This is a list of Neolithic cultures of China that have been unearthed by archaeologists. They are sorted in chronological order from earliest to latest and are followed by a schematic visualization of these cultures.
It would seem that the definition of Neolithic in China is undergoing changes. The discovery in 2012 of pottery about 20,000 years BC indicates that this measure alone can no longer be used to define the period. It will fall to the more difficult task of determining when cereal domestication started.
|The Neolithic |
|Dates (BC)||English name||Chinese name||Modern-day name and location|
|18000–7000||Xianren Cave culture||仙人洞、吊桶环遗址||Wannian County, Shangrao, Jiangxi|
|8500–7700||Nanzhuangtou culture||南莊頭遺址||Yellow River region in southern Hebei|
|7500–6100||Pengtoushan culture||彭頭山文化||central Yangtze region in northwestern Hunan|
|7000–5000||Peiligang culture||裴李崗文化||Yi-Luo river basin valley in Henan|
|6200–5400||Xinglongwa culture||興隆洼文化||Inner Mongolia-Liaoning border|
|6000–5500||Cishan culture||磁山文化||southern Hebei|
|5800–5400||Dadiwan culture||大地灣文化||Gansu and western Shaanxi|
|5500–4800||Xinle culture||新樂文化||lower Liao River on the Liaodong Peninsula|
|5400–4500||Zhaobaogou culture||趙宝溝文化||Luan River valley in Inner Mongolia and northern Hebei|
|5000–4500||Hemudu culture||河姆渡文化||Yuyao and Zhoushan, Zhejiang|
|5000–3000||Daxi culture||大溪文化||Three Gorges region|
|5000–3000||Majiabang culture||馬家浜文化||Lake Tai area and north of Hangzhou Bay|
|5000–3000||Yangshao culture||仰韶文化||Henan, Shaanxi, and Shanxi|
|4700–2900||Hongshan culture||紅山文化||Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, and Hebei|
|4100–2600||Dawenkou culture||大汶口文化||Shandong, Anhui, Henan, and Jiangsu|
|3800–3300||Songze culture||崧澤文化||Lake Tai area|
|3400–2250||Liangzhu culture||良渚文化||Yangtze River Delta|
|3100–2700||Majiayao culture||馬家窯文化||upper Yellow River region in Gansu and Qinghai|
|3100–2700||Qujialing culture||屈家嶺文化||middle Yangtze region in Hubei and Hunan|
|3000–2000||Longshan culture||龍山文化||central and lower Yellow River|
|2800–2000||Baodun culture||寶墩文化||Chengdu Plain|
|2500–2000||Shijiahe culture||石家河文化||middle Yangtze region in Hubei|
|1900–1500||Yueshi culture||岳石文化||lower Yellow River region in Shandong|
These cultures are brought together schematically for the period 8500 to 1500 BC. Neolithic cultures remain unmarked and Bronze Age cultures (from 2000 BC) are marked with *. There are many differences in opinion by dating these cultures, so the dates chosen here are tentative:
|(incl. Fuhe)||Majiayao||Liangzhu||c. 3100?|
For this schematic outline of its neolithic cultures China has been divided into the following nine parts:
The Baodun culture (2700 BC – 1700 BC) was a Neolithic culture centered on the Chengdu Plain in Sichuan, China.Beixin culture
The Beixin culture (5300–4100 BC) was a Neolithic culture in Shandong, China. It was the successor of the Houli culture (6500–5500 BC) and precursor of the Dawenkou culture (4100–2600 BC).The type site at Beixin was discovered in Tengzhou, Shandong, China. The site was excavated from 1978 to 1979.Chengziya
Chengziya, also spelled Chengziyai, is a Chinese archaeological site and the location of the first discovery of the neolithic Longshan culture in 1928. The discovery of the Longshan culture at Chengziya was a significant step towards understanding the origins of Chinese civilization. Chengziya remains the largest prehistorical settlement found to date. The site is located in Shandong province, about 25 kilometres (16 mi) to the east of the provincial capital Jinan. It is protected and made accessible by the Chengziya Ruins Museum (Chinese: 城子崖遗址博物馆; pinyin: Chéngzǐyá Yízhǐ Bówùguǎn).Cishan culture
The Cishan culture (6500–5000 BC) was a Neolithic culture in northern China, on the eastern foothills of the Taihang Mountains. The Cishan culture was based on the farming of broomcorn millet, the cultivation of which on one site has been dated back 10,000 years.
The people at Cishan also began to cultivate foxtail millet around 8700 years ago. However, these early dates have been questioned by some archaeologists due to sampling issues and lack of systematic surveying. There is also evidence that the Cishan people cultivated barley and, late in their history, a japonica variety of rice.
Common artifacts from the Cishan culture include stone grinders, stone sickles and tripod pottery. The sickle blades feature fairly uniform serrations, which made the harvesting of grain easier. Cord markings, used as decorations on the pottery, was more common compared to neighboring cultures. Also, the Cishan potters created a broader variety of pottery forms such as basins, pot supports, serving stands, and drinking cups.
Since the culture shared many similarities with its southern neighbor, the Peiligang culture, both cultures were sometimes previously referred to together as the Cishan-Peiligang culture or Peiligang-Cishan culture. The Cishan culture also shared several similarities with its eastern neighbor, the Beixin culture. However, the contemporary consensus among archaeologists is that the Cishan people were members of a distinct culture that shared many characteristics with its neighbors.Dadiwan culture
The Dadiwan culture (c. 7900–7200 BP) was a Neolithic culture located primarily in the eastern portion of Gansu and Shaanxi provinces in modern China. The culture takes its name from the deepest cultural layer found during the original excavation of the type site at Dadiwan. The remains of millet, pigs and dogs have been found in sites associated with the culture, which is itself defined by a thin-walled, cord-marked ceramic tradition sometimes referred to as Laoguantai. The site has continued to produce new information about the Dadiwan culture, for example, recent biogeochemical analyses reveal that dogs living at Dadiwan from 7900–4900 calBP likely consumed C4 carbon fixation plants throughout the year. Because all other wild animals (like deer and bear) found at the site only consumed C3 plants, it suggests that the natural year-round vegetation was dominated by C3 plants. The only way that dog bones would contain strong C4 signals was if they consumed a rare plant year-round. A likely candidate for this is millet (a C4 grass); and because millet only grows in the summer, the only way that dogs could eat it year round is if humans were feeding it to them. Therefore, this represents some of the earliest evidence for agricultural production (cultivation, harvesting, and storing of seed crops) in East Asia. The Dadiwan culture shares a variety of common features, in pottery, architecture, and economy, with the Cishan and Peiligang cultures of eastern China.
The Dadiwan type site in Qin'an County, Gansu sits atop a fan toe produced by a gully that drains into the Qingshui River valley, itself a tributary of the Wei River. The site was originally excavated from 1975 to 1984, and again in 2004, 2006, and 2009. The most recent excavations reveal that humans had occupied the location sporadically for at least the last 60,000 years. The Neolithic cultural sequence here begins with the Dadiwan culture (c. 7900–7200 BP), followed by the Yangshao culture (c. 6800–4900 BP) and then the Changshan culture (c. 4900–4800 BP). The agricultural economy intensified and flourished during the early phases of the Yangshao culture.
The foundation of a large building, measuring 290 and 420 m2 (3,100 and 4,500 sq ft) when including the outer courtyard, was discovered at Dadiwan. The building, known as F901, is described by Chinese archaeologists as a communal meeting hall. The building was built on an elevated rammed earth foundation, which was then layered with burnt clay.Daxi culture
The Daxi culture (5000–3300 BC) was a Neolithic culture centered in the Three Gorges region around the middle Yangtze, China. The culture ranged from western Hubei to eastern Sichuan and the Pearl River Delta. The site at Daxi, located in the Qutang Gorge around Wushan, Chongqing, was discovered by Nels C. Nelson in the 1920s. Many key archaeological sites from the Daxi culture, including the site at Daxi, will be inundated or destroyed after the completion of the Three Gorges Dam.
Daxi sites are typified by the presence of dou (cylindrical bottles), white pan (plates), and red pottery. The Daxi people cultivated rice extensively. Daxi sites were some of the earliest in China to show evidence of moats and walled settlements.
The Daxi culture showed evidence of cultural interactions with the Yangtze River Delta region. The white pan artefacts from the culture were discovered at several Yangtze River Delta sites, including the type site of the Majiabang culture. Conversely, jade artefacts at Daxi sites show possible influence from the Yangtze River Delta region. The Daxi culture was followed by the Qujialing culture.Erlitou culture
The Erlitou culture was an early Bronze Age urban society and archaeological culture that existed in the Yellow River valley from approximately 1900 to 1500 BC. (A 2007 study of radiocarbon dating has proposed a narrower date range of 1750 to 1530 BC.) The culture was named after the site discovered at Erlitou in Yanshi, Henan. The culture was widely spread throughout Henan and Shanxi and later appeared in Shaanxi and Hubei. Chinese archaeologists generally identify the Erlitou culture as the site of the Xia dynasty, but there is no firm evidence, such as writing, to substantiate such a linkage.Hemudu culture
The Hemudu culture (5500 BC to 3300 BC) was a Neolithic culture that flourished just south of the Hangzhou Bay in Jiangnan in modern Yuyao, Zhejiang, China. The culture may be divided into an early and late phases, before and after 4000 BC respectively. The site at Hemudu, 22 km north-west of Ningbo, was discovered in 1973. Hemudu sites were also discovered on the islands of Zhoushan. Hemudu are said to have differed physically from inhabitants of the Yellow River sites to the north. Scholars view the Hemudu Culture as a source of the proto-Austronesian cultures.Hongshan culture
The Hongshan culture (simplified Chinese: 红山文化; traditional Chinese: 紅山文化; pinyin: Hóngshān wénhuà) was a Neolithic culture in the Liao river basin. Hongshan sites have been found in an area stretching from Inner Mongolia to Liaoning, and dated from about 4700 to 2900 BC.The culture is named after Hongshanhou (simplified Chinese: 红山後; traditional Chinese: 紅山後; pinyin: Hóngshānhòu), a site in Hongshan District, Chifeng. The Hongshanhou site was discovered by the Japanese archaeologist Torii Ryūzō in 1908 and extensively excavated in 1935 by Kōsaku Hamada and Mizuno Seiichi.Houli culture
The Houli culture (6500–5500 BC) was a Neolithic culture in Shandong, China. The people of the culture lived in square, semi-subterranean houses. The most commonly found artefacts at Houli sites are pottery and stone tools. Jade artefacts and bone, antler, shell tools were also found at Houli sites. While the remains of domesticated dogs and pigs in the early stages of domestication were found at some sites associated with the culture, the people of the Houli culture relied mostly on hunting and fishing. The remains of rice, broomcorn millet, and foxtail millet were discovered at Houli sites.The type site at Houli was discovered in the Linzi District of Shandong and was excavated from 1989 to 1990. The culture was followed by the Beixin culture.
Currently, about a dozen sites have been found to be associated with the Houli culture. Five sites from the culture have been excavated so far. Aside from the type site at Houli, excavations have also taken place at Xihe, Xiaojingshan, Qianbuxia, and Yuezhang.Majiayao culture
The Majiayao culture was a group of neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River region in eastern Gansu, eastern Qinghai and northern Sichuan, China. The culture existed from 3300 to 2000 BC. The Majiayao culture represents the first time that the Upper Yellow River region was widely occupied by agricultural communities and it is famous for its painted pottery, which is regarded as a peak of pottery manufacturing at that time.Pengtoushan
The Pengtoushan culture, dating 7500–6100 BC, was a Neolithic culture centered primarily around the central Yangtze River region in northwestern Hunan, China. It was roughly contemporaneous with its northern neighbor, the Peiligang culture. The two primary examples of Pengtoushan culture are the type site at Pengtoushan and the later site at Bashidang.
The type site at Pengtoushan was discovered in Li County, Hunan. This site is the earliest permanently settled village yet discovered in China. Excavated in 1988, Pengtoushan has been difficult to date accurately, with a large variability in dates ranging from 9000 BC to 5500 BC. Cord-marked pottery was discovered among the burial goods.
Analysis of Chinese rice residues which were Carbon-14 dated to 8200–7800 BC show that rice had been domesticated by this time. The size of the Pengtoushan rice was larger than the size of naturally occurring wild rice; however, Pengtoushan lacked evidence of tools used in cultivating rice. Although not found at Pengtoushan, rice-cultivating tools were found in later sites associated with the Pengtoushan culture.Qujialing culture
The Qujialing culture (3400–2600 BC) was a Neolithic civilisation centered primarily around the middle Yangtze River region in Hubei and Hunan, China. The culture succeeded the Daxi culture and reached southern Shaanxi, northern Jiangxi and southwest Henan. Artefact types unique to the culture include ceramic balls and painted spindle whorls; the later was inherited by the succeeding Shijiahe culture.
The type site at Qujialing was discovered in Jingshan County, Hubei, China. The site was excavated from 1955 to 1957. The remains of chickens, dogs, pigs and sheep were discovered at the site. The remains of fish were discovered in ten storage pits. Egg shell pottery and tripods were also discovered at the site.
Many of the artefacts from the culture are located in the Hubei Provincial Museum.Xinglongwa culture
The Xinglongwa culture (興隆洼文化) (6200–5400 BC) was a Neolithic culture in northeastern China, found mainly around the Inner Mongolia-Liaoning border. Xinglongwa pottery was primarily cylindrical, and baked at low temperatures.
The Xinglongwa culture showed several signs of communal planning. At three Xinglongwa sites, houses were built in rows. Several Xinglongwa sites also featured a large central building. In addition, several Xinglongwa sites were surrounded by ditches.
The type site at Xinglongwa is located on the southwest side of a hill at Aohan Banner, Chifeng, Inner Mongolia; the site is named after a village 1.3 km to the southeast of the site. 120 pit-houses were discovered at Xinglongwa. Each home had a hearth at its center. Xinglongwa also featured a large building in the center of the village. Xinglongwa is the earliest discovered site in China to be surrounded by a ditch. Xinglongwa also featured an unusual burial custom, as some bodies were buried directly under the houses. Like other Xinglongwa sites, jade objects were also discovered. In the most lavish grave, a man was buried with a pair of pigs, as well as jade objects.
According to the study of 34 sets of human remains from Xinglongwa in-house burials, male individuals apparently predominate over female individuals at roughly 2:1 ratio (23 males vs. 11 females). Within the male group, no individuals were identified as being over 55 in age, whereas all of females belong to middle-to-old age group (no one younger than 35 years old). The youngest individuals examined were at age of 13 or 14 years old, so it's suspected that children before mature sex-awareness age might not have participated in in-house burial ritual if they die. From examined samples, the average height of male was between 163.8 cm and 168.8 cm, while the average height of female between 153.4 cm – 159.9 cm. Both male and female Xinglongwa individuals showed strong Mongoloid cranial features, and are thought to be the distant ancestors of the present-day Tungusic peoples.The recently discovered site at Xinglonggou is the only site of the culture to show evidence of any sort of agriculture, with evidence of millet remains.
Some of the oldest Comb Ceramic artifacts were found in the Xinglongwa culture.Xinle culture
The Xinle culture (新樂文化) (5500–4800 BC) was a Neolithic culture in northeast China, found primarily around the lower Liao River on the Liaodong Peninsula in Liaoning. The culture showed evidence of millet cultivation and pig domestication. The type site at Xinle was discovered in the Huanggu District of Shenyang, Liaoning.
The site is named after an old inn, in which grounds the remains were first discovered.Yangshao culture
The Yangshao culture was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the Yellow River in China. It is dated from around 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The culture is named after Yangshao, the first excavated site of this culture, which was discovered in 1921 in Mianchi County, Henan Province by the Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874–1960). The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi.Yuanshi society
Yuanshi society (原始社會) is a term to describe the early ancient tribal society around the time of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors era in ancient Chinese history and mythology. The term literally means "primitive society".Zhaobaogou culture
The Zhaobaogou culture (Chinese: 趙宝溝文化) (5400–4500 BC) was a Neolithic culture in northeast China, found primarily in the Luan River valley in Inner Mongolia and northern Hebei. The culture produced sand-tempered, incised pottery vessels with geometric and zoomorphic designs. The culture also produced stone and clay human figurines.
The type site at Zhaobaogou, excavated in 1986, was discovered in Aohan Banner, Chifeng, Inner Mongolia. The site covers an area of around 90,000 m2.
Prehistoric cultures of China
|Upper Yellow River|
|Middle Yellow River|
|Lower Yellow River|
|Middle and Upper Yangtze|
|Lower Yangtze and Huai|