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The Later Neolithic

The emergent cultures like Peiligang were followed by such cultures as Yang-shao, made famous in the 1920s for its exquisitely beautiful, large, colorful pottery vessels. They are very early, dating back to 5000 BCE. Yangshao, with settlements up to 25 ha by its middle phase, was centered on the middle Yellow River valley, but widely distributed, and closely related to similar cultures in the Wei Valley and elsewhere (Peterson and Shelach 2010, 2012). The Yangshao people lived largely on the two types of millet but had some rice—a good deal more of it than earlier northern cultures had. The Yangshao also had vegetables and fruits, many pigs and dogs, and a few other animals. (Yangshao is divided into an early phase, 5000-4000 BCE; a middle, 4000-3500; and a late, 3500-2800. See Zhang Zhongpei 2002.) This was followed by gray-to-black pottery generally designated as the Longshan Horizon, or Tradition, in central north China. It lasted until 1900 BCE, when more urban societies entered the picture.

The Yangshao site of Jiangzhai, near modern Xfan, has been particularly well studied (Peterson and Shelach 2012; see photographs in Zhang Zhongpei 2002). In the early phase, a circle of houses surrounded a circular central plaza; the whole was protected by a ditch. The houses were divided into roughly five groups, each with several small houses around a larger one; this may indicate kinship groupings. Storage pits could have held enough millet to support hundreds of people. The site may have had around 400 people at any given time. Many households, however, seem to have had slender resources, possibly requiring support from others, or trading goods unseen in the record. Some of them at least probably specialized in pottery making; many well-made ceramics were found. A few copper objects turned up, some including zinc and thus "brass," but this is surely accidental—there happened to be some zinc naturally occurring in the copper. Other sites have copper and even bronze, but again as an accident of copper and tin occurring together in the ore (Zhang Zhongpei 2002). Still, the occurrence of copper technology in Yangshao times is impressive.

A dragon figure and a tiger figure, picked out in mussel shells stuck to the floor of a tomb about 5,600 years old, were discovered in Henan in 1987 (Da 1988; K.-c. Chang 1999: 51; Morris 2010:126; see excellent photographs in K.-c. Chang 2002b: 130, Zhang Zhongpei 2002: 78). The tomb, broadly Yangshao in culture, is probably that of a shaman or similar officiate. His skeleton is flanked by the animals, the dragon on his right, the tiger on his left. (To this day, the dragon, beingyang, goes on the right; the tiger, morey in, on the left.) In the same tomb is a shell design of "an animal with a dragons head and a tigers body. A deer is seated on the tigers back, while on its head is a spider, and in front of it a ball... [and] a man riding on a dragon and a running tiger" (Zhang Zhongpei 2002: 77-78). The same tomb contained a Big Dipper design laid out in bones and other similar art. The dragon, tiger, and deer are still associated with soul travel (such numinous beings are called jue animals; Zhang Zhongpei 2002: 78). Shaman refers to an independent religious practitioner who engages in curing or helping rituals that involve sending his soul to the lands of gods and dead—or sometimes receives souls from there. The word comes from a Tungus language spoken on the borders of Manchuria and is actually first attested in documents from the Tungus-ruled Jin Dynasty in the 1100s CE. True shamans occur in traditional religion throughout East and Central Asia, and the term can be reasonably applied to similar traditional practitioners in indigenous societies of Siberia, native North America, and neighboring areas. The word is not correctly used as a general term for any religious practitioner in a traditional society. In this case, however, it seems highly likely that the man in ancient Henan was indeed a shaman.

Many complex farming cultures existed in China by 4000 ВСЕ. Dates for first millet cultivation get progressively later as one leaves the interior loess lands in the Yellow River drainage. Similarly, dates for the first rice cultivation get progressively later as one leaves the Yangzi Valley. Reflecting this chronology, rice vocabularies from neighboring but only dubiously related languages show similarities all across East and Southeast Asia (Blench 2005). Japan got rice cultivation only by around 1000 (Kuzmin 2008a); large-scale, intensive cultivation spread, apparently from Korea, after 400.

Paddy agriculture in China is attested clearly by 2500 ВСЕ (Crawford 2006) and must have been common before then. The rice of West Africa is a different species, independently domesticated about 2,000 years ago (Carney 2001). The "wild rice" of North America is neither wild nor rice; it is an aquatic grass (Zizania aquatica and/orZ. latifolia), cultivated also in China under the name lu sun, a name recently (and confusingly) used for asparagus.

Decades of failure to find Neolithic soybeans strengthened the case that the soybean came from the north in the Zhou Dynasty—as Chinese records say. Finally, however, Lee and associates (2008) have found earlier domesticated soybeans. A sequence of larger and larger soybeans—indicating deliberate breeding for size—emerged in 3000-2500 ВСЕ in the Erlitou area of central China (where an early "Xia" city rose; see following chapter). Full domestication at around 1100-1000 occurred through north China and Korea (Crawford 2006; Lee 2007). Ping-ti Hos classic case for derivation from the Jung barbarians—Shanrong, in todays usage—may still be fair enough (E. Anderson 1988). Rang, as now transcribed, was a general term for non-Chinese peoples north of the Chinese, and the northeast was the earliest center of diversity of soybeans, though centers of diversity elsewhere in China soon appeared (Lee et al. 2008). They were not called barbarians (fan or equivalent) in the early texts; calling them so was a later interpolation.

Archaeology has revealed a vast number of Neolithic cultures. Every part of China, as well as Korea (Nelson 1993), had a complex, sophisticated Neolithic tradition by 3000-2000 ВСЕ. These peoples lived on grain, with many fruits, vegetables, fish, turtles, and domestic and wild animals. China was still game-rich, and deer were important. Even far-off New Guinea may have contributed: sugar cane may be a New Guinea domesticate, and it arrived in China very early. Bananas, a complex hybrid of two species (Musa acuminata x Musa balbisiana), come from somewhere in the Malaysia-Indonesia region, and recent studies suggest a date of 7000 years ago. They also came early to New Guinea (Rice 2005), where another species (Musafehi) was also domesticated.

Vegetables and minor grain crops are not well attested early, but many were no doubt cultivated long ago (Crawford 2006). Buckwheat is first attested around 1500 BCE and was domesticated in west China, on or near the Tibetan cultural frontiers, possibly by 3000 (Ohnishi 1998).

A dramatic new find is a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles, at Lajia in northwest China (H. Lu et al. 2005). The noodles were made from millet (both panic and foxtail) and were about 20 cm long; they were excellently preserved, in an overturned bowl that had become sealed by clay below and around it. They were probably extruded by being forced through holes in a plate and into boiling water—this being the traditional Chinese way of making noodles from low-gluten grains like millet. The history of noodles in the Western world is well known; they first occur around 200-400 CE. Perhaps they spread from China, but it seems much more likely they were independently invented. In any case, China has a clear and very long priority. However, noodles are not mentioned in Chinese writing till about 100 CE, in the Han Dynasty, by which time there had been other archaeological finds of them. Textual evidence for practical crafts is late and spotty in China.

The classic association of greater cultural complexity with a widening gap between rich and poor and between male and female is confirmed by recent studies of body size, as well as of grave goods in cemeteries. In particular, people tended to be somewhat less healthy as the Neolithic progressed; then, in the late Zhou Dynasty, males were notably taller and females smaller than in earlier times (Pechenkina and Ma 2008).

Magnificent photographs of most of the sites mentioned in this chapter are found in Allan 2002 and Yang Xiaoneng 1999.

 
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