geographical region of the present China, and were not immigrants from the Middle East.


A Most painted pottery in China was made some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago in the Yellow River Valley in Southwest Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces and Northern Henan Province.

After the discovery of the Yangshao culture (5000 BC to 3000 BC), a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the Yellow River in China, 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.

The Yangshao culture crafted pottery. 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.

Yangshao artisans created fine white, red, and black painted pottery with human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Unlike the later Longshan culture, the Yangshao culture did not use pottery wheels in pottery-making. Excavations found that children were buried in painted pottery jars.

In 1957, the so-called “Miaodigou branch of the Yangshao culture” became known with excavation of a primitive site at Miaodigou in Sanmenxia City, Henan Province, which archeologists believe existed during the transition of the Yangshao culture to the Longshan culture. Painted pottery utensils found at Miaodigou were produced around 3,900 years BC. Flying birds, distorted bird patterns done with crude lines and frogs in a style of realism are the main patterns on them.

Fish and distorted fish patterns, sometimes with fishing net patterns, characterize pottery utensils found at Banpo in Shaanxi Province. Archeologists believe these represent another branch of the Yangshao culture, which is earlier than the Miaodigou branch. Images of frogs are painted on the inner side of pottery basins found at Banpo, and deer are the only animal figures on Banpo pottery ware.

The archaeological site of Banpo village (4800-4200 BC), near Xi’an, is one of the best-known ditch-enclosed settlements of the Yangshao culture and is the type site associated with Yangshao Culture. Another major settlement called Jiangzhai was excavated out to its limits, and archaeologists found that it was completely surrounded by a ring-ditch.

Banpo Culture originating from the middle reaches of the Yellow River is part of the Yangshao Culture of the Neolithic Age. The culture is so named because it was founded in Banpo Village in Xian, Shaanxi Province. The culture lasted from 6,800 to 6,300 years ago and reflects the geographical situation of northern China at that time.

Residents in Banpo lived in villages in clans or tribes. Agriculture, fishing and hunting were their main ways of acquiring food. The dwelling place for a clan was surrounded by a moat as a way to prevent invasion by wild animals. Houses were square or round in shape and were built so that some of the building extended under the ground.

Banpo Culture is renowned for its fine painted potteries. The pottery-painting skills displayed here are listed the top among all the cultures at that time. Not only are the pottery wares of different kinds but they are also meticulously painted with unusual patterns. Human faces, fish, deer, plants and other geometric figures are commonly seen on the wares, which were usually dyed red with black-lined patterns.

The most representative design is a basin with human face and fish patterns found in Banpo, Xian that is the crystal of art and characters of that time. Judging from the patterns painted on the pottery, archaeologists have concluded that the fish symbol was regarded as a good omen by clans that time.

At the time, the Banpo people decorated their pottery simply, and the most striking designs are images of fish, which are ubiquitous. The fish, which were arranged in symbolic patterns, must have been totems of the ancient Banpo people.

As for the burying custom, people were buried in the common cemetery. Adornments were usually buried together with the dead body. As for the children, after they died, they would be put into urns and then buried in dwelling areas. As women played a significant role in society during that period, there were more sacrificial articles buried in the girls’ graves than those of young boys.

Both Banpo and Jiangzhai also yielded incised marks on pottery which a few have interpreted as numerals or perhaps precursors to the Chinese script, but such interpretations are not widely accepted.

Primitive Chinese artists used black, white and red paint to decorate red pottery utensils, such as basins, jars and plates. The designs on painted pottery comes in two types: abstract patterns and realistically drawn figures of animals, insects and humans.

There are a dozen patterns depicted on Chinese painted pottery — the most common being rippling, rotary, circular, saw-tooth and net-mesh designs. The lines are smooth and neat, symmetrical and balanced, adhering to specific rules.

The painted pottery unearthed in Majiayao in Gansu Province, reveals many rippling and rotary designs drawn with smooth and balanced strokes that engender a quiet and gentle mood. The designs shed precious light on primitive life in Chinese society of men fishing and hunting, and women doing housework and collecting vegetables and fruits. The early society was free of segregation and slavery, and its painted designs, too, embodied a peaceful and harmonious beauty.

The Banshan and Machang painted pottery, which succeeded the Majiayao, had changed. More saw-tooth, circling and frog-shaped strokes appeared, appearing wilder, bolder and more enigmatic. Chinese primitive society was breaking up during that period and social reforms were in progress.

The resulting turbulence and unrest were reflected in the designs. It is not simply a fanciful notion to read such meanings into the painted pottery designs since all paintings and drawing designs in later, and better-documented Chinese dynasties, reflect the social moods and trends of their respective eras.

Realistic pottery designs are more attractive. Animal designs on the painted pottery unearthed in Banpo Village in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, have simple but descriptive patterns, such as swimming fish, running deer and barking dogs.

The designs demonstrate that ancient Chinese artists were skilled in depicting the movement of animals. On a painted pottery basin unearthed in Datong County, Qinghai Province, there is an image of five dancing people in a line, hand in hand. The design can be viewed as both an ancient picture and ornamentation.

Primitive Banpo artists began using pictorial designs for decorative purposes and expressing abstract thoughts. For example, they divided fish designs into separate parts the head, body and fins — alternating straight lines with curves, triangles and circles.

The innovation was a significant step in the development of Chinese painting. On a painted pottery basin from Banpo Village, for instance, we see the design of a human face with a fish body.

According to archeologists, such patterns may have been used for decorating utensils or for sacrificial rites in the spring season for a good harvest. If this is the case, Banpo pottery designs would be the earliest religious artwork in all of art history.

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 BC. 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 Yangshao culture seems to have come to an end around 1600 or 1500 BC., but it continued in some more remote areas, especially of Kansu, perhaps to about 700 BC.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

According to research on Neolithic skeletal remains on Yangshao culture sites such as the Miaozigou (3490 BC) and Jiangjialiang (4000-3000 BC), it found that they cluster as Northern Chinese, while research from Yangshao sites (Pan-p’o, Pao-chi, and Hua-hsien) led Yen Yen to believe that they are close to modern day southern Chinese, Indonesians and some Indo-Chinese.

In another case, Yan Yin considered that the Baoji group was similar to the Banpo group and the Huaxian group in their physical characteristics, and these three groups were near to “modern South-Asian Race of Mongoloid.”

A separate interpretation on a book written about Yen Yen’s research of Miaodigou Yangshao culture found they were of the “North Asian Mongolian group”, and “By the Yangshao period (3000 BC – 5000 BC), the skull measurements are ‘physically Chinese’ and ‘modern’.”

Other research suggests there has been significant change in the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of China from the Neolithic to modern times, citing admixture, human migration, extinction of ancient lineages and micro-evolution as causes.

Research, that included Yangshao samples, conducted by Chen Dehzen concluded that “in the Neolithic Man of China, both in the Northern group and in the Southern group there exist so-called Negro-Australoid racial traits.”

The archaeological site of Banpo village, near Xi’an, is one of the best-known ditch-enclosed settlements of the Yangshao culture. Another major settlement called Jiangzhai was excavated out to its limits, and archaeologists found that it was completely surrounded by a ring-ditch.

Both Banpo and Jiangzhai also yielded incised marks on pottery which a few have interpreted as numerals or perhaps precursors to the Chinese script, but such interpretations are not widely accepted.

The Yangshao culture takes its name from a prehistoric settlement in the west of the present province of Henan, where the first excavated representative village of this culture was discovered in 1921 by the Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874–1960). The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi.

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 Yangshao culture produced silk to a small degree and wove hemp. Men wore loin cloths and tied their hair in a top knot. Women wrapped a length of cloth around themselves and tied their hair in a bun. The wealthy could wear silk.

Houses were built by digging a rounded rectangular pit a few feet deep. Then they were rammed, and a lattice of wattle was woven over it. Then it was plastered with mud. The floor was also rammed down.

Next, a few short wattle poles would be placed around the top of the pit, and more wattle would be woven to it. It was plastered with mud, and a framework of poles would be placed to make a cone shape for the roof. Poles would be added to support the roof. It was then thatched with millet stalks. There was little furniture; a shallow fireplace in the middle with a stool, a bench along the wall, and a bed of cloth. Food and items were placed or hung against the walls. A pen would be built outside for animals.

Archaeological sites reveal that prehistoric cultures such as the Yangshao Culture and Longshan Culture (3000 BC to 2000 BC) were active in what is now northern Henan since the Neolithic Era.

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.


The name Shaanxi means “Land west of Shan”. Shǎn was the ancient name for the narrow mountain pass where the Yellow River flows from the Loess Plateau down to the North China Plain. It is now known as Sanmenxia, a prefecture-level city in western Henan Province, China.

Shaanxi is considered one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. Thirteen feudal dynasties established their capitals in the province during a span of more than 1,100 years, from the Zhou Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty.

The province’s principal city and current capital, Xi’an, is one of the four great ancient capitals of China and is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, which leads to Europe, the Arabian Peninsula and Africa.

Under the Han Dynasty, the Northern Silk Road was expanded to advance exploration and military purposes to the west. This Northern Silk Road is the northernmost of the Silk Roads and is about 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) in length. It connected the ancient Chinese capital of Xi’an to the west over the Wushao Ling Pass to Wuwei and emerging in Kashgar before linking to ancient Parthia.


Widely regarded as the Cradle of Chinese civilization along with Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, Henan is known for its historical prosperity and periodic downturns. The economic prosperity resulted from its extensive fertile plains and its location at the heart of the country.

However, its strategic location also means that it has suffered from nearly all of the major wars in China. In addition, the numerous floods of the Yellow River have caused significant damage from time to time. Kaifeng, in particular, has been buried by the Yellow River’s silt seven times due to flooding.

Henan is located in the central part of China. Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization with over 3,000 years of recorded history, and remained China’s cultural, economical, and political center until approximately 1,000 years ago.

Numerous heritages have been left behind including the ruins of Shang Dynasty capital city Yin and the Shaolin Temple. Four of the Eight Great Ancient Capitals of China, Luoyang, Anyang, Kaifeng, and Zhengzhou are located in Henan.

Although the name of the province means “south of the river”, approximately a quarter of the province lies north of the Yellow River, also known as the “Huang He”. Henan is often referred to as Zhongyuan or Zhongzhou, which literally means “central plains” or “midland”, although the name is also applied to the entirety of China proper.

The Peiligang culture (7000 to 5000 BC) is the name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities in the Yi-Luo river basin in Henan Province. Over 100 sites have been identified with the Peiligang culture, nearly all of them in a fairly compact area of about 100 square kilometers in the area just south of the river and along its banks.

The culture is named after the site discovered in 1977 at Peiligang, a village in Xinzheng County. Archaeologists think that the Peiligang culture was egalitarian, with little political organization. This culture typically had separate residential and burial areas, or cemeteries, like most Neolithic cultures.

The culture practiced agriculture in the form of cultivating millet and animal husbandry in the form of raising pigs, cattle and poultry. The people hunted deer and wild boar, and fished for carp in the nearby river, using nets made from hemp fibers.

The culture is also one of the oldest in ancient China to make pottery. Common artifacts include stone arrowheads, spearheads and axe heads; stone tools such as chisels, awls and sickles for harvesting grain; and a broad assortment of pottery items for such purposes as cooking and storing grain.

The Dadiwan culture (5800-5400 BC) was a Neolithic culture located primarily in modern Gansu and western Shaanxi. The culture takes its name from the earliest layer found at the type site at Dadiwan. The remains of millet and pigs were found in sites associated with the culture. The culture shared several similarities with the Cishan and Peiligang cultures.

The type site at Dadiwan was discovered at Qin’an County, Gansu and excavated from 1975 to 1984. Dadiwan was built on a mountain slope south of the Qingshui River near the Wei River. The oldest layer of the site is from the Dadiwan culture, the middle layer is from the Yangshao culture and the youngest layer is from the Longshan culture.

Archaeological sites reveal that prehistoric cultures such as the Yangshao Culture and Longshan Culture were active in what is now northern Henan since the Neolithic Era. The more recent Erlitou culture has been controversially identified with the Xia Dynasty, the first and largely legendary Chinese dynasty that was established, roughly, in the 21st century BC. Virtually the entire kingdom existed within what is now north and central Henan.

The Xia Dynasty collapsed around the 16th century BC following the invasion of Shang, a neighboring vassal state centered around today’s Shangqiu in eastern Henan. The Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries BC) was the first literate dynasty of China. Its many capitals are located at the modern cities of Shangqiu, Yanshi, and Zhengzhou. Their last and most important capital, Yin, located in modern Anyang, is where the first Chinese writing was created.

The Majiayao culture and part of the Qijia culture also took root in Gansu from 3100 BC to 2700 BC and 2400 BC to 1900 BC respectively. The State of Qin, later to become the founding state of the Chinese empire, grew out from the southeastern part of Gansu, specifically the Tianshui area. The Qin name itself is believed to have originated, in part, from the area.

The Yuezhi, an ancient Indo-European people originally settled in the arid grasslands of the eastern Tarim Basin area, in what is today Xinjiang and western Gansu, originally lived in the very western part of Gansu until they were forced to emigrate by the Xiongnu, n ancient Eurasian nomadic people who formed a state or confederation centered in modern Mongolia, around 177 BCE.

After the Yuezhi were defeated by the Xiongnu, in the 2nd century BC, a small group, known as the Little Yuezhi, fled to the south, while the majority migrated west to the Ili Valley, where they displaced the Sakas (Scythians).

Driven from the Ili Valley shortly afterwards by the Wusun, the Yuezhi migrated to Sogdia and then Bactria, where they are often identified with the Tókharoi (Τοχάριοι) and Asioi of Classical sources. They then expanded into northern South Asia, where one branch of the Yuezhi founded the Kushan Empire.

The Kushan empire stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain at its greatest extent, and played an important role in the development of the Silk Road and the transmission of Buddhism to China.

In the 11th century BC, the Zhou Dynasty of Shaanxi arrived from the west and overthrew the Shang Dynasty. The capital was moved to Chang’an, and the political and economical center was moved away from Henan for the first time. In 722 BC, when Chang’an was devastated by Xionites invasions, the capital was moved back east to Luoyang.

This began the Spring and Autumn Period, a period of warfare and rivalry. What is now Henan and all of China was divided into a variety of small, independent states, constantly at war for control of the central plain.

Although regarded formally as the ruler of China, the control that Zhou king in Luoyang exerted over the feudal kingdoms had virtually disappeared. Despite the prolonged period of instability, prominent philosophers such as Confucius emerged in this era and offered their ideas on how a state should be run. Laozi, the founder of Taoism, was born in northern Chu, part of modern day Henan.

Later on, these states were replaced by seven large and powerful states during the Warring States period, and Henan was divided into three states, the Wei to the north, the Chu to the south, and the Han in the middle. In 221 BC, state of Qin forces from Shaanxi conquered all of the other six states, ending 800 years of warfare.


The Longshan culture, sometimes encountered as Lung-shan after its previous romanization, was a late Neolithic culture in China, centered on the central and lower Yellow River and dated from about 3000 BC to 2000 BC.

The Longshan culture is named after the town of Longshan (lit. “Dragon Mountain”) in the east of the area under the administration of the city of Jinan, Shandong Province, where the first archaeological find (in 1928) and excavation (in 1930 and 1931) of this culture took place at the Chengziya Archaeological Site.

The distinctive feature of the Longshan culture was the high level of skill in pottery making, including the use of pottery wheels. The Longshan culture was noted for its highly polished black pottery (or egg-shell pottery).

This type of thin-walled and polished black pottery has also been discovered in the Yangtze River valley and as far as today’s southeastern coast of China. It is a clear indication that Neolithic agricultural sub-groups of the greater Longshan Culture had spread out across ancient boundaries of China.

Life during the Longshan culture marked a transition to the establishment of cities, as rammed earth walls and moats began to appear; the site at Taosi is the largest walled Longshan settlement.

Rice cultivation was clearly established by that time. Small-scale production of silk by raising and domesticating the silkworm Bombyx mori in early sericulture was also known.

Remains found at archaeological sites suggest that the inhabitants used a method of divination based on interpreting the crack patterns formed in heated cattle bones.

The Neolithic population in China reached its peak during the Longshan culture. Towards the end of the Longshan culture, the population decreased sharply; this was matched by the disappearance of high-quality black pottery found in ritual burials.

The early period of the Longshan culture is considered to be 3000 to 2600 BC, while the late period is 2600 to 2000 BC. A variety of geographic regions of China are involved among the various sub-periods of the Longshan civilisation, particularly for the Late Longshan period.

For example the middle reaches of the Jing River and Wei River evince settlement known as the Shaanxi Longshan. The We’i River valley would participate in key historic events in China as the North Silk Road developed in that same area.

According to recent research on neolithic skeletal remains, two Longshan cultures Miaodigou (4000 BC to 3000 BC) and Chengzierqi (3500 BC) located in Henan and Shandong respectively cluster with the Yangshao people of Shaanxi.

While the other four Yangshao culture sites the Miaozigou (3490 B.C.), Jiangjialiang(4000-3000 BC) from Inner Mongolia and Hebei cluster as Ancient Northern Chinese while the Liuwan (2590-1990 BC) and Yangshan of Qinghai cluster with Ancient Northwestern Chinese.

Another research paper on craniofacial dimensons states that “it may be said that the degree in likeness to Bao Ji is shown strong in Indonesia, moderate in the South China and Tibetan B series, and least in the rest, when judging from the values of their intergrouping variations.”


The Dawenkou culture (4100 BC to 2600 BC) is 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. The culture co-existed with the Yangshao culture. Turquoise, jade and ivory artefacts are commonly found at Dawenkou sites. The earliest examples of alligator drums appear at Dawenkou sites.

Archaeologists commonly divide the culture into three phases: the early phase (4100-3500 BC), the middle phase (3500-3000 BC) and the late phase (3000-2600 BC). The type site at Dawenkou, located in Tai’an, Shandong, was excavated in 1959, 1974 and 1978.

Only the middle layer at Dawenkou is associated with the Dawenkou culture, as the earliest layer corresponds to the Beixin culture and the latest layer corresponds to the early Shandong variant of the Longshan culture.

The physical similarity of the Jiahu people, the site of a Neolithic settlement based in the central plain of ancient China, near the Yellow River, to the later Dawenkou (4300-2600 BC) indicates that the Dawenkou might have descended from the Jiahu, following a slow migration along the middle and lower reaches of the Huai river and the Hanshui valley. According to some scholars, the Dawenkou culture may have a link with a pre-Austronesian language.

Some scholars have asserted that the racial type of the Dawenkou bore resemblance to the Polynesian cranium type. Others suggested they were more similar to Southern Chinese and Southern Mongoloids.

Other research, which included samples from Dawenkou, has shown that during the neolithic, some Australoid like-traits were present in populations of both northern and southern China.

Other researchers claim Dawenkou remains showed a degree of seperation with other neolithic cultures in northern China such as the Yangshao, who bore resemblance to modern day Southern Chinese, Indonesians and some Indo-Chinese.

Based on the evidence from grave goods, the early phase was highly egalitarian. Graves built with earthen ledges became increasingly common during the latter parts of the early phase. During the middle phase, grave goods began to emphasize quantity over diversity.

During the late phase, wooden coffins began to appear in Dawenkou burials. The culture became increasingly stratified, as some graves contained no grave goods while others contained a large quantity of grave goods.

Bronze Age

The Bronze Age is a time period characterized by the use of bronze, proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the three-age Stone-Bronze-Iron system, as proposed in modern times by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, for classifying and studying ancient societies.

An ancient civilization is defined to be in the Bronze Age either by smelting its own copper and alloying with tin, or by trading for bronze from production areas elsewhere. Copper-tin ores are rare, as reflected in the fact that there were no tin bronzes in Western Asia before trading in bronze began in the third millennium BC.

Worldwide, the Bronze Age generally followed the Neolithic period, but in some parts of the world, the Copper Age served as a transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age

Straddling the Neolithic and early Bronze Age, the Chalcolithic era (c. 5500 – 3000 BCE) is defined by the first metal implements made with copper. This age is represented in Anatolia by sites at Hacilar, Beycesultan, Canhasan, Mersin Yumuktepe, Elazig Tepecik, Malatya Degirmentepe, Norsuntepe, and Istanbul Fikirtepe.

Bronze metallurgy had spread to Anatolia from the Transcaucasian Kura-Araxes culture in the late 4th millennium BCE. While Anatolia was well endowed with copper ores, there was no evidence of substantial workings of the tin required to make bronze in Bronze-Age Anatolia.

The Bronze Age (c. 3300 – 1200 BC) is characterised by the use of copper and its tin alloy, bronze, for manufacturing implements. Asia Minor was one of the first areas to develop bronze making.

Although the first habitation appears to have occurred as early as the 6th millennium BC during the Chalcolithic period, functioning settlements trading with each other occurred during the 3rd millennium BC.

A settlement on a high ridge would become known as Büyükkaya, and later as the city of Hattush, the center of this civilization. Later, still, it would become the Hittite stronghold of Hattusha and is now Boğazköy.

Remnants of Hattian civilization have been found both under the lower city of Hattusha and in the higher areas of Büyükkaya and Büyükkale, Another settlement was established at Yarikkaya, about 2 km to the northeast.

The discovery of mineral deposits in this part of Anatolia allowed the Anatolians to develop metallurgy, such as the implements found in the royal graves at Alaca Höyük, about 25 km from Boğazköy, which it preceded, dating from 2400-2200 BC.

Other Hattian centers include Hassum, Kanesh, Purushanda, and Zalwar. During this time the Hattians engaged in trade with city states such as those of Sumer, which needed timber products from the Amanus mountains.

Anatolia had remained in the prehistoric period until it entered the sphere of influence of the Akkadian Empire in the 24th century BC under Sargon I, particularly in eastern Anatolia.

However the Akkadian Empire suffered problematic climate changes in Mesopotamia, as well as a reduction in available manpower that affected trade. This led to its fall around 2150 BCE at the hands of the Gutians. The interest of the Akkadians in the region as far as it is known was for exporting various materials for manufacturing.

In Mesopotamia, the Mesopotamia Bronze Age began about 2900 BC and ended with the Kassite period. The usual tripartite division into an Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age is not used. Instead, a division primarily based on art-historical and historical characteristics is more common. The cities of the Ancient Near East housed several tens of thousands of people.

Elam was an ancient civilization located to the east of Mesopotamia. In the Old Elamite period (Middle Bronze Age), Elam consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it was centered in Susa in the Khuzestan lowlands. Its culture played a crucial role in the Gutian Empire and especially during the Achaemenid dynasty that succeeded it.

The Oxus civilization was a Bronze Age Central Asian culture dated to ca. 2300–1700 BC and centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus). In the Early Bronze Age the culture of the Kopet Dag oases and Altyn-Depe developed a proto-urban society. This corresponds to level IV at Namazga-Depe.

Altyn-Depe was a major centre even then. Pottery was wheel-turned. Grapes were grown. The height of this urban development was reached in the Middle Bronze Age c. 2300 BC, corresponding to level V at Namazga-Depe. This Bronze Age culture is called the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC).

The Kulli culture, similar to those of the Indus Valley Civilization, was located in southern Balochistan (Gedrosia) ca. 2500–2000 BC. Agriculture was the economical base of this people. At several places dams were found, providing evidence for a highly developed water management system.

Konar Sandal is associated with the hypothesized “Jiroft culture”, a 3rd millennium BC culture postulated on the basis of a collection of artifacts confiscated in 2001.

The Bronze Age on the Indian subcontinent began around 3300 BC with the beginning of the Indus Valley civilization. Inhabitants of the Indus Valley, the Harappans, developed new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead and tin.

The Indian Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age Vedic Period. The Harappan culture, which dates from 1700 BC to 1300 BC, overlapped the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age; thus it is difficult to date this transition accurately.

In Ancient Egypt, the Bronze Age begins in the Protodynastic period, c. 3150 BC. The archaic early Bronze Age of Egypt, known as the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt, immediately follows the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt, c. 3100 BC. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the Protodynastic Period of Egypt until about 2686 BC, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom.

The Aegean Bronze Age began around 3200 BC, when civilizations first established a far-ranging trade network. This network imported tin and charcoal to Cyprus, where copper was mined and alloyed with the tin to produce bronze.

Bronze objects were then exported far and wide, and supported the trade. Isotopic analysis of tin in some Mediterranean bronze artifacts points to the fact that they may have originated from Great Britain.

Knowledge of navigation was well developed at this time, and reached a peak of skill not exceeded (except perhaps by Polynesian sailors) until 1730 when the invention of the chronometer enabled the precise determination of longitude.

The Minoan civilization based in Knossos appears to have coordinated and defended its Bronze Age trade. Illyrians are also believed to have roots in the early Bronze Age. Ancient empires valued luxury goods in contrast to staple foods, leading to famine.

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 Finland in the west to Thailand in the east employing the same metal working technology and, in some areas, horse breeding and riding.

It is further conjectured that the same migrations spread the Uralic group of languages across Europe and Asia: some 39 languages of this group are still extant, including Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and Lappish.

However, recent genetic testings of sites in south Siberia and Kazakhstan (Andronovo horizon) would rather 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 Horse and charriot

The chariot is a type of carriage using animals (almost always horses) to provide rapid motive power. Chariots were used for war as “battle taxis” and mobile archery platforms, as well as other pursuits such as hunting or racing for sport, and as a chief vehicle of many ancient peoples, when speed of travel was desired rather than how much weight could be carried.

Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the Proto-Indo-Europeans, and also in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. The original horse chariot was a fast, light, open, two-wheeled conveyance drawn by two or more horses that were hitched side by side.

The car was little more than a floor with a waist-high semicircular guard in front. The chariot, driven by a charioteer, was used for ancient warfare during the Bronze and the Iron Ages. Armor was limited to a shield. After it had been superseded by other vehicles for military purposes, the chariot was used for travel and in processions, games, and races.

The word “chariot” comes from Latin carrus, which was a loan from Gaulish. A chariot of war or of triumph was called a car. In ancient Rome and other ancient Mediterranean countries a biga required two horses, a triga three, and a quadriga required four horses abreast. Obsolete terms for chariot include chair, charet and wain.

The critical invention that allowed the construction of light, horse-drawn chariots was the spoked wheel. The earliest spoke-wheeled chariots date to ca. 2000 BC and their use peaked around 1300 BC. Chariots ceased to have military importance in the 1st century AD, but chariot races continued to be popular in Constantinople until the 6th century.

The horse drawn wheeled vehicle probably originated in Mesopotamia about 3000 BC. The earliest depiction of vehicles in the context of warfare is on the Standard of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, c. 2500 BC. These are more properly called wagons or carts and were still double-axled and pulled by oxen or tamed asses before the introduction of horses c. 2000 BC.

Although sometimes carrying a spearman along with the charioteer (driver), such heavy wagons, borne on solid wooden wheels and covered with skins, may have been part of the baggage train (e.g., during royal funeral processions) rather than vehicles of battle in themselves. The Sumerians had also a lighter, two-wheeled type of cart, pulled by four asses, but still with solid wheels. The spoked wheel did not appear in Mesopotamia until the mid-2000s BC.

Chariot burials are tombs in which the deceased was buried together with his chariot, usually including his (more rarely, her) horses and other possessions. An instance of a person being buried with their horse (without the chariot) is called horse burial.

The earliest chariots known are from around 2,000 BC, in burials of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture in modern Russia in a cluster along the upper Tobol river, southeast of Magnitogorsk. They contained spoke-wheeled chariots drawn by teams of two horses.

The practice of horse burial is bound to the historical territory covered by the domesticated horse, which initially was the Eurasian Steppe, ca. 4000–3500 BCE. Early cultures with a mythology that would support horse sacrifice and horse burial are those in or bordering those areas—Turkic cultures, Chinese cultures, and Indo-Aryan cultures.

They include Tall al-Ajjul (Gaza strip, dating back to 2100 BC), Central Iran, where horse burials are attested in the second millennium BC, Marlik (in Iran, from the late second millennium BCE), and Gordium (in Phrygia, with horse burials attested possibly after 700 BCE).

A horse burial from Bactria provides evidence of the migration in the second millennium BCE of horse cultures from Central Asia into Turkmenistan. A horse burial in Deir el-D’aba, Egypt, evidences the introduction of the horse to Egypt by the Hyksos, in the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt (1650–1550 BCE).

The earliest proven horse burial in the Old World dates back to the fifth or fourth millennium BC and is found in S ’​ezzhee, in a cemetery on the Volga from the Samara culture. Thousands of years later, Herodotus described the practice among the Scythians.

Horse burials are well-known from Ancient China as well, beginning with the Shang Dynasty. Particularly notable is the tomb of Duke Jing of Qi (reigned 547–490 BCE), which contained a separate pit with the remains of possibly over 600 horses. Later burials, especially from the T’ang dynasty, featured the well-known pottery horses.

The domestication of the horse was an important step toward civilization, and the clearest evidence of early use of the horse as a means of transport is from chariot burials dated c. 2000 BC. An increasing amount of evidence supports the hypothesis that horses were domesticated in the Eurasian Steppes (Dereivka centered in Ukraine) approximately 4000-3500 BC.

The invention of the wheel most likely took place in Europe. Evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the mid 4th millennium BC, near-simultaneously in the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture), Central Europe and Mesopotamia.

The Maykop people lived sedentary lives, and horses formed a very low percentage of their livestock, which mostly consisted of pigs and cattle. Archaeologists have discovered a unique form of bronze cheek-pieces, which consists of a bronze rod with a twisted loop in the middle and a thread through her nodes that connects with bridle, halter strap and headband. Notches and bumps on the edges of the cheek-pieces were, apparently, to fix nose and under-lip belts.

The earliest well-dated depiction of a wheeled vehicle (here, a wagon with two axles and four wheels), is on the Bronocice pot, a ca. 3500–3350 BC clay pot excavated in a funnelbeaker settlement in southern Poland.

Some scholars argue that the chariot was most likely a product of the ancient Near East early in the 2nd millennium BC. Archaeologist Joost Crouwel writes that “Chariots were not sudden inventions, but developed out of earlier vehicles that were mounted on disk or cross-bar wheels.

This development can best be traced in the Near East, where spoke-wheeled and horse-drawn ‘true’ chariots are first attested in the earlier part of the second millennium BC…” and were illustrated on a Syrian cylinder seal dated to the 18th or 17th century BC.

The earliest fully developed true chariots known are from the chariot burials of the Andronovo (Timber-Grave) sites of the Sintashta-Petrovka Proto-Indo-Iranian culture in modern Russia and Kazakhstan from around 2000 BC.

The Sintashta culture, also known as the Sintashta-Petrovka culture or Sintashta-Arkaim culture, is a Bronze Age archaeological culture of the northern Eurasian steppe on the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, dated to the period 2100–1800 BCE.

The Sintashta economy came to revolve around copper metallurgy. Copper ores from nearby mines (such as Vorovskaya Yama) were taken to Sintashta settlements to be processed into copper and arsenical bronze.

This occurred on an industrial scale: all the excavated buildings at the Sintashta sites of Sintashta, Arkaim and Ust’e contained the remains of smelting ovens and slag. Much of this metal was destined for export to the cities of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) in Central Asia.

The metal trade between Sintashta and the BMAC for the first time connected the steppe region to the ancient urban civilisations of the Near East: the empires and city-states of Iran and Mesopotamia provided an almost bottomless market for metals. These trade routes later became the vehicle through which horses, chariots and ultimately Indo-Iranian-speaking people entered the Near East from the steppe.

The Andronovo culture is strongly associated with the Indo-Iranians (Aryans) and is often credited with the invention of the spoke-wheeled chariot around 2000 BCE. The association between the Andronovo culture and the Indo-Iranians is supported by their lifestyle, by the distribution of Iranian place names across the Andronovo horizon and by the historical evidence of dominance by various Iranian peoples, including Saka (Scythians), Sarmatians and Alans, throughout the Andronovo horizon during the 1st millennium BC.

The Andronovo dead were buried in timber of stone chambers under both round and rectangular kurgans (tumuli). Burials were accompanied by livestock, wheeled vehicles, cheek-pieces for horses, and weapons, ceramics and ornaments.

Among the most notable remains are the burials of chariots, dating from around 2,000 BC and possibly earlier. The chariots are found with paired horse-teams; and the ritual burial of the horse in a “head and hooves” cult has also been found.

The earliest known chariots have been found in Sintashta burials, and the culture is considered a strong candidate for the origin of the technology, which spread throughout the Old World and played an important role in ancient warfare. Sintashta settlements are also remarkable for the intensity of copper mining and bronze metallurgy carried out there, which is unusual for a steppe culture.

Because of the difficulty of identifying the remains of Sintashta sites beneath those of later settlements, the culture was only recently distinguished from the Andronovo culture. It is now recognised as a separate entity forming part of the ‘Andronovo horizon’.

The Sintashta culture emerged from the interaction of two antecedent cultures. Its immediate predecessor in the Ural-Tobol steppe was the Poltavka culture, an offshoot of the cattle-herding Yamnaya horizon (3600–2300 BC) that moved east into the region between 2800 and 2600 BCE.

Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep, goats and horse), a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans. The earliest remains in Eastern Europe of a wheeled cart were found in the “Storozhova mohyla” kurgan (Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, excavated by Trenozhkin A.I.) associated with the Yamna culture.

The people of the Sintashta culture are thought to have spoken Proto-Indo-Iranian, the ancestor of the Indo-Iranian language family. This identification is based primarily on similarities between sections of the Rig Veda, an Indian religious text which includes ancient Indo-Iranian hymns recorded in Vedic Sanskrit, with the funerary rituals of the Sintashta culture as revealed by archaeology. There is however linguistic evidence of a list of common vocabulary between Finno-Ugric and Indo-Iranian languages.

While its origin as a creole of different tribes in the Ural region may make it inaccurate to ascribe the Sintashta culture exclusively to Indo-Iranian ethnicity, interpreting this culture as a blend of two cultures with two distinct languages is a reasonable hypothesis based on the evidence.

Poltavka culture (2700-2100 BC), an early to middle Bronze Age archaeological culture of the middle Volga from about where the Don-Volga canal begins up to the Samara bend, with an easterly extension north of present Kazakhstan along the Samara River valley to somewhat west of Orenburg.

It is like the Catacomb culture preceded by the Yamna culture, while succeeded by the Sintashta culture. It seems to be seen as an early manifestation of the Srubna culture. There is evidence of influence from the Maykop culture to its south.

This culture is at least partially derived from the earlier Yamna culture. It built heavily fortified settlements, engaged in bronze metallurgy on an industrial scale and practiced complex burial rituals reminiscent of Hindu rituals known from the Rigveda and the Avesta.

Chariots figure prominently in Indo-Iranian mythology. Chariots are also an important part of both Hindu and Persian mythology, with most of the gods in their pantheon portrayed as riding them.

The Sanskrit word for a chariot is rátha- (m.), which is cognate with Avestan raθa- (also m.), and in origin a substantivisation of the adjective Proto-Indo-European *rot-h₂-ó- meaning “having wheels”, with the characteristic accent shift found in Indo-Iranian substantivisations.

This adjective is in turn derived from the collective noun *rot-eh₂- “wheels”, continued in Latin rota, which belongs to the noun *rót-o- for “wheel” (from *ret- “to run”) that is also found in Germanic, Celtic and Baltic (Old High German rad n., Old Irish roth m., Lithuanian rãtas m.).

The Sintashta-Petrovka chariot burials yield the earliest spoke-wheeled true chariots. The Andronovo culture over the next few centuries spread across the steppes from the Urals to the Tien Shan, likely corresponding to the time of early Indo-Iranian cultures. Chariots figure prominently in the Rigveda, evidencing their presence in India in the 2nd millennium BC.


The Afanasievo culture (3500-2500 BC) is the earliest Eneolithic archaeological culture found until now in south Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk Basin and the Altai Mountains.

Afanasevan sites have also been claimed for Mongolia and Western China, and a possible connection to the Europoid mummies of Xinjiang and the Indo-European Tocharians has been proposed.

Conventional archaeological understanding tended to date at around 2000–2500 BC. However radiocarbon gave dates as early as 3705 BC on wooden tools and 2874 BC on human remains. The earliest of these dates have now been rejected, giving a date of around 3300 BC for the start of the culture.

The Afanasevo culture is primarily known for its cemeteries. Approximately ten settlements and fifty cemeteries are known. The remains are of the Europoid physical type.

The Afanasevo economy included cattle, sheep, and goat. Horse remains, either wild or domestic, have also been found. The Afanasevo people became the first food-producers in the area. Tools were manufactured from stone (axes, arrowheads), bone (fish-hooks, points) and antler.

Among the antler pieces are objects that have been identified as possible cheek-pieces for horses. Artistic representations of wheeled vehicles found in the area have been attributed to the Afanasevo culture. Ornaments of copper, silver and gold have also been found.

Although far from the European steppe, the Afanasevo culture shares a significant number of traits with its distant European neighbors. This includes burials in a supine flexed position, the use of ocher, animal remains in graves, pointed-based pots, censers (circular bowls on legs), a Europoid physical type along with both horses and a suspected presence of wheeled vehicles.

While kurgans general are to be found on the western steppe, it is likely that the Afanasevo tombs were covered by low mounds. Afanasevo cemeteries include both single and small collective burials with the deceased usually flexed on his back in a pit.

The burial pits are arranged in rectangular, sometimes circular, enclosures marked by stone walls. It has been argued that the burials represent family burial plots with for or five enclosures contituting the local social group.

These chacracteristics have made scholars link the Afanasevo with the cultures of the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, specifically the Sredny Stog, Yamna, Catacomb and Poltavka cultures. As a result the Afanasevo is often regarded as the easternmost extension of the European steppe cultures.

Because of its numerous traits attributed to the early Indo-Europeans, like metal-use, horses and wheeled vehicles, and cultural relations with European steppe cultures, the people of the Afanasevo culture are believed to have been Indo-European-speaking.

Because of its eastern geographical location and early existence, the Afanasevans have been connected to the Tarim Mummies and the Tocharian languages.

The Tarim mummies are a series of mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China, which date from 1800 BCE to the first centuries BCE. The mummies, particularly the early ones, are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, although the evidence is not totally conclusive and many centuries separate these mummies from the first attestation of the Tocharian languages in writing. Victor H. Mair’s team concluded that the mummies are Europoid, likely speakers of Indo-European languages.

The earliest Tarim mummies, found at Qäwrighul and dated to 1800 BCE, are of a Europoid physical type whose closest affiliation is to the Bronze Age populations of southern Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Lower Volga.

Many of the mummies have been found in very good condition, owing to the dryness of the desert and the desiccation it produced in the corpses. The mummies share many typical Europoid body features (elongated bodies, angular faces, recessed eyes), and many of them have their hair physically intact, ranging in color from blond to red to deep brown, and generally long, curly and braided.

Their costumes, and especially textiles, may indicate a common origin with Indo-European neolithic clothing techniques or a common low-level textile technology. Chärchän man wore a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. Textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber, who examined the tartan-style cloth, discusses similarities between it and fragments recovered from salt mines associated with the Hallstatt culture.

A 2008 study by Jilin University that the Yuansha population has relatively close relationships with the modern populations of South Central Asia and Indus Valley, as well as with the ancient population of Chawuhu.

In 2007 the Chinese government allowed a National Geographic Society team headed by Spencer Wells to examine the mummies’ DNA. Wells was able to extract undergraded DNA from the internal tissues.

The scientists extracted enough material to suggest the Tarim Basin was continually inhabited from 2000 BCE to 300 BCE and preliminary results indicate the people, rather than having a single origin, originated from Europe, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley and other regions yet to be determined.

In 2009, the remains of individuals found at a site in Xiaohe were analyzed for Y-DNA and mtDNA markers. They suggest that an admixed population of both west and east origin lived in the Tarim basin since the early Bronze Age.

The maternal lineages were predominantly East Eurasian haplogroup C with smaller numbers of H and K, while the paternal lines were all West Eurasian R1a1a. The geographic location of where this admixing took place is unknown, although south Siberia is likely.

It has been asserted that the textiles found with the mummies are of an early European textile type based on close similarities to fragmentary textiles found in salt mines in Austria, dating from the second millennium BCE.

Anthropologist Irene Good, a specialist in early Eurasian textiles, noted the woven diagonal twill pattern indicated the use of a rather sophisticated loom and said that the textile is “the easternmost known example of this kind of weaving technique.”

Mair claims that “the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucasoid, or Europoid” with east Asian migrants arriving in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin around 3,000 years ago while the Uyghur peoples arrived around the year 842.

In trying to trace the origins of these populations, Victor Mair’s team suggested that they may have arrived in the region by way of the Pamir Mountains about 5,000 years ago.

Mair has claimed that: The new finds are also forcing a reexamination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but it now seems that they may be accurate.

Chinese historian Ji Xianlin says China “supported and admired” research by foreign experts into the mummies. “However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have taken advantage of this opportunity to stir up trouble and are acting like buffoons. Some of them have even styled themselves the descendants of these ancient ‘white people’ with the aim of dividing the motherland. But these perverse acts will not succeed”.

Barber addresses these claims by noting that “[The Loulan Beauty] is scarcely closer to ‘Turkic’ in her anthropological type than she is to Han Chinese. The body and facial forms associated with Turks and Mongols began to appear in the Tarim cemeteries only in the first millennium BCE, fifteen hundred years after this woman lived.

Due to the “fear of fuelling separatist currents”, the Xinjiang museum, regardless of dating, displays all their mummies, both Tarim and Han, together.

Physical anthropologists propose the movement of at least two Europoid physical types into the Tarim Basin. Mallory and Mair associate these types with the Tocharian and Iranian (Saka) branches of the Indo-European language family, respectively.

However, archaeology and linguistics professor Elizabeth Wayland Barber cautions against assuming the mummies spoke Tocharian, noting a gap of about a thousand years between the mummies and the documented Tocharians: “people can change their language at will, without altering a single gene or freckle.”

I. E. Hemphill’s biodistance analysis of cranial metrics has questioned the identification of the Tarim Basin population as European, noting that the earlier population has close affinities to the Indus Valley population, and the later population with the Oxus River valley population.

Because craniometry can produce results which make no sense at all (e.g. the close relationship between Neolithic populations in Ukraine and Portugal) and therefore lack any historical meaning, any putative genetic relationship must be consistent with geographical plausibility and have the support of other evidence.

Han Kangxin, who examined the skulls of 302 mummies, found the closest relatives of the earlier Tarim Basin population in the populations of the Afanasevo culture situated immediately north of the Tarim Basin and the Andronovo culture that spanned Kazakhstan and reached southwards into West Central Asia and the Altai.

The Afanasevo culture is the earliest Bronze Age settlers of the Tarim and Turpan basins. It displays cultural and genetic connections with the Indo-European-associated cultures of the Eurasian Steppe yet predates the specifically Indo-Iranian-associated Andronovo culture enough to isolate the Tocharian languages from Indo-Iranian linguistic innovations like satemization.

Hemphill & Mallory (2004) confirm a second Europoid physical type at Alwighul (700–1 BCE) and Krorän (200 CE) different from the earlier one found at Qäwrighul (1800 BCE) and Yanbulaq (1100–500 BCE).

This study confirms the assertion of Han [1998] that the occupants of Alwighul and Krorän are not derived from proto-European steppe populations, but share closest affinities with Eastern Mediterranean populations. Further, the results demonstrate that such Eastern Mediterraneans may also be found at the urban centers of the Oxus civilization located in the north Bactrian oasis to the west.

Affinities are especially close between Krorän, the latest of the Xinjiang samples, and Sapalli, the earliest of the Bactrian samples, while Alwighul and later samples from Bactria exhibit more distant phenetic affinities. This pattern may reflect a possible major shift in interregional contacts in Central Asia in the early centuries of the second millennium BCE.

Mallory and Mair associate this later (700 BCE–200 CE) Europoid physical type with the populations who introduced the Iranian Saka language to the western part of the Tarim basin.

Mair concluded: From the evidence available, we have found that during the first 1,000 years after the Loulan Beauty, the only settlers in the Tarim Basin were Caucasoid. East Asian peoples only began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, Mair said, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842.

The possible presence of speakers of Indo-European languages in the Tarim Basin by about 2000 BCE could, if confirmed, be interpreted as evidence that cultural exchanges occurred among Indo-European and Chinese populations at a very early date.

It has been suggested that such activities as chariot warfare and bronze-making may have been transmitted to the east by these Indo-European nomads. Mallory and Mair also note that: “Prior to c. 2000 BC, finds of metal artifacts in China are excedeedingly few, simple and, puzzlingly, already made of alloyed copper (and hence questionable).”

While stressing that the argument as to whether bronze technology travelled from China to the West or that “the earliest bronze technology in China was stimulated by contacts with western steppe cultures”, is far from settled in scholarly circles, they do suggest that the evidence to date favours the latter scenario.

However the culture and technology in the northwest region of Tarim basin was less advanced than that in the East China of Yellow River-Erlitou (2070 BCE ~ 1600 BCE) or Majiayao culture (3100 BCE ~ 2600 BCE), which are earliest bronze-using cultures in China, implies that the northwest region did not use copper or any metal until bronze technology was introduced to this region by the Shang Dynasty about 1600 BC.

The earliest bronze artifacts in China are found at the Majiayao culture site (dating from between 3100 and 2700 BC), and it is from this location and time period that Chinese Bronze Age spread. Bronze metallurgy in China originated in what is referred to as the Erlitou 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 Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule.

Though this provides a concise frame of reference, it overlooks the continued importance of bronze in Chinese metallurgy and culture. Since this was significantly later than the discovery of bronze in Mesopotamia, bronze technology could have been imported rather than discovered independently in China. However, there is reason to believe that bronzework did develop inside China separately from outside influence.

The Chinese official Zhang Qian, who visited Bactria and Sogdiana in 126 BCE, made the first known Chinese report on many regions to the west of China. He believed he discerned Greek influences in some of these kingdoms. He names Parthia “Ānxī”, a transcription of “Arshak” (Arsaces), the name of the founder of Parthian dynasty.

Zhang Qian clearly identifies Parthia as an advanced urban civilization that farmed grain and grapes, and manufactured silver coins and leather goods. Zhang Qian equated Parthia’s level of advancement to the cultures of Dayuan in Ferghana and Daxia in Bactria.

The supplying of Tarim Basin jade to China from ancient times is well established, according to Liu (2001): “It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Xinjiang. As early as the mid-first millennium BCE the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China.”

The Afanasevo culture was succeeded by the Bronze Age Okunev culture, which is considered as an extension of the local non-Indo-European forest culture into the region.

Okunev Culture, dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BC in Minusinsk Hollow of southern Siberia, is named after the Okunev settlement in southern Khakassia, where the culture was discovered by Sergei Teploukhov in 1928.

The similarity between some of the objects from the Okunev burial grounds and objects found in sites in the vicinity of the middle Ob River and the Lake Baikal region indicate that the bearers of the Okunev culture came to southern Siberia from the northern taiga regions.

While the Afanasevo culture is considered Indo-European, the Okunev culture is generally regarded as an extension of the local non-Indo-European forest culture into the region.

The Okunev culture is represented by burial structures, which were composed of small, rectangular surface enclosures made of stone slabs placed vertically in the ground. Withing these encloseres were graves that were also lined with stone slabs. The skeletons were of the Mongoloid physical type, and were buried on their backs with legs bent at the knees.

The region was subsequently occupied by the Andronovo, Karasuk, Tagar and Tashtyk cultures, respectively. In the initial Sintastha-Petrovka phase, the Andronovo culture is limited to the northern and western steppes in the southern Urals-Kazakhstan.

Towards the middle of the 2nd millennium in the Alakul Phase (2100-1400 BC), the Fedorovo Phase (1400-1200) and the final Alekseyevka Phase (1400-1000), the Andronovo cultures begin to move intensively eastwards, expanding as far east as the Upper Yenisei in the Altai Mountains, succeeding the non-Indo-European Okunev culture.

In southern Siberia and Kazakhstan, the Andronovo culture was succeeded by the Karasuk culture (1500–800 BCE), a group of Bronze Age societies who ranged from the Aral Sea to the upper Yenisei in the east and south to the Altai Mountains and the Tian Shan in Central Asia.

On its western border, it is succeeded by the Srubna culture, which partly derives from the Abashevo culture, The Abashevo was the easternmost of the Russian forest zone cultures that descended from Corded Ware ceramic traditions.

The Karasuk tribes have been described by archaeologists as exhibiting pronounced Europoid features. George van Driem has suggested a connection with the Yeniseian and Burushaski people, proposing a Karasuk languages group.

In 2009, a genetic study of ancient Siberian cultures, the Andronovo culture, tha Karasuk culture, the Tagar culture and the Tashtyk culture, was published in Human Genetics.

Four individuals of the Karasuk culture of four different sites from 1400 BC to 800 BC were surveyed. Extractions of mtDNA from two individuals were determined to possess the Western Eurasian U5a1 and U4 lineages.

Extractions of Y-DNA from two individuals were both determined to be of Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a1, which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans. The individuals surveyed were all determined to be Europoid and light-eyed.

Six Tashtyk remains of 100–400 AD from Bogratsky region, Abakano-Pérévoz I, Khakassia were surveyed. Extractions of mtDNA from four individuals was determined to belong to the Western Eurasian HV, H, N9a, and T1, while the other carried the East Asian haplogroup C.

Extractions of Y-DNA from the remains of one individual were determined to be of Y-chromosome haplogroup Western Eurasian R1a1, which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans. All individuals surveyed were determined to be Europoid, and were except from one individual exclusively light-eyed and light-haired.

Haplogroup R1a was found in the remains of the Corded Ware culture and Urnfield culture; as well as the burial of the remains of the Andronovo culture, the Pazyryk culture, Tagar culture and Tashtyk culture, the inhabitants of ancient Tanais, in the Tarim mummies, the aristocracy Xiongnu.

Chinese Bronze Age

Historians disagree about the dates of a “Bronze Age” in China. The difficulty lies in the term “Bronze Age”, as it has been applied to signify a period in history when bronze tools replaced stone tools, and, later, were themselves replaced by iron ones. The medium of the new “Age” made that of the old obsolete.

In China, however, any attempt to establish a definite set of dates for a Bronze Age is complicated by the arrival of iron smelting technology, and the persistence of bronze objects.

The earliest bronze artifacts have been found in the Majiayao culture site (between 3100 and 2700 BC), and from then on, the society gradually grew into the Bronze Age.

Bronze metallurgy in China originated in what is referred to as the Erlitou 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.

Metallurgy in China has a long history. The earliest metal objects in China date to around 3,000 BC. Recent evidence indicates that the earliest metal objects in China go back to the late fourth millennium BCE. The majority of early metal items found in China come from the North-Western Region (mainly Gansu and Qinghai).

“The earliest sites that have yielded metal objects date to the late fourth and third millennia BCE. Quite early metal-using communities are found in Qijia and Siba sites in Gansu, with comparable sites in Xinjiang in the west, and others in Shandong, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia in the east and north, and in the Central Plain in the lowest levels at Erlitou.”

Although bronze artifacts were exhumed in the archeological sites of the Majiayao culture (2700-2300 BC) it is still widely believed that China’s Bronze Age began during the Xia dynasty from around 2100 BC.

“The Qijia culture (c. 2500-1900 B.C.) of Qinghai, Gansu and western Shaanxi has yielded copper and bronze utilitarian items and gold, copper and bronze personal ornaments. The earliest dates for metal in this region are found at a Majiayao site at Linjia, Dongxiang, Gansu (KGXB 1981).”

“Their dates range from 2900 – 1600 BCE. These metal objects represent the Majiayao type of the Majiayao culture (3100 – 2700 BCE), Zongri culture (3600 – 2050 BCE), Machang type (2300 – 2000 BCE), Qijia Culture (2050 – 1915 BCE), and Siba Culture (2000 – 1600 BCE).”

At Dengjiawan, within the Shijiahe site complex, belonging to the Shijiahe culture, in Hubei province, some pieces of copper were discovered, making these the earliest copper objects discovered so far in southern China.

The remains of copper ore (malachite) and some artefacts were discovered in one Shijiahe settlement. This was at Dengjiawan, within the Shijiahe site complex. Some pieces of copper were discovered, making these the earliest copper objects discovered so far in southern China.

The Erlitou culture, Shang Dynasty and Sanxingdui culture of early China used bronze vessels for rituals as well as farming implements and weapons. By 1500 BC, excellent bronzes were being made in China in large quantities, partly as a display of status, and as many as 200 large pieces were buried with their owner for use in the afterlife, as in the Tomb of Fu Hao, a Shang queen.

The Erlitou culture (1900 to 1500 BC), an Early Bronze Age urban society and archaeological culture may have evolved from the matrix of Longshan culture. The culture was named after the site discovered at Erlitou in Yanshi, Henan Province. Originally centered around Henan and Shanxi Province, the culture spread to Shaanxi and Hubei Province.

A major goal of archaeology in China has been the search for the capitals of the Xia, the dynasty established by the legendary Yu the Great (2200 – 2100 BC), and Shang dynasties described in traditional accounts as inhabiting the Yellow River valley.

Yu the Great was a legendary ruler in ancient China famed for his introduction of flood control, inaugurating dynastic rule in China by founding the Xia Dynasty, and for his upright moral character.

The dates proposed for Yu’s reign precede the oldest known written records in China, the oracle bones of the late Shang dynasty, by nearly a millennium. Stories about his life and reign were transmitted orally in various areas of China, and first recorded in texts from the Western Zhou period (c. 1045–771 BC).

Many were collected in Sima Qian’s famous Records of the Grand Historian. Yu and other “sage-kings” of Ancient China were lauded for their virtues and morals by Confucius and other Chinese teachers.

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.

After the rise of the Erligang culture (1500-1300 BC.), a Bronze Age urban civilization and archaeological culture in China, the site at Erlitou diminished in size but remained inhabited.

The primary site was discovered at Erligang, within the modern city of Zhengzhou, Henan, in 1951. Later investigations showed that the Erligang site was part of an ancient city surrounded by a roughly rectangular wall with a perimeter of about 7 kilometres (4 mi). The walls were of rammed earth construction, a technique dating back to Chinese Neolithic sites of the Longshan culture (c. 3000–2000 BC).

Erligang bronzes developed from the style and techniques of the earlier Erlitou culture, centred 85 km to the west of Zhengzhou. Erligang was the first archaeological culture in China to show widespread use of bronze vessel castings. Bronze vessels became much more widely used and uniform in style than at Erlitou.

Many Chinese archaeologists believe that the ancient city of Zhengzhou was one of the early capitals of the Shang dynasty mentioned in traditional histories. However many scholars and Western archaeologists have pointed out unlike the later Anyang settlement, no written records have been found at Erligang to link the archaeological remains with the official history.

The Shang dynasty or Yin dynasty, according to traditional historiography, ruled in the Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty.

Archaeological work at the Ruins of Yin (near modern-day Anyang), which has been identified as the last Shang capital, uncovered eleven major Yin royal tombs and the foundations of palaces and ritual sites, containing weapons of war and remains from both animal and human sacrifices. Tens of thousands of bronze, jade, stone, bone, and ceramic artifacts have been obtained.

The Anyang site has yielded the earliest known body of Chinese writing, mostly divinations inscribed on oracle bones – turtle shells, ox scapulae, or other bones. More than 20,000 were discovered in the initial scientific excavations during the 1920s and 1930s, and over four times as many have been found since.

Around 2000 BC, the legendary sage-kings Zhuanxu and Emperor Ku are said to have established their capitals in the area around Anyang from where they ruled their kingdoms. Their mausoleums are today situated in Sanyang village south of Neihuang County.

The inscriptions provide critical insight into many topics from the politics, economy, and religious practices to the art and medicine of this early stage of Chinese civilization.

Chinese bronze casting and pottery advanced during the Shang dynasty, with bronze typically being used for ritually significant, rather than primarily utilitarian, items. As far back as c. 1500 BC, the early Shang dynasty engaged in large-scale production of bronze-ware vessels and weapons.

The earliest bronze artifacts have been found in the Majiayao culture site (between 3100 and 2700 BC), and from then on, the society gradually grew into the Bronze Age.

Bronze metallurgy in China originated in what is referred to as the Erlitou 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 Chinese Bronze Age began in the Xia Dynasty (ca. 2070 – ca. 1600 BC), and bronze ritual containers form the bulk of collections of Chinese antiquities, reaching its zenith during the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and the early part of the Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BC).

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 Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule.

Though this provides a concise frame of reference, it overlooks the continued importance of bronze in Chinese metallurgy and culture. Since this is significantly later than the discovery of bronze in Mesopotamia, bronze technology could have been imported rather than discovered independently in China.

While there may be reason to believe that bronzework developed inside China separately from outside influence, the discovery of European mummies in Xinjiang suggests a possible route of transmission from the West.

The Shang Dynasty of the Yellow River Valley rose to power after the Xia Dynasty. 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 a 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 face(s). These appear in three main motif types: those of demons, of symbolic animals, and of abstract symbols.

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.

This production required a large labor force that could handle the mining, refining, and transportation of the necessary copper, tin, and lead ores. This in turn created a need for official managers that could oversee both hard-laborers and skilled artisans and craftsmen.

The Shang royal court and aristocrats required a vast amount of different bronze vessels for various ceremonial purposes and events of religious divination. Ceremonial rules even decreed how many bronze containers of each type a nobleman or noblewoman of a certain rank could own.

With the increased amount of bronze available, the army could also better equip itself with an assortment of bronze weaponry. Bronze was also used for the fittings of spoke-wheeled chariots, which appeared in China around 1200 BC.

Bronze weapons were an integral part of Shang society. Shang infantry were armed with a variety of stone and bronze weaponry, including máo spears, yuè pole-axes, gē pole-based dagger-axes, composite bows, and bronze or leather helmets.

The Horse and chariot in China

Later chariot burials are found in China. The most noted of these was discovered in 1933 at Hougang, Anyang in central China’s Henan Province, dating from the rule of King Wu Ding of the Yin Dynasty (c. 1,200 BC). A Western Zhou (9th century BC) chariot burial was unearthed at Zhangjiapo, Chang’an in 1955.

The chariot first appeared in China during the reign of Wu Ding, a king of the Shang dynasty in ancient China, whose reign lasted from approximately 1250-1192 BC. Oracle bone inscriptions suggest that the western enemies of the Shang used limited numbers of chariots in battle, but the Shang themselves used them only as mobile command vehicles and in royal hunts.

It is little doubt that the chariot entered China through the Central Asia and the Northern Steppe, possibly indicating some form of contact with the Indo-Europeans. Recent archaeological finds have shown that the late Shang used horses, chariots, bows and practiced horse burials that are similar to the steppe peoples to the west.

Other possible cultural influences resulting from Indo-European contact may include fighting styles, head-and-hoof rituals, art motifs and myths. These influences have led one scholar, Christopher I. Beckwith, to speculate that Indo-Europeans “may even have been responsible for the foundation of the Shang Dynasty,” though he admits there is no direct evidence. A crucial factor in the Zhou conquest of the Shang may have been their more effective use of chariots.

The earliest archaeological evidence of chariots in China, a chariot burial site discovered in 1933 at Hougang, Anyang in Henan province, dates to the rule of King Wu Ding of the late Shang Dynasty (c. 1200 BC).

Oracle bone inscriptions suggest that the western enemies of the Shang used limited numbers of chariots in battle, but the Shang themselves used them only as mobile command vehicles and in royal hunts.

During the Shang Dynasty, members of the royal family were buried with a complete household and servants, including a chariot, horses, and a charioteer. A Shang chariot was often drawn by two horses, but four-horse variants are occasionally found in burials.

Jacques Gernet claims that the Zhou dynasty, which conquered the Shang, made more use of the chariot than did the Shang and “invented a new kind of harness with four horses abreast”.

The crew consisted of an archer, a driver, and sometimes a third warrior who was armed with a spear or dagger-axe. From the 8th to 5th centuries BC, the Chinese use of chariots reached its peak. Although chariots appeared in greater numbers, infantry often defeated charioteers in battle.

Massed chariot warfare became all but obsolete after the Warring-States Period (476–221 BC). The main reasons were increased use of the crossbow, the adoption of standard cavalry units, and the adaptation of mounted archery from nomadic cavalry, which were more effective.

Chariots would continue to serve as command posts for officers during the Qin and Han dynasties, while armored chariots were also used during the Han Dynasty against the Xiongnu Confederation in the Han–Xiongnu War, specifically at the Battle of Mobei.

Shaft graves and masks

A Shaft and chamber tomb is a type of chamber tomb used by some ancient peoples for burial of the dead. It is a type of deep rectangular burial structure, similar in shape to the much shallower cist grave, containing a floor of pebbles, walls of rubble masonry, and a roof constructed of wooden planks.

They consist of a shaft dug into the outcrops of rock with a square or round chamber excavated at the bottom where the dead were placed. These chambers can consist of a single shaft and chamber or sometimes quite elaborate.

Examples include those at Xemxija in Malta which are Neolithic and Dayeh-va-dokhtar tombs in Fars province of Iran. They were also employed by the Ancient Egyptians.

The first shaft and chamber tomb by the Egyptians known is the tomb at Mastaba. This was a simple tomb with two shafts with a square chamber at the bottom of each shaft. But a new tomb in archeology is the Tomb of Osiris.

The tomb of Osiris is a great example of this type of tomb. Some say that this tomb dates back to 760-525 BC. It’s hard to quite put an exact date but researchers were able to narrow it down by similar tombs. The Tomb of Osiris has three major shafts and has said to have eight chambers.

The practice of digging shaft tombs was a widespread phenomenon with prominent examples found in Mycenaean Greece and in Bronze Age China. Shaft graves were utilized by elites from the Shang Dynasty (or Yin Dynasty) of northern China.

Mycenaean shaft graves originated and evolved from rudimentary Middle Helladic cists, tumuli, and tholos tombs with features derived from Early Bronze Age traditions developed locally in mainland Greece.

Middle Helladic burials would ultimately serve as the basis for the royal Shaft Graves containing a variety of grave goods, which signified the elevation of a native Greek-speaking royal dynasty whose economic power depended on long-distance sea trade.

The Catacomb culture (ca. 2800–2200 BC) refers to a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying essentially what is present-day Ukraine. It was preceded by the Yamna culture. The Catacomb culture in the Pontic steppe was succeeded by the Srubna culture from ca. the 17th century BC.

The culture was the first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East.

The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.

More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.

Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.

The name Catacomb culture comes from its burial practices. These are similar to those of the Yamna culture, but with a hollowed-out space off the main shaft, creating the “catacomb”. Animal remains were incorporated into a small minority of graves.

In certain graves there was the distinctive practice of what amounts to modelling a clay mask over the deceased’s face, creating an obvious if not necessarily correct association to the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon.

A death mask is a wax or plaster cast made of a person’s face following death. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits. It is sometimes possible to identify portraits that have been painted from death masks, because of the characteristic slight distortions of the features caused by the weight of the plaster during the making of the mold.

In other cultures a death mask may be a clay or another artifact placed on the face of the deceased before burial rites. The best known of these are the masks used by ancient Egyptians as part of the mummification process, such as Tutankhamun’s mask.

The Tashtyk culture was an archaeological culture that flourished in the Yenisei valley in Siberia from the first to the fourth century CE. Located in the Minusinsk Depression, environs of modern Krasnoyarsk, eastern part of Kemerovo Oblast, it was preceded by the Tagar culture.

The Tashtyk culture was first surveyed by the Russian archaeologist Sergei Teploukhov. Teploukhov suggested that it had been initially Indo-European dominated, only to become overcome by the Yenisei Kirghiz around the 3rd century AD. The Yenisei Kirghiz are often associted with the Tashtyk culture.

Tashtyk settlements and hill-forts have been unearthed throughout the Yenisei region, particularly the Sayan canyon area. Their most imposing monuments were immense barrows-crypt structures; these have yielded large quantities of clay and metal vessels and ornaments.

In addition, numerous petrographic carvings have been found. Some of the graves contained leather models of human bodies with their heads wrapped in tissue and brightly painted.

Inside the models there were small leather bags probably symbolising the stomach and containing burned human bones. Scaled-down replicas of swords, arrows and quivers were placed nearby. The animal motives of the Tashtyk belonged to the Scytho-Altaic style, while they were also under significant Chinese influence.

During his excavations of the Oglahty cemetery south of Minusinsk, Leonid Kyzlasov discovered a number of mummies with richly decorated plaster funerary masks showing Western Eurasian features, though this would not rule out some East Asian admixture, as revealed by ancient DNA (see below). There were also intact fur hats, silk clothes, and footwear (now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).


The Majiayao culture (3100-2700 BC) is a name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River region in eastern Gansu, eastern Qinghai and northern Sichuan, China.

The archaeological site was first found by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson in 1924. It was located near a village called Majiacun and named Majiayao culture. The earliest discoveries of bronze objects in China occur at Majiayao sites.

“A Majiayao Type bronze knife, 12.5 cm in length, a tin-copper piece cast in a joint mould, dated to 2900–2740 BCE … is the earliest known object made in cast bronze.”

This indicates that China entered Bronze age during Majiayao culture. The Majiayao culture represents the first time that Upper Yellow River region was widely occupied by agricultural communities and it famous for its painting pottery which regarded as peak of pottery manufacturing at that time.

Many believed that Majiayao was a branch of Yangshao Culture and it derived from immigrant farmers of Yangshao in farther east and mixed with local indigenous foragers.

However, Xia Nai, the founder of modern archaeology in People’s Republic of China, believes that there are lots of differences between Yangshao Culture and Majiayao Culture and he thought Majiayao site is one of the delegate of new culture in Gansu.

According to G. Dong, Majiayao culture originated in the westward spread of Yangshao culture (7000-5000 cal BP) to Gansu and Qinghai Provinces from neighboring Central north China, blending with local cultures in Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, developing the local “Yangshao” culture with unique local characteristics (Yan, 1989).

Majiayao Culture’s most representative artifacts are the painted pottery. Compared with Yangshao pottery, Majiayao potters used pure black color during the early Majiayao Culture, and then mixed black and red on pottery until late Majiayao Culture. The manufacture of large amounts of painted pottery means there were professional craftsmen to produce it, which indicates the appearance of social division of labor.

At the end of the third millennium B.C., Qijia culture succeeded Majiayao culture at sites in three main geographic zones: Eastern Gansu, Middle Gansu, and Western Gansu/Eastern Qinghai.

Scholars come to a conclusion that the development of Majiayao culture was highly related to climate changes. A group of scholars from Lanzhou University have researched climate changes during Majiayao culture and the results indicates that the climate was wet during 5830-4900 BP, which promoted the development of early and middle Majiayao culture in eastern Qinghai Province.

However, during 4900-4700 BP, the climates were drought in this area, which maybe responsible for the decline and eastward movement of prehistoric culture during the period of transition from early-mid to late Majiayao culture.

The transition from Yangshao to Majiayao coincides, climatically, with the Piora Oscillation, an abrupt cold and wet period in the climate history of the Holocene Epoch; it is generally dated to the period of c. 3200 to 2900 BCE.

The Piora Oscillation has also been linked to the domestication of the horse. In Central Asia, a colder climate favored the use of horses: “The horse, since it was so adept at foraging with snow on the ground, tended to replace cattle and sheep.”

The Piora period seems associated with a period of colder drier air over the Western and Eastern Mediterranean, and may have depressed rainfalls as far afield as the Middle East. It is also associated with a sudden onset of drier weather in the central Sahara.

In the Middle East, the surface of the Dead Sea rose nearly 100 meters (300 feet), then receded to a more usual level. A few commentators have associated the climate changes of this period with the end of the Uruk period, as a Dark Age associated with the floods of the Gilgamesh epic and Noah’s flood of the Book of Genesis.

The cause or causes of the Piora Oscillation are debated. A Greenland ice core, GISP2, shows a sulfate spike and methane trough c. 3250 BCE, suggesting an unusual occurrence — either a volcanic eruption or a meteor or an asteroid impact event.

Other authorities associate the Piora Oscillation with other comparable events, like the 8.2 kiloyear event, that recur in climate history, as part of a larger 1500-year climate cycle.

The Qijia culture

The Qijia culture (2400 BC – 1900 BC), named after the Qijiaping Site in Gansu Province, was an early Bronze Age culture distributed around the upper Yellow River region of Gansu (centered in Lanzhou) and eastern Qinghai, China. It is regarded as one of the earliest bronze cultures.

Prior to Qijia culture, in the same area there existed Majiayao culture that was also familiar with metalwork. At the end of the third millennium B.C., Qijia culture succeeded Majiayao culture at sites in three main geographic zones: Eastern Gansu, Middle Gansu, and Western Gansu/Eastern Qinghai.

Johan Gunnar Andersson discovered the initial site at Qijiaping in 1923. Qijia culture was a sedentary culture, based on agriculture, and breeding pigs, which were also used in sacrifices.

Archeological evidence points to plausible early contact between the Qijia culture and Central Asia. Qijia culture produced some of the earliest bronze and copper mirrors found in China. Extensive domestication of horses are found at many Qijia sites.

Qijia culture is distinguished by a presence of numerous domesticated horses, and practice of oracle divination, the metal knives and axes recovered apparently point to some interactions with Siberian and Central Asian cultures, in particular with the Seima-Turbino complex.

Techniques of pottery-making are marked by a fine red ware and a coarse reddish-brown ware. There are also a few pieces of grey ware. They are handmade, there being no evidence of wheel-made ware. While the Qijia culture pottery has its own stylistic characteristics, it also shares many traits in common with the Longshan culture in Shaanxi. Some elements of the Majiayao culture are also present. During the late stages of the culture, the Qijia culture retreated from the west and suffered a reduction in population size.

Qijia culture produced some of the earliest bronze and copper mirrors found in China. Extensive domestication of horses are found at many Qijia sites. In 2002, the oldest intact noodles yet discovered were located at Lajia, estimated at over 4,000 years old. The noodles were made from foxtail and broom millet.

The archaeological sites at Lajia, an archaeological site located in Minhe County, Haidong Prefecture in Northwest China’s Qinghai province, Huangniangniangtai, Qinweijia, and Dahezhuang are associated with the Qijia culture. Qijia sites were also found in Ningxia province and Inner Mongolia. Archaeologists believe that Lajia was abandoned after being devastated by an earthquake and subsequent flood.

A total of over 350 sites of the Qijia culture have been found superimposed on the Majiayao culture. A large quantity of metal ware, mostly copper objects, including some bronzes, have been excavated from various sites in Gansu province and at Gamatai in Qinghai province.

25 pieces of metalwork were analyzed for their composition. Those made from copper were the most numerous, accounting for 64 per cent of the total. The rest represented various copper alloys, including tin.

Techniques of pottery-making are marked by a fine red ware and a coarse reddish-brown ware. There are also a few pieces of grey ware. They are handmade, there being no evidence of wheel-made ware.

While the Qijia culture pottery has its own stylistic characteristics, it also shares many traits in common with the Longshan culture in Shaanxi. Some elements of the Majiayao culture are also present.

Seima-Turbino complex

The Seima-Turbino complex refers to a pattern of burial sites dating around 1500 BC found across northern Eurasia, from Finland to Mongolia, which has suggested a common point of cultural origin, advanced metal working technology, and unexplained rapid migration.

The buried were nomadic warriors and metal-workers, travelling on horseback or two-wheeled chariots. The name derives from the Seima (Sejma) cemetery at the confluence of the Oka River and Volga River, first excavated around 1914, and the Turbino cemetery in Perm, first excavated in 1924.

These cultures are noted for being nomadic forest and steppe societies with metal working, sometimes without having first developed agricultural methods. The development of this metalworking ability appears to have taken place quite quickly.

The Altai Mountains in what is now southern Russia and central Mongolia have been identified as the point of origin of the cultural enigma of Seima-Turbino Phenomenon.

The culture spread from these mountains to the west. Although they were the precursor to the much later Mongol invasions, these groups were not yet strong enough to attack the important social sites of the Bronze Age.

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 Finland in the west to Thailand in the east employing the same metal working technology and, in some areas, horse breeding and riding.

However, further excavations and research in Ban Chiang, an archeological site located in Nong Han district, Udon Thani Province, Thailand, and Ban Non Wat, a village in central Thailand, in the Non Sung district, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, located near the small city of Phimai, argue the idea that Seima-Turbino brought metal workings into Southeast Asia is based on inaccurate and unreliable radiocarbon dating, and remains a hotly debated theory among archaeologists.

It is further conjectured that the same migrations spread the Uralic group of languages across Europe and Asia: some 39 languages of this group are still extant, including Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and Lappish.

However, recent genetic testings of sites in south Siberia and Kazakhstan (Andronovo horizon) would rather 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.


There are myriad sites in Thailand dating to the Bronze (1500 BC-500 BC) and Iron Ages (500 BC-AD 500). The most thoroughly researched of these sites are located in the country’s Northeast, especially in the Mun and Chi River valleys. The Mun River in particular is home to many ‘moated’ sites which comprise mounds surrounded by ditches and ramparts. The mounds contain evidence of prehistoric occupation.

Ban Non Wat is a village in central Thailand, in the Non Sung district, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, located near the small city of Phimai. It has been the subject of recent (2002–present) excavation. The cultural sequence encompasses 11 prehistoric phases, which include 640 burials.

The earliest is a series of flexed burials thought to represent hunter-gatherers. These were partially contemporary with the initial Neolithic settlement by rice farmers who also raised pigs, hunted a wide range of animals, fished and collected shellfish.

There followed a late Neolithic, six Bronze Age and three phases of the Iron Age. This unique sequence has been dated with 76 radiocarbon determinations treated with Bayesian analyses. These reveal that the initial Neolithic settlement took place in the 17th century BC, while the Bronze Age began in the late 11th century BC. The transition into the Iron Age took place in about 420 BC.

The excavations have been run by Charles Higham, and now by Dr. Nigel Chang and are partially funded by the Earthwatch institute. They are considered by some to be amongst the richest archaeological digs under current excavation.

The discovery of remarkably wealthy early Bronze Age burials illustrates profound cultural changes with the advent of copper base metallurgy. WIth the Iron Age, a new range of exotic ornaments accompanied the dead, including carnelian, agate and glass.

Later in the Iron Age, the site was surrounded by banks and two moats, which involved the reticulation of water from the adjacent river round the site. The rice fields surrounding the village, although yet to be exhaustively studied, are thought to have been irrigated thousands of years ago, and preliminary dating has supported this theory.

Many of the artifacts recovered have suggested an ongoing link with the Khmer culture, unsurprising given the site’s proximity to one end of the Ancient Khmer Highway, at the Phimai Historical Park.

Ban Chiang has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 1992. Discovered in 1966, the site attracted enormous publicity due to its attractive red painted pottery. Villagers had uncovered some of the pottery in prior years without insight into its age or historical importance.

In August 1966 Steve Young, an anthropology and government student at Harvard College, was living in the village conducting interviews for his senior honors thesis. Young, a speaker of Thai, was familiar with the work of William Solheim and his theory of possible ancient origins of civilization in Southeast Asia.

One day while walking down a path in Ban Chiang with his assistant, an art teacher in the village school, Young tripped over a root of a Kapok tree and fell on his face in the dirt path. Under him were the exposed tops of pottery jars of small and medium sizes.

Young recognized that the firing techniques used to make the pots were very rudimentary but that the designs applied to the surface of the vessels were unique and wonderful. He took samples of pots to Princess Phanthip Chumbote who had the private museum of Suan Pakkad in Bangkok and to Chin Yu Di of the Thai Government’s Fine Arts Department. Later, Elisabeth Lyons, an art historian on the staff of the Ford Foundation, sent sherds from Ban Chiang to the University of Pennsylvania for dating.

During the first formal scientific excavation in 1967, several skeletons, together with bronze grave gifts, were unearthed. Rice fragments have also been found, leading to the belief that the Bronze Age settlers were probably farmers.

The site’s oldest graves do not include bronze artifacts and are therefore from a Neolithic culture; the most recent graves date to the Iron Age. Pots and sherds from the site are now found in museums across the world, including the Museum für Indische Kunst in Berlin and the British Museum in London.

The first datings of the artifacts using the thermoluminescence technique resulted in a range from 4420 BCE to 3400 BC, which would have made the site the earliest Bronze Age culture in the world.

However, with the 1974/75 excavation, sufficient material became available for radiocarbon dating, which resulted in more recent dates—the earliest grave was about 2100 BC, the latest about 200 AD.

Bronze making began circa 2000 BC, as evidenced by crucibles and bronze fragments. Bronze objects include bracelets, rings, anklets, wires and rods, spearheads, axes and adzes, hooks, blades, and little bells.

However, the date of 2100 BC was obtained by Joyce White on the basis of six AMS radiocarbon dating crushed potsherds containing rice chaff temper and one on the basis of rice phytoliths. The potsherds came from mortuary offerings.

This method of dating is now known to be unreliable, because the clay from which the pots were made might well itself contain old carbon. Specialists in radiocarbon dating now encourage that the method is not employed.

A new dating initiative for this site has now been undertaken by Professor Thomas Higham of the AMS dating laboratory at Oxford University, in conjunction with Professor Charles Higham of the University of Otago.

This has involved dating the bones from the people who lived at Ban Chiang and the bones of animals interred with them. The resulting determinations have been analysed using the Bayesian statistic OxCal 4.0, and the results reveal that the initial settlement of Ban Chiang took place by Neolithic rice farmers in about 1500 BC, with the transition to the Bronze Age in about 1000 BC.

These dates are a mirror image of the results from the 76 determinations obtained from a second and much richer Bronze Age site at Ban Non Wat. The mortuary offerings placed with the dead at Ban Chiang during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages were in fact, few and poor.


The Hồng Bàng period (Vietnamese: thời kỳ Hồng Bàng), also called the Hồng Bàng Dynasty, was a period in Vietnamese history spanning from the political union in 2879 BC of many tribes of the northern Red River Valley to the conquest by An Dương Vương in 258 BC.

The Vietnamese name is the reading of Chinese characters assigned to this dynasty in early Vietnamese-written histories in Chinese. The meaning is a mythical giant bird.

The history of the Hồng Bàng period is split according to the ruling dynasty of each Hùng king. The dating of events is still a subject of research. The conservative dates are not supported by any reliable absolute date for a span of about two and a half millennia.

The Red River valley formed a natural geographic and economic unit, bounded to the north and west by mountains and jungles, to the east by the sea and to the south by the Red River Delta.

The need to have a single authority to prevent floods of the Red River, to cooperate in constructing hydraulic systems, trade exchange, and to fight invaders, led to the creation of the first Vietnamese states approximately 2879 BC.

The Phùng Nguyên culture of Vietnam (c. 2,000 – 1,500 BC) is a name given to a culture of the Bronze Age in Vietnam during the Hong Bang Dynasty which takes its name from an archeological site in Phùng Nguyên, 18 km (11 mi) east of Việt Trì discovered in 1958. It was during this period that rice cultivation was introduced into the Red River region from southern China. The most typical artifacts are pediform adzes of polished stone.

Another truly influential part of history in Vietnam occurred during the late Bronze Age, when the Đông Sơn culture dramatically advanced the civilization.

The Đông Sơn culture (literally “East Mountain culture”, but from the name of Đông Sơn village archaeological site) was a Bronze Age culture in ancient Vietnam centered at the Red River Valley of northern Vietnam during the late period of the Hong Bang Dynasty.

It was the last great culture of Văn Lang (as Vietnam was known then) and continued well into the next Vietnamese state of Âu Lạc. Its influence flourished to other parts of Southeast Asia, including the Maritime Southeast Asia from about 1000 BC to 1 BC.

The Đông Sơn people, who are also known as Lạc or Lạc Việt, were skilled at cultivating rice, keeping buffaloes and pigs, fishing and sailing with long dug-out canoes. They also were skilled bronze casters, which is evidenced by the Đông Sơn drums found widely in Southeast Asia and Southern China.

Similar artefacts have been found in Cambodia along the Mekong River dating back to the 4th millennium BC. Đông Sơn influence is seen throughout Southeast Asia, from the moko drum of Alor in Indonesia, which are suspected of originating with Đông Sơn bronze drums, to the design of keris knives. To the south of the Đông Sơn culture was the proto-Cham Sa Huynh culture.

The origins of Đông Sơn culture may be traced back to ancient bronze castings. The traditional theory is based on the assumption that bronze casting in eastern Asia originated in northern China. However, this idea has been discredited by archaeological discoveries in north-eastern Thailand in the 1970s.

The casting of bronze began in Southeast Asia first and with the Chinese second, not vice versa. The Đông Sơn and other southeast Asian cultures were known to have used lost-wax bronze casting techniques from a very early time – perhaps predating the first millennium BCE.

This interpretation is supported by the work of modern Vietnamese archaeologists. They have found that the earliest bronze drums of Đông Sơn are closely related in their basic structural features and decorative design to the pottery of the Phùng Nguyên culture.

It is uncertain whether the bronze drums were made for religious ceremonies, to rally men for war, or for another secular activity. The various discerning images and arrow points engraved on the drums have led to speculation that the drums may have been used as a local seasonal calendar.

The bronze drums were made in significant proportions in Vietnam and parts of southern China and were then traded to the south and west to places such as Java and Bali.

Thus it became valued by people with very different cultures. The Đông Sơn bronze drums exhibit the advanced techniques and the great skill in the lost-wax casting of large objects, the Co Loa drum would have required the smelting of between 1 and 7 tons of copper ore and the use of up to 10 large casting crucibles at one time. Most scholars agree the Đông Sơn drums display an artistic level reaching perfection that few cultures of the time could rival.

The discovery in the late 17th century of large, elaborately incised “Dum” drums in mainland and maritime southeast Asia first alerted Western scholars to the existence in the region of distinctive early bronze-working cultures.

Ranging in height from a few inches to over six feet, up to four feet in diameter, and often of considerable weight, such drums are the most widely dispersed products of the Đông Sơn culture.

Examples produced in Vietnam, in addition to works made locally, have been found in south China, in mainland Southeast Asia, and in Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Irian Jaya. Many bronze drums of the Đông Sơn period have been reported in South and Southwest China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia.

In Vietnam, approximately 140 drums were discovered in many locations throughout Vietnam from the high land region of the north to the plains of the south and as far as to the Phu Quoc island, in the Gulf of Thailand.

The function of these drums, often found in burials, remains unclear: they may have been used in warfare or as part of funerary or other ceremonial rites. Models of the drums, produced in bronze or clay, were made to be included in burials.

This small bronze example has the rounded top, curved middle, and splayed base often found in drums from Vietnam. The central loop and the four small frogs on the tympanum are characteristic features of examples produced from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD.

The starburst pattern in the center of the tympanum, a standard motif on Đông Sơn drums, is surrounded by a row of linked concentric circles and crosshatching. These designs are repeated around the side of the top section and just above the base. On the center of the drum, four stylized scenes showing warriors.

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