- The Tarim Mummies
- Xianren Cave
Banpo (Chinese: 半坡; Pinyin: Bànpō)
Site of a Neolithic village located near Xi'an, China. Banpo is the most famous archaeological site associated with the Yangshao culture. Archaeological sites with similarities to the first phase at Banpo are considered to be part of the Banpo phase (4500 BCE to 3750 BCE) of the Yangshao culture. Banpo covers an area of around 50,000 square meters. According to Marxist historiography, Banpo is considered to be a matriarchal society.
The remains of this village were discovered in 1953.
|Fountain at the main courtyard of Banpo Village.
The Banpo Lady Statue on the rock in the garden pond bears a physical resemblance to the early Banpo people.
|Artifacts such as this clay pot are on display in the museums at Banpo Village.
Six to seven thousand years ago, a stable village was built by a late Neolithic people. Banpo had about 500 people lived in the village. Visitors today can see the remains of 45 houses, 2 stables, more than 200 cellars, 6 kilns, and about 250 graves. It was a matriarchal society based on farming. The houses were constructed of thatch over wood beams while the floors were sunk two to three feet into the ground. Heat was provided by a central fire. Food was stored in underground caves, dug deep enough to protect the provisions from being devoured by wildlife or contaminated by insects. Architecture, village organization, and food storage methods appear to have been strikingly similar to the way of life of some native American plains tribes.
The Banpo worked together. They dug a trench around the entire complex both for protection and for drainage. There was a large meeting hall in the center of the village and a place for central storage. Most of the tools (e.g., axes, hoes, knives) were of stone, but some implements were of bone (e.g., needles for sewing). The stone tools look remarkably sharp, but it was still fortunate that the Banpo settled in an area where the soil was loose and easily tilled.
Art, in the form of geometric designs and human and animal figures, is found on many of the pots. Some of the pottery items have marks scratched on them that may well anticipate a form of writing. The village pottery produced specialized pots for drinking, storage, cooking, and burial. (Although adults were buried in the cemetery outside the village, children and infants were buried alongside the huts in special clay urns; the reason for this continues to be matter for speculation.)
Over the next 3000 years, the descendants of the Banpo people founded new villages, began to build cities, used jade, bronze, and copper, and increased their skills in agriculture. The first dynasty (or unified government) was ca lled the Xia and lasted from approximately 2200 BCE to 1700 BCE Life changed more rapidly after that time--or so it appears from our modern-day perspective.
Banpo village is now open to tourists. The museums were built in 1958 and contain ancient cultural artifacts, pottery and hunting tools and the clay cave ruins.
Chang'an (Simplified Chinese: 长安; Traditional Chinese: 長安; Pinyin: Cháng'ān; Wade-Giles: Ch'ang-an)
The ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in China. "Chang'an" means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. (During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the name was changed to 常安 -- pronounced the same way, but with the meaning of "Frequent Peace" instead; after the fall of Xin in 23, the name was changed back.) In the Ming Dynasty, the city changed its name to Xi'an (西安), meaning "Western Peace", which is what the city is called today.
The site of Chang'an of the Han Dynasty was located in northwest of today's Xi'an, Shaanxi (陕西). Another site, Chang'an of the Tang Dynasty, includes the area inside the walls of Xi'an, small parts of eastern, western and major part of southern suburbs of modern Xi'an city. It is 8 times as big as the Xi'an city in the Ming Dynasty, which was reconstructed on the basis of the imperial city of the Sui and Tang Dynasty. Chang'an was one of the largest and the most populous cities in the world. It is believed that Chang'an was the largest city in the world from 637 to 775 with a population of 600,000 at its zenith.
The site of the Han capital was located 5 km northwest of modern Xi'an. As the capital of the Western Han Dynasty, it was the political, economic and cultural center of China, the start of the Silk Road, and a cosmopolitan metropolis comparable with the greatest cities of the contemporaneous Roman Empire.
It was a consumer city, a city whose existence was not primarily predicated upon manufacturing and trade, but rather boasted such a large population because of its role as the political capital of China.
The construction of the city can be divided into 3 periods over more than 90 years. The Emperor Gao of Han Liu Bang decided to build the palaces before the city walls. In 202 BC, he repaired the Xingle Palace (兴乐宫) of the Qin Dynasty and renamed it to Changle Palace (长乐宫). Two years later, a new palace called Weiyang (未央宫) was constructed. In 195 BC, his son, Emperor Hui of Han began the construction of the walls of Chang'an and finished them in September of 191 BC. Emperor Hui, Emperor Wu of Han then built several palaces in the city. At that time, Zhang Qian went to the west as a diplomat of the Empire of Han. Chang'an city became a bridge between Asia and Europe as the eastern end of the famous Silk Road. In 2 AD, more than 240,000 people lived in Chang'an in a urban area of nearly 40 km²;. After the Western Han, the Eastern Han government made Luoyang the capital and renamed Chang'an to Xijing (Western Capital). After the Eastern Han, many dynasties regarded Chang'an city as the capital. In 582, Emperor Wen of Sui Dynasty selected a place in the southeast of it to build a new capital which he called Daxing (renamed as Chang'an in the Tang Dynasty). The Chang'an city of the Han Dynasty was abandoned.
Jiahu (Traditional Chinese: 賈湖; Simplified Chinese: 贾湖; Pinyin: Jĭahú)
Site of a Neolithic Yellow River settlement based in the central plains of ancient China, modern Wuyang, Henan Province. Archaeologists consider the site to be one of the earliest examples of the Peiligang culture. Settled from 7000 to 5800 BCE, the site was later flooded and abandoned. The settlement at Jiahu was surrounded by a moat and covered an area of 55,000 square metres. Discovered by Zhu Zhi in 1962, extensive excavation of the site did not occur until much later. Most of the site has still not yet been excavated.
|Oldest playable musical instruments found at Jiahu early Neolithic site.
Archaeologists have divided Jiahu into three distinct phases. The oldest phase ranges from 7000 to 6600 BCE. The middle phase ranges from 6600 to 6200 BCE. The last phase ranges from 6200 to 5800 BCE. The last two phases correspond to the Peiligang culture, while the earliest phase is unique to Jiahu.
The inhabitants of Jiahu cultivated millet and rice. While millet cultivation is common among the Peiligang culture, rice cultivation at Jiahu is unique. Jiahu rice cultivation is one of the earliest found, and the most northerly found at such an early stage in history.
Over 300 burials have been unearthed at Jiahu, accompanied by burial offerings. Burial objects range from pottery to tortoise shells. One of the most significant offerings discovered were playable tonal flutes. The flutes were made from Red-crowned Crane wing bones. The oldest phase at Jiahu only contains two flutes, which are tetratonic and pentatonic. The middle phase at Jiahu contains several flutes, including an interesting pair of hexatonic flutes. One of the flutes was broken, and the other flute seems to be a replica of the first flute. The second flute shows evidence of adjustments made to match the pitch of the first flute. Innovations in the last phase include the use of heptatonic flutes.
Jiahu yielded some of the oldest pottery yet found in Neolithic China. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania applied chemical analysis to pottery jars from Jiahu and found evidence of alcohol fermented from rice, honey and hawthorn. Researchers hypothesize that the alcohol was fermented by the process of mold saccharification.
At Jiahu, archaeologists identified eleven markings, nine on tortoise shells and two on bone, as possible evidence for proto-writing. The markings correspond to the middle phase. Some of the markings are quite similar to later Chinese characters; two of the most intriguing marks appear to be similar to later characters for eye and sun.
Jinsha (Chinese: 金沙; Pinyin: Jīnshā)
An archaeological site in Sichuan province. Located in the western suburbs of Chengdu, Jinsha was accidentally discovered in February 2001 during road construction. Located about 50 kilometers away from Sanxingdui, the site flourished around 1000 BCE and shares similarities in burial objects with the Sanxingdui site. Ivory, jade artifacts, bronze objects, gold objects and carved stone objects were found at the site. Unlike the site at Sanxingdui, Jinsha did not have a city wall.
Lajia (Chinese: 喇家; Pinyin: Lājīa)
Lajia Village is an archaeological site located in Minhe County in northwest China's Qinghai province. Lajia is associated with the Qijia culture and was discovered by archaeologists in 2000. The site covers an area of around 200,000 square meters. Archaeologists believe the site was abandoned after being victimized by an earthquake and subsequent flood.
In 2005, the oldest intact noodles yet discovered were located at Lajia, estimated at over 4,000 years old. The noodles were made from millet.
Mawangdui (Traditional Chinese: 馬王堆; Simplified Chinese: 马王堆; Pinyin: Măwángdūi)
Archaeological site located in Changsha, China. The site consists of two saddle-shaped hills and contained the tombs of three people from the western Han Dynasty. The tombs belonged to the first Marquis of Dai, his wife, and a male who is believed to be their son. The site was excavated from 1972 to 1974. Most of the artifacts from Mawangdui are displayed at the Hunan Provincial Museum.
The tombs followed a mixture of Chu and western Han Dynasty burial practices. The tombs were made of large cypress planks. The outside of the tombs were layered with white clay and charcoal; white clay layering was a practice that originated with Chu burials, while charcoal layering was a practice that was followed during the early western Han Dynasty in the Changsha area. The tombs contained nested lacquered coffins, a Chu burial custom. The tombs also followed the burial practices dictated by Emperor Wen of Han, containing no jade or precious metals.
The eastern tomb, Tomb no. 1, contained the remains of a woman in her fifties. Her mummified body was so well-preserved that researchers were able to perform an autopsy on her body, which showed that she probably died of a heart attack. She outlived the occupants of the other two tombs. Her personal name was Xinzhui (辛追).
The western tomb, Tomb no. 2, was the burial site of the first Marquis of Dai, Li Cang (利蒼). He died in 186 BCE. The Han Dynasty had appointed Li Cang as the chancellor of the Kingdom of Changsha. This tomb had been plundered several times by grave robbers.
Tomb no. 3 was directly south of Tomb no. 1, and contained the tomb of a man in his thirties who died in 168 BCE. The occupant is believed to be a relative of Li Cang and his wife. This tomb contained a rich trove of military, medical, and astronomical manuscripts written on silk.
One famous artifact type were the lacquered wine-bowls with handles, which showcased the craftsmanship of the regional lacquer ware industry.
One of the most famous artifacts from Mawangdui were the silk funeral banners; the T-shaped banners were draped on the coffins of Tomb no. 1 and no. 2. The banners depicted the Chinese abstraction of the cosmos and the afterlife at the time of the western Han Dynasty.
The T-shaped silk funeral banner in the tomb of the Marquise (tomb no. 1) is called the "flying garment". We know the name because the tomb's original inventory is still intact, and this is what it is called on the inventory. The Marquise, Lady Dai, was buried in three coffins, the flying garment drapes the innermost of the three coffins.1
On the T-shaped flying garment, the uppermost horizontal section of the T represents heaven. The bottom of the vertical section of the T represents the underworld. The middle (the top of the vertical) represents earth. In heaven we can see Chinese deities such as Nuwa and Chang'e, as well as Daoist symbols such as cranes (representing immortality). Between heaven and earth we can see heavenly messengers sent to bring Lady Dai to heaven. Underneath this are Lady Dai's family offering sacrifices to help her journey to heaven. Underneath them is the underworld - two giant sea serpents intertwined.
Tomb no. 3 contained three maps drawn on silk: a topographic map, a military map and a prefecture map. The maps display the Hunan, Guangdong and Guanxi region and depict the political boundary between the Han Dynasty and Nanyue. The maps are among the oldest maps discovered in China. At the time of its discovery, the maps were the oldest maps yet discovered in China.
Numerous texts were found in tomb 3 as well, such as texts on astronomy, which accurately depicted the planetary orbits for Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn and described various comets. A collection of Huang-lao Taoist texts, as well a copy of the Zhan Guo Ce and various medical texts, including depictions of qigong exercises.
1- Lee, A History of Far Eastern Art, p. 61-62
Niuheliang (Chinese: 牛和梁; Pinyin: Níuhéliáng)
Neolithic archaeological site in Liaoning, China, named after the Miangniu river. Niuheliang is an exemplary site of the Hongshan culture.
Niuheliang features a unique temple, altar and cairn complex. The altar at Niuheliang was made of stone platforms, supported by clay cylinders. The ritual complex is underground and decorated with painted walls, referred to by Chinese archaeologists as the Goddess Temple, due to the discovery of a clay female head with jade inlaid eyes. Pig dragons and large, nude, clay figurines are also found at Niuheliang; some of the figurines are up to three times the size of real-life humans.
Panlongcheng (Traditional Chinese: 槃龍城; Simplified Chinese: 盘龙城; Pinyin: Pánlóngchéng)
Archaeological site associated with the Erligang culture. The site is located just north of the Yangtze river in Hubei, China. Panlongcheng is the largest excavated Erligang site, showing the southern reach of the Erligang culture at its peak.
The construction and bronze casting techniques at Panlongcheng are identical with the techniques employed at Erligang and Zhengzhou; however, the pottery style is different. The style of Erligang elite burials is almost an exact replica of the burials at Zhengzhou; however, later layers show that the Erligang style disappeared during the later stages of the Erligang culture.
Qingzhou (Chinese: 青州; Pinyin: Qīngzhōu)
Ancient capital of Shandong province. It survives to this day as a smaller county-level city to the west of Weifang.
In 1996, the discovery of over 200 buried Buddhist statues at Qingzhou was hailed as a major archaeological find. The statues included early examples of painted figures, and are thought to have been buried due to Emperor Huizong's Song Dynasty repression of Buddhism (he favored Taoism).
|Statue found at the Sanxingdui site.
Sanxingdui (Chinese: 三星堆; Pinyin: Sānxīngdūi)
Archaeological site, about 40 kilometers from Chengdu in Sichuan province. The relics found at Sanxingdui astonished archaeologists, since they were in an artistic style that was completely dissimilar from Chinese art at the time.
Sanxingdui was a Bronze Age culture, demonstrating advanced bronze smelting technique from about 1,200 years BC. The kingdom appears to have lasted for around 1,000 years, disappearing suddenly. Sanxingdui was a cultural contemporary of the Shang Dynasty, yet developed a different method of bronze-making; surprisingly, the culture was never directly recorded by Chinese historians.
There are no existing recorded texts to clarify the nature of this kingdom. In 1929 a farmer found a large stash of jade relics. Generations of Chinese archaeologists visited the area without much success, until two major sacrificial pits were found in 1986 by accident. The relics were found to be intentionally broken and burnt before being buried in the pits.
Xinhua News Agency reported: "This excavation pushes Ba Shu history back a further 1,000 years to the time from 1,000 to 2,000 BCE". The discovery of advanced animal husbandry was of scholarly interest, but the bronzes were what excited the world. Task Rosen of the British Museum considered them to be more outstanding than the Terracotta Army in Xi'an. In 1987 and 1990, exhibits were on display in Beijing. In 1993 the bronzes were in Switzerland; in 1995 in Munich, followed by the British Museum in 1996. Each time every ticket for the exhibition was sold out. In 1997, the Sanxindui Museum opened in Sanxingdui itself.
Among the bronze relics are several birds with eagle-like bills. There are bells and human heads with pointed noses. These relics also contain a bronze tree, three meters high. The most remarkable piece is a giant human statue weighing over 180 kilograms. These figures are known as Totim (Tao-Tie)or Totem.
Because of this discovery, China has been shown to have the longest history of Totem making in the world - of more than 5000 years. metal masks in gold or bronze were mounted on wood poles. The totem culture probably spread from China to the rest of the world.
Sanxingdui culture is thought to be divided into several phases. The early phase may be independent, and the later phases merged with Chu and other cultures. See the 'academic activities' at this site.
The totem poles of North America have many different designs (bears, birds, frogs, people, lizards). They have arms, wings and legs. The Chinese Totim too have many animal forms but show much greater attention to detail, even smaller ones having legs, arms and costumes. Before the Sanxingdui site, the discovery of Liangzhu already indicates that Chinese culture was more than that from the Yellow River,and thus goes back at least 5,000 years.
The earlier theory of the Yellow River as being the sole 'cradle' of Chinese civilization should be amended because of the many areas which originated independently in different regions of China.
Taosi (Chinese: 陶寺; Pinyin: Táosì)
Archaeological site in Xiangfen County, Shanxi province. Taosi is considered to be part of the late phase of the Longshan culture in southern Shanxi, also known as the Taosi phase (2300 BCE- 1900 BCE). Taosi was surrounded by a rammed earth wall; the settlement outgrew the perimeter of the wall. At its height, Taosi covered an area of 30,000 square meters. The settlement is the largest Longshan site discovered in the Linfen basin area, possibly a regional center.
The cemetery at Taosi contained over 1500 burials. The burials at Taosi were highly stratified (the most stratified of Longshan sites), with burial wealth concentrated in the graves of a few males (nine large graves). While the largest graves had a large cache of grave goods (some with over 200 objects), most of the small graves did not have grave goods. A single bronze bell was also found at a Taosi grave.
Chinese archaeologists believe that Taosi was the site of a solar observatory.
Series of Caucasoid mummies which have been excavated in the Tarim Basin (Eastern Central Asia, today the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), and dated to the 2nd and 1st millennium BCE. These mummies are indicative of the migrations of Indo-European people at a very early period, suggesting the possibility of cultural exchange with the Chinese world since around 1000 BCE.
- Archeological Record
- Historical Records
- Cultural Exchanges
The first mummies were found at the beginning of the 20th century, through the expeditions of Europeans into Central Asia, in particular by the explorer Sir Aurel Stein. Since then many other mummies have been found and analyzed, most of them being displayed in the museums of Xinjiang.
Most of these Europoid mummies were found on the southern part of the Tarim Basin (Khotan, Niya, Cherchen) and in the eastern parts around the area of Lopnur (Subeshi near Turfan, Kroran, Qumul).
Many of the mummies have been found in very good condition, owing to the dryness of the desert, and the desiccation of the corpses it induced. They share Europoid or Caucasoid body features (slender, elongated bodies, angular faces, recessed eyes), and many of them have their hair intact, ranging in color from blond to red to deep brown, and generally long, curly and braided. It is not known whether their hair has been bleached by interment in salt. Their costumes, and especially textiles, may indicate a common origin with European Neolithic clothing techniques or a common low-level textile technology.
The most famous mummies are the tall, red-haired "Ur-David" or the "Cherchen man"; his son, a small 1-year-old baby with blond hair protruding from under a red and blue felt cap, and blue stones in place of the eyes; the "Hammi Mummy"; a "red-headed beauty" found in Qizilchoqa; and the "Witches of Subeshi", who wore tall pointed hats.
Libby Rosof (1997) "Penn Researcher Finds Chinese Mummies’ Surprising Roots":
- "In examining small bags some of the mummies wore around their necks, Mair’s team found a connection to Iranian culture. The bags, which were buried with some mummies buried between l000 B.C. to 200-to-300 A.D., contained ephedra, a medicinal shrub used in Zoroastrian religious rituals.
"The ephedra indicates that some of these people were almost certainly speaking an Iranian language," [Mair] said."
A recent article (Hemphill and Mallory, 2004) reaches the following conclusions:
- "This study confirms the assertion of Han  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."
|A Tarim Basin mummy photographed by Aurel Stein circa 1910.
From the 1st-millennium sources, ancient Chinese sources describe the existence of "white people with long hair" (The Bai people of the Shanhai Jing) on their northwestern borders. They had trade relations with them, and seemed to have purchased jade from them. There is possibility that these "Bai people" correspond to the Tarim mummies.
In the same geographical area, reference to the Yuezhi was made in name in 645 BC by the Chinese economist Guan Zhong, raising the possibility that the europoid mummies may have been identical and ancestors to the Yuezhi. Guan Zhong described the Yuezhi, or Niuzhi, as a people from the Tarim Basin who supplied jade to the Chinese. "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 BC the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China." (Liu (2001), pp. 267-268). A large part of the Yuezhi, vanquished by the Xiong Nu, were to migrate to southern Asia in the 2nd century BC, and later found the Kushan Empire in northern India.
Pliny reports a curious description of the Seres (in the territories of northwestern China) made by an embassy from Taprobane to Emperor Claudius, saying that they "exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking", suggesting they may be referring to the ancient Caucasian populations of the Tarim Basin:
"They also informed us that the side of their island (Taprobane) which lies opposite to India is ten thousand stadia in length, and runs in a south-easterly direction--that beyond the Emodian Mountains (Himalayas) they look towards the Serve (Seres), whose acquaintance they had also made in the pursuits of commerce; that the father of Rachias (the ambassador) had frequently visited their country, and that the Seræ always came to meet them on their arrival. These people, they said, exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking, having no language of their own for the purpose of communicating their thoughts. The rest of their information (on the Serae) was of a similar nature to that communicated by our merchants. It was to the effect that the merchandise on sale was left by them upon the opposite bank of a river on their coast, and it was then removed by the natives, if they thought proper to deal on terms of exchange. On no grounds ought luxury with greater reason to be detested by us, than if we only transport our thoughts to these scenes, and then reflect, what are its demands, to what distant spots it sends in order to satisfy them, and for how mean and how unworthy an end!" (Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Chap XXIV "Taprobane")
The Indo-European Tocharian languages also have been attested in the same geographical area, and although the first known epigraphic evidence dates to the 6th century CE, the degree of differentiation between Tocharian A and Tocharian B, and the absence of Tocharian language remains beyond that area, tends to indicate that a common Tocharian language existed in the same area during the second half of the 1st millennium BC. Although Tocharian texts have never been found in direct relation with the mummies, their identical geographical location and common European origin tend to suggest that the mummies were somehow ancestors of the Tocharians and spoke a similar Indo-European language.
The presence of Indo-Europeans in the Tarim Basin in the 1st millennium BC suggests that cultural exchanges happened between 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.
These theories would go against the idea that the East and West developed their civilizations independent of each other, but suggest, on the contrary that, some form of transmission may have happened.
Xianren Cave (Chinese: 仙人洞; Pinyin: Xiānrén Dòng; literally "Fairy cave")
Small cave in Wannian County, Jiangxi province, where historically important finds have been made of prehistoric pottery shards and rice grains.
Xin'gan (Chinese: 新干; Pinyin: Xīngān)
Archaeological site located on the Gan River in Jiangxi province. Also known as Dayangzhou (大洋洲), the site was excavated in 1989 and is known for its unique style of bronze vessels, with over 480 being discovered. The bronze casters at Xin'gan copied and mastered the techniques of the Erligang culture, then localized the bronze vessels in a distinct style. Xin'gan is associated with the Wucheng culture.
Zhoukoudian or Choukoutien (Chinese: 周口店; Pinyin: Zhōukǒudiàn)
Cave system near Beijing. It has yielded many archaeological discoveries, including one of the first specimens of homo erectus, dubbed Peking Man.
|Zhoukoudian Peking Man Site - the Caves (July 2004)
Fissures in the limestone containing middle Pleistocene deposits have yielded the remains of about 40 individuals as well as animal remains and stone flake and chopping tools. The oldest are some 500,000 years old, contemporary with the Mindel or Anglian glaciation.
During the Upper Palaeolithic, the site was re-occupied and remains of homo sapiens and its stone and bone tools have also been recovered from the Upper Cave.
As early as the early 1960s, the State Council of the PRC listed it as an important cultural relics location. It has since been improved.
The site is to the southwest of Beijing city, and is accessible via the Jingshi Expressway; it, and Zhoukoudian, are well signposted.
The crater Choukoutien on asteroid 243 Ida was named after this site.