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Archaeologists Find Oldest Chinese Dragon Totem

A 3,700-year-old antique in the shape of a dragon, made up of over 2,000 pieces of turquoise, is believed by many Chinese scholars as the oldest Chinese dragon totem.

The antique was discovered in the Erlitou relics site in YanshiCity of central China's Henan Province. Many Chinese scholars believe that Erlitou is the site of the capital of the Xia Dynasty(2,100 BC-1,600 BC), China's first dynasty.

"Although some dragon-shaped relics older than the antique in Erlitou have been uncovered in other places, such as the 7,000-year-old jade sculpture showing a dragon with a pig head and a tight-lipped snout, found in a Neolithic site in Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia, they had no direct connection with the ancient civilization that originated in central China," said Chinese archaeologist Du Jinpeng.

"Only the dragon discovered in central China had a direct link with the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties and came down in one continuous line," said Du, a researcher with the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Therefore, the dragon antique in Erlitou is the lineal origin of the dragon totem of the Chinese nation," Du said.

The dragon totem, 70.2 cm long, looks like a python. It is made up of more than 2,000 pieces of turquoise, each only 0.1 cm thin and 0.2 to 0.9 cm long.

"It's very rare to find such delicate dragon-shaped relics during that period. And it is of great historic, artistic and scientific value," said Du.

Xu Hong, discoverer of the dragon totem, said the antique was excavated from a tomb of a high-ranking noble in the palace area of Erlitou. The turquoise dragon was found between the shoulder and the hipbone of the owner of the tomb.

Du Jinpeng inferred that the totem should have been embedded on something like a mace used in sacrificial rites. The corpse in the tomb might have belonged to an official in charge of the rites.

"The owner of the tomb must have been put in an important position by the king of the Xia Dynasty, since he was buried in the palace area and allowed to take the mace to the other world after he died," said Du.

Dragon images have also been found in other sites, such as pottery and a bronze tablet, at the site of Erlitou. Some of the dragons look like snakes, but others are more like today's dragon image with bird's claws and fish's fins.

Experts say the ancient Chinese nation began to form at that time with Erlitou as a center. All the relics with dragon images were found in the palace area. The remains of a bronze foundry and the site for sacrificial rites, which had a close connection with the king and the nobles of the Xia Dynasty.

"It shows that dragon had become a symbol of royal rights and social status at that time, and the concept was passed on from generation to generation for several thousands years in Chinese history," Du added.
(Xinhua News Agency November 1, 2005)


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