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Inner Mongolia Yields New Discoveries

More than 80 leading archeological experts are participating in an international conference in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, to exchange the latest information on Hongshan, a prehistoric relics site.

Relics excavated at the Hongshan ("Red Mountain") site originated around 5000 BC to 6500 BC. Now a part of Chifeng City, the site was discovered in 1935.

Some of the relics found at Hongshan have led archeologists to conclude that the heads of Chinese dragons may have been inspired by boars in addition to horses and cattle.

Primitive people who struggled to survive by fishing and hunting developed the tradition of dragon worship. They revered important food sources such as pigs, deer, birds and snakes, said Tian Guanglin, an archeologist with Liaoning Normal University.

The dragon image coalesced into animal-head and snake-body in the Hongshan cultural period and remained unchanged until the Han dynasty, nearly 4,000 years later. Dragon images from Hongshan are the earliest standard image of dragons discovered in China, said Tian.

The largest and most vivid discovery is a jade boar-head dragon about 26 centimeters long and bent like the letter "C." It has a snake's body and a boar's head with a tight-lipped snout and bulging eyes, said Liu Guoxiang, an archeologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

Many bones from swine were found buried with human remains at Hongshan sites, indicating that the pig had become an important animal in that culture. It may have symbolized prosperity, said Sarah M. Nelson, an archeologist with the University of Denver in the United States.

Chinese dragon worship in the prehistoric age varied by region: the boar-head dragon in northern China, the snake-head-human-body dragon in central China and the crocodile-head dragon in eastern China.

Also a focus of discussion at the conference is a recent discovery concerning the nearby Xiaohexi site. It has now been determined to be some 8,500 years old, the earliest prehistoric civilization site discovered in China's northeast. This latest findings make it about 300 years older than archeologists formerly believed.

The Xiaohexi site was discovered in 1987 at Aohan Banner in Inner Mongolia. The area contained smaller primitive villages, with buildings constructed partly underground. The residents had learned how to polish stone tools, according to Liu Guoxiang with the Research Institute of Archeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The mystery of the Neolithic Xiaohexi culture has begun to be solved. Although only three of the sites have been unearthed, more than 300 artifacts -- including various pottery mugs and vases as well as bone and stone utensils -- have been discovered," Liu said.

The artifacts include a five-centimeter tall clay rendering of a human face. The earliest of its kind in the northeastern region, it might have been used for worship, Liu reckoned.

Typical stone tools at the Xiaohexi site included tools with holes or indentations at the center. The designs have seldom been seen in Neolithic cultures in elsewhere in China.

"Only tests and experiments can explain the use of these stone tools, as different scratches would be left by wood and meat cutting and mud digging," said Yan Wenming of Peking University. Wang is also the vice chairman of the China Archeology Society.

The six-day Chifeng conference, jointly sponsored by CASS, the municipal government of Chifeng and Chifeng College, will end on Friday.

(Xinhua News Agency July 27, 2004)

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