Ancient Sites Open Windows on the Past

Prehistoric floods have been recorded in Chinese legends, the Bibles and tales of almost every nation in the world. The Chinese respect Yu, an ancient hero, as their Noah was in the great flood.

But little evidence of this flood had been found in China, until archaeologists found two ancient skeletons in strange poses in Minhe County's Lajia Village, in northwest China's Qinghai Province last year.

The two skeletons were buried in a collapsed house, which was covered with a thick layer of silt deposits from the Yellow River. In the layer of deposits archaeologists found more than 20 skeletons, an altar, a square, pottery, and stone and jade utensils.

"This site was a prehistoric village. The villagers were killed in an earthquake and the ensuing flood of the Yellow River 4,000 years ago," said Ye Maolin, leader of the research team from the Archaeological Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The Lajia site is among the 23 major archaeological finds made last year, from which the 10 Most Important Archaeological Finds of 2001 are to be named today by archaeologists and scholars of the China Archaeologists' Society.

The archaeologists and scholars, who are browsing through vast numbers of artifacts, will have a hard time making their decisions, as the 23 candidate finds cover all historical eras, from the Old Stone Age to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Two of the finds date back to the Old Stone Age more than 10,000 years ago -- the Jinsitai historical site in Dongwu Banner in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and the Shizitan site in Linfen, in north China's Shanxi Province.

The latter is the largest and one of the most important finds that, offering clues to prehistoric settlement in China between 30,000 BC and 10,000 BC. It represents life in the central plains, which are comprised of the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, according to Jia Lanpo, a late CASS academician (1908-2001).

At the site, more than 2,000 stone implements, ornaments and animal fossils were unearthed in 2001. Among them was a delicate shell-made necklace dated back to 20,000 BC.

Traces of a campfire were discovered at the site, and the primitive men and women were found seated around the fire, making stone artifacts and roasting their prey.

While the Shizitan site displays a flourishing primitive culture typical of the Central Plains in the Old Stone Age, the Xinglonggou historical site in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, reveals a culture typical of the Xiliao River Valley in north China in the New Stone Age.

"The Xinglonggou culture, shrouded in mystery, was well developed and very different from the culture of the Central Plains," says Zhu Naicheng, an established archaeologist and scholar.

Twelve complete pig skulls and three deer skulls, with rectangular or round holes in the forehead, were found lined up regularly alongside a house at the Xinglonggou site.

In addition, two jade rings were found in a tomb at the site: One was embedded in the right eye of the corpse, and the other was buried under it.

In another tomb archaeologists found two cards made from parts of human skulls, both were decorated with lines and small holes. One was on the bosom of the body, the other by the right wrist.

Among the most important finds at the Xinglonggou site was a pottery statue of three naked women. The three women, with beautiful figures, are sitting huddled together with their arms crossed.

In addition to the Xinglonggou site, five other candidate sites for today's selection belong to the New Stone Age. These include the Kuahuqiao site in Xiaoshan in east China's Zhejiang Province, the Lingbao site in central China's Henan Province, the Xindili site in Zhejiang, the Taosi site in Shanxi, and the Lajia site in Qinghai.

The city of Shangyang

A grand city unearthed last year displays the prosperity of the age of slavery, which started in the 21st century BC in China and carried on through the Xia (2070-1600 BC), Shang (1600-1046 BC) and Western Zhou (1046-771 BC) dynasties.

The ancient city of Shangyang was protected by high city walls and had canals, pottery drainage pipes, grain storehouses and handicraft workshops for making pottery, and stone and copper implements.

Remains of a palace covering 500 square meters were discovered in the city. In the palace ruins the foundations of 45 supporting columns were found.

The city of Shangyang, built in the Western Zhou Dynasty, is located in Sanmenxia in central China's Henan Province.

Actually three of the four candidate sites are located in the Central Plains. They provide glimpses into the age of slavery in China in the center of the Yellow River culture.

The one slave age site that is not located in Henan is the Wujiling historical site, unearthed in Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong Province, 1,500 kilometers away from the Yellow River.

But the age of slavery of the Yellow River culture is especially evident at the Wujiling site, which dates back to the Shang Dynasty.

Although the Yellow River culture had established its rule in primitive times, a mystic culture alien to the Central Plains emerged in southwest China's Sichuan Province more than 3,000 years ago.

The discovery of the Jinsha ruins last year in Sichuan suggests that rulers of the Shu Kingdom made Jinsha Village their ruling capital around 1000 BC, after the sudden fall of the Sanxingdui culture.

More than 2,000 artifacts made of gold, jade, bronze and stone, and tons of ivory have been excavated in Jinsha Village in the suburbs of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan.

About 1,000 years after the Jinsha culture, another arcane culture flourished in southwest China, this time among the Yelang ethnic group in Guizhou Province. Researchers surmise that the Yelang people rule in the area lasted for more than 200 years from the Warring States period (475-221BC) to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24).

Archaeologists excavated 108 tombs of the ancient Yelang people last year in Hezhang, in Guizhou Province, and found 540 artifacts including bronze swords, U-shaped bronze hairclips, turtoise bracelets and jade necklaces.

The corpses in the tombs all have bronze cauldrons covering the head. This burial custom reflects the religion the local researchers call "Yelang culture," according to Liang Taihe, leader of the research team.

Whatever the Yelang culture represented, the mainstream Yellow River culture began to falter about 1,000 years ago with the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), and the Yangtze River culture arose in China from the 12th century on.

The Yangtze River area in east China became the political center of China in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), and the capital of China was moved from Henan of the Central Plains to Hangzhou in east China.

Seven royal kilns were unearthed last year in Hangzhou, now the capital of Zhejiang Province, one of them 21 meters long and 2 meters wide.

Found in the kilns were green, gray and purple fragments of 400 ceramic artifacts of 20 different kinds.

The Yangtze River area remained the economic center of China, though the capital of the country was moved to today's Beijing in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as can be seen from the immense tomb of the Liangzhuang King.

The tomb, which covers 13,000 square meters, was unearthed last year in Zhongxiang in central China's Hubei Province. More than 34,000 pieces of jewelry and 1,400 gold, silver and jade artifacts were discovered in the tomb.

Regardless of the choices the archaeologists make today, all these excavations will enable not only the researchers but also the public to know more about China's past.

(China Daily April 12, 2002)

Copyright 2001 China Internet Information Center. All Rights Reserved
E-mail: webmaster@china.org.cn Tel: 86-10-68326688