Thursday, February 6, 2014

Prehistoric China: Yangshao Culture

Pottery Basin of Yangshao (Credits: Cultural China)
China is one with the longest recorded history. They have the narrative of their dynasties and even legendary rulers that reign over ancient China. In archaeological perspective, China began with small cultures that began in some regions of China. Among these cultures was the Yangshao Culture.

The Yangshao culture flourished during the Neolithic culture of China from 5000 BCE to 3000 BCE. It was first unearth in 1921 by a Swedish archaeologist, Johan Gunnar Anderson. The name of the culture came from a village in Northern Henan. From the digs conducted, it showed information about the lives of ancient Chinese during the Neolithic age.

The Yangshao shows the development of a Chinese Civilization. It developed in the central plains of China, near the Yellow River. They had settlements build with a central plaza surrounded by houses and a cemetery. Their housing seemed to be based on clans or families. The shapes of the houses were sometimes square and sometimes round. The houses were semi-subterranean. Walls were made of stamped clay and the roofs were thatched. The house were simple because these settlements were temporary. They were semi nomadic people. They needed to move from one place to another because of their agricultural practices - slash-and-burn agriculture. Under the slash-and-burn, after several harvest, if the lands seemed unfertile, they leave the area and returning only if the lands were fertile again. 

The people of the Yangshao culture created tools, domesticated animals and cultivated plants. They already started to cultivate wheat and millet – which was the main staple of the Yangshao people. They were also hunters and gatherers in order to supplement their source of food. They also engaged in fishing. Sericulture also existed. Silkworms were cultivated produce silk for making textile for clothing, along with hemp.  Domestication of wild animals also developed. Animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, and dogs started to be companions of the Yangshao. They also created tools usually made of stone and pottery. They had knives, chisels, hoes, spades and sickles for agriculture. They had millstones for the processing of the harvested wheat and millet. Spindle whorls were invented to make textile from the silk and hemp.

The Yangshao culture became remarkable for its pottery. Their potteries were usually bowls, jars, urns, and water bottles, found sometimes buried with the dead. The jars were red with colors of black and white for the designs and motifs. The motifs that were depicted frequently showed the nature, such as animals. It’s also commonly depicted dancers various patterns as well.

Eventually, the Yangshao would be succeeded by another culture from the north, the Longshan Culture. From these prehistoric culture, ancient China would emerge. They would continue to make progress and contribute to the building of the modern world.

See also:
Olmecs: Before the Aztecs and Mayans
Prehistoric China: Longshan Culture
Prehistoric Japan: Jomon Culture
Prehistoric Japan: Yayoi Culture

Eberhard, W. A History of China. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977. 

Roberts, J. A History of China. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 

Tanner, H. China: A History, From Neolithic Cultures through the Great Qing Empire, 10,000 BCE – 1799 CE. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2010.

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