The Hongshan Culture of northeastern China was one China’s major Neolithic cultures. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei, “Five to six thousand years ago, the Hongshan Culture reached new heights. In addition to constructing temples to a giant, painted goddess, they also built round sacrificial altars and square tombs. They carved animals from pieces of jade. Some of these were animals in the fetal position, others were birds with hooked beaks and beasts with fangs, and some had mesmerizing vortex eyes. This unusual blend of human, bird, and beast features in a single carving may imply that ancient shamans used the essence of jade and spirits of animals to pray to divine ancestors for protection. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ ]

As an important part of the Neolithic Age in Northern China, the Hongshan Culture was discovered in 1935 and covers an area from the Wuerjimulun River valley of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia in the north to Chaoyang, Lingyuan and the northern part of Hebei Province in the south, and extends eastward to cover Tongliao and Jinzhou. [Source: China.org **]

Archeological studies show that Hongshan Culture was developed on the basis of Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture, and the inheritance and development in religious traditions between the three cultures are evident. The Hongshan Culture is credited with remarkable achievements in architecture, pottery-making, jade-carving and pottery sculptures which are at higher levels than those of Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture. The duet of square pottery molds unearthed at the relics of a house of Hongshan Culture at Xitai, Aohan Banner, whichis the earliest mold for metal casting, shows that the early people of Hongshan Culture had mastered the technology of bronze casting. Next, hunting was in the dominant position in Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture, while by contrast, agriculture played an essential role in the economy of Hongshan Culture. **

According to the Chinese government: “Judging from the position of Hongshan Culture in the archeological culture of ancient Northern China and China in the Neolithic Age, we can well assume that Hongshan Culture is one of the most advanced cultures among the ranks of its peers in both southern and northern China at that time, when the smelting of bronze had made appearance, the earliest cities surrounded by ditches had shown up, and the division between urban and rural areas had taken shape. Religious activities characterized by worshiping dragon and jade and respecting the ancestors were in vogue. The conflicts among social groups and the subsequent fights for the unification of religious beliefs had become the fundamental social issue. This is another proof to the assumption that the people of Hongshan Culture had marched from the clan society into the historical phase of ancient kingdoms. Therefore, we can say that by laying a foundation for the development of the Chinese civilization of five thousand years and formulating and influencing the layout of the origin and the progress of the protocol-dominating culture of China, Hongshan Culture plays an extremely essential role in the evolution of the Chinese civilization.”

The Hongshan Culture may have declined due to climate change. In 2015, Archaeology magazine reported: Climatologists recently studied an arid area called the Hunshandake Sandy Lands of Inner Mongolia and found that the region suddenly changed around 4,000 years ago, when shifts in the monsoon and the flow of groundwater dried the area out in a matter of decades. What had been a land of lakes, grasslands, and forest — home to the Hongshan culture, which may have been China’s first kingdom — rapidly became desert, devastating the Hongshan. [Source: Samir S. Patel, Archaeology magazine, May-June 2015]


Hongshanhou Site (five kilometers northeast of Chifeng in eastern Inner Mongolia, 350 kilometers northeast of Beijing) is where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived 6,000-5,500 years ago. Nestled in the Hongshan Mountain, where prehistoric villages and natural landscapes are well integrated, it boasts rich cultural connotation and bears two different cultural elements of the Neolithic Age from the Central Plains and north China, thus becoming the origin after which the Hongshan culture was named and occupying an important status in Chinese archaeological history.

“Hongshan Mountain is located on the bank of the Yingjin River, northeast of Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The mountain covers an area of 10 square kilometers; and it comprises 9 peaks, among which the main peak is 746 meters above sea level. The Hongshanhou settlement site lies on the southeast slope of the secondary peak, and covers an area of roughly 20,000 square meters.

The site was firstly excavated by Japanese in 1935, during which semi-subterranean house ruins and ash pits were discovered, with a large number of cultural relics including potteries, stone artifacts, and bone-made artifacts. The excavation of the Hongshanhou Site for the first time revealed the state of prehistoric human production and lifestyle in the West Liao River Basin 6,000-5,500 years ago. Furthermore, the Hongshan culture is named after the Hongshanhou Archaeological Site, and it laid one of the foundations for the Chinese civilization, revealed by series of major archaeological discoveries in later times. [Hongshanhou Archaeological Site Coordinates: N 42° 19 19", E 118° 59 29"]

Hongshan Culture Sites

pottery pregnant woman

The Hongshan Culture of northeastern China was one China's major Neolithic cultures. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei, “Five to six thousand years ago, the Hongshan Culture reached new heights. In addition to constructing temples to a giant, painted goddess, they also built round sacrificial altars and square tombs. They carved animals from pieces of jade. Some of these were animals in the fetal position, others were birds with hooked beaks and beasts with fangs, and some had mesmerizing vortex eyes. This unusual blend of human, bird, and beast features in a single carving may imply that ancient shamans used the essence of jade and spirits of animals to pray to divine ancestors for protection.” [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw]

Sites of Hongshan Culture (Chaoyang City, Liaoning Province; Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, which could date back to 6,000-5,000 years ago, are important representative sites of the Hongshan culture. The Niuheliang Archaeological Site dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago was a burial and sacrificial center in the late Hongshan period. Compared with other late Hongshan sites so far known, it boasts the greatest scale, the best preservation, the richest varieties of remains, and the largest number of unearthed cultural relics. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, dating back to 6,000-5,500 years ago, were both residential settlements. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites represent the settlements of Hongshan culture with different functions and scales. They jointly reveal prehistoric production, lifestyle, burying, and sacrifices in the West Liao River Basin 6000-5000 years back. The Hongshan people, capable of establishing harmonious relationship with nature, organizing and managing the society, and dealing with social relations inside and outside the community, made splendid material and cultural accomplishments. Moreover, compared with previous societies, the Hongshan culture witnessed remarkable social transformations. For example, its population significantly increased; a social class in charge of sacrificial activities appeared; the techniques of architecture and jade-making developed then reached the heyday in China 6,000-5,000 years ago.

“Furthermore, the Hongshan inhabitants created an integral and unique sacrificial system, involving ancestor worship, dragon-prioritized animal worship, and Heaven and Earth worship, all of which were practiced with jade artifacts that served as media between human and divine worlds. The material and cultural accomplishments made by Hongshan people were significantly contributory to the formation of the Chinese civilization, which is demonstrated by the dragon-centered worship still popular today. Simply put, the Niuheliang, Hongshanhou, and Weijiawopu sites have provided important messages for our understanding of a prehistory 5,000 years ago. They are essential for the exploration of the origin of the Chinese civilization, and are constitutive of an irreplaceable part of ancient East Asian civilization.

“While the Weijiawopu is a site with the largest number of discovered residential structures, the Hongshanhou Site is the place after which the Hongshan culture was named. In spite of different functions and types of the three sites, they have internal and reciprocal relationships, with which people’s production, lifestyle, burial and sacrificial activities of the Hongshan culture period are explicitly represented. These characteristics of the Hongshan culture also provide the basis for the exploration of the Chinese civilization.”

Importance of the Hongshan Sites

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The overall plan and the layout features of Niuheliang Site, the construction of various sacrificial structures including the Goddness Temple, the stone mound and the altar, the carving and adoption of dragon, phoenix and human-shaped jade artifacts fully represent the creative genius of primitive ancestors 5,500-5000 years ago, and provide an important evidence of the civilized society. Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites, where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived 6,000-5,000 years ago, also represent people’s spirits and wisdom through the building and design of villages and houses. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“Dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site bears a unique testimony to the burial and sacrificial traditions in West Liao River Basin. It is an outstanding representative of the cultural remains related to the early Chinese civilization; it bears witness to the unique spiritual life of Hongshan people and to the formation of the primitive state. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, as places where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived, bear an evident testimony to the cultural traditions in lifestyle, types of production, familial and social patterns, aesthetic conventions, as well as external relations. The two settlement sites, complementary to the Niuheliang Site, bear an exceptional testimony to a disappeared prehistoric civilization in West Liao River

“The Niuheliang Archaeological Site was a grand-scale sacrificial center during late Hongshan culture period. Various types of funerary and sacrificial structures, such as the Goddess Temple, stone mounds, and altars, were built on the top of mountain ridges or hills, whereby the cultural and natural landscapes were brilliantly integrated. With the Goddess Temple and its platform as the center, the sacrificial structures in various types distributed at 16 spots formed a cluster of sacrificial sites of the highest rank and became an outstanding example of sacrificial and burial sites in the early stage of human civilization in East Asian cultural zone. In addition, the holistic plan and layout of the Niuheliang site, the architectural and decorative patterns of the Goddess Temple, and the mason technique of altars and graves are all outstanding examples that illustrate the advancement of a prehistoric technology in this region. The Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites are outstanding examples of village architecture in prehistoric East Asia with the orderly arranged semi-subterranean houses, the well preserved remains of trenches and cellars.”

Hongshan Life and Religion

The stoneware of Hongshan Culture is made by grinding with the blades of stone knives finely ground and the edges and backs in curved symmetry, indicating a fairly developed agricultural economy of the culture. Within the area of Hongshan Culture, bones of oxen, lambs, pigs, deer and river deer have been unearthed, though in small numbers. The oxen, lambs and pigs, which are presumably domestic animals, vaguely indicate that the early inhabitants of Hongshan Culture lived a settled life supplemented by animal husbandry, fishery and hunting. [Source: China.org **]

From the 1980s, religious relics of Hongshan Culture like the "Goddess Temple" and stone-pile tombs have been found at Dongshanzui of Kazuo County and Niuheliang at the juncture of Lingyuan County and Jianping County of Liaoning Province. The central part of Dongshanzui relics is the foundation of a large-scaled square structure built of stone. The overall layout of bilateral symmetry of the foundation to a south-north axis, which is characteristic of the traditional Chinese architectural style, is the first of its kind ever discovered at the site of Neolithic Age. The pottery figures unearthed at the relics indicate that the sites used to be places for sacrificial ceremonies or similar activities. **

The discovery of Niulianghe Relics in the 1970s indicates that large-scaled centers for sacrificial rites had shown up by the end of Hongshan Culture. This is not only a breakthrough in the study of Hongshan Culture, but a discovery of great significance to the exploration of the origin of the Chinese civilization. No sites devoted exclusively to sacrificial rites have been found so far in Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture. **

Hongshan Culture Pottery and Jade

jade dragon

Hongshan Culture is characterized primarily by the ancient painted potteries, the "Z"-stripped potteries and the unique digging tools-stone spades and laurel leave-shaped two-holed stone knives. The potteries of Hongshan Culture fall into two types-clay potteries and sand-mixed potteries, both manually made. The clay potteries are mostly red, usually in the forms of bowl, basin, jar and pots, etc., most of which are containers with small flat bottoms. Most of the clay potteries are decorated with black or purple stripes arranged mainly in parallel lines, triangles, scale-shaped patterns and occasionally in "Z"-shaped pressed stripes. [Source: China.org **]

More than 20 cirrus-shaped jade articles have been unearthed at the site of Hongshan Culture, and each of them represents two fundamental themes-cirrus-shaped angles and minor convexities. Combination of cirrus-shaped angles and minor convexities in different ways constitute the various patterns and designs of the cirrus-shaped jade articles of Hongshan Culture. These cirrus-shaped jade articles can be classified into four types by analyzing their patterns and designs: decorative articles, tools, animals and special ones, of which the hoop-shaped articles are among the typical pieces of the jade ware of Hongshan Culture. The association of the shapes of these jade articles with their cultural context indicates that the special articles and the tools were made to meet the needs of religious ceremonies.

The high level of skill of jade ware of Hongshan Culture is best demonstrated by the enormous blackish green jade dragon unearthed at Sanxingtala Township of Wengniute Banner in 1971. The dragon is 26 centimeters in height with the head of a swine and the body of a serpent, coiling like cirrus. Similar dragons were found later in Balin Right Banner and the Antiques Store of Liaoning Province. The discovery of cirrus-shaped jade dragon at Hongshan Culture strongly suggests Inner Mongolia as one of the essential sites to trace the worship for dragon by the Chinese people. A jade pig-dragon form the Late Hongshan Culture (approximately 5500-5000 years ago) is a famous piece at the Palace Museum in Taipei.

Niuheliang Archaeological Site

The Niuheliang Archaeological site (seven kilometers northeast of Lingyuan City, Jianping County, and Harqin Left Wing Mongol Autonomous County, 400 kilometers northeast of Beijing) is one of the Hongshan Culture sites nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Centered at the Goddess Temple, surrounded by altars and stone mounds, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site is a magnificent prehistoric burial and ceremonial area, separated from residential settlements. Dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago, it was a sanctuary where ancestors of the Hongshan people were buried and sacrifices were offered to ancestors, Heaven and Earth. As a reflection of a primitive state combined both theocratic and royal powers, the Niuheliang Site bears a witness to the origin of the civilization of Northeast China and even Northeast Asia. The abundant physical remains and cultural information contained in the site are of outstanding value for the study of prehistory, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, and aesthetics. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“As an area with foothills located between the Mongolian Plateau and the offshore zone of the North China Plain, the site is naturally composed of a number of mountain valleys with a northeast-southwest direction, ridges between the valleys, and a natural setting formed by the Nuluerhu Mountains, an extension of the Great Khingan Range. The altitude of Niuheliang ranges between 550 meters and 680 meters, and the archaeological spots are mainly distributed on the hilltop of the mountain ridges. In 1981, Liaoning Province started the second cultural relics survey, and 16 Archaeological spots were discovered and numbered.

“Between 1983 and 2003, the Liaoning Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology undertook a series of large excavations at Spots No. 2, 3, 5, and 16, and the sites of Hongshan culture within Niuheliang Archaeological Site were divided into the following six categories: the Goddess Temple, the platform, the stone mound, the sacrificial altar, the building foundation, and the cellar. Within an area of 50 square kilometers at Niuheliang Site, no residential settlements have been discovered so far, which indicates that the sacrificial center had been separated from the residential zones then, and the site served as a separate place particularly reserved for constructions of temples, graves and cemeteries. In this sense, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site is an outstanding example of “holy sacrificial land” of the early period of human civilization so far discovered in Northeast Asia, and boasts the largest scale, the highest rank, and the most prominent expression of beliefs.

The Goddess Temple comprises the temple ruins and its northern platform, surrounded by several sacrificial pits. The temple ruins are semi-subterranean earth-wood structures, composed of a set of interconnected chambers and a single chamber in the south. It measures 25 meters long from north to south, 2 to 9 meters wide from east to west, and covers an area of 75 square meters. Parts of six individual clay figures were unearthed during preliminary excavations, including one life-size statue of human head. All the statues are exquisitely made with female features, being regarded as statues of female ancestors who were worshiped. In addition, animal-shaped sculptures and sacrificial potteries were unearthed at the Goddess Temple. In general, the Goddess Temple reflects an embryonic form of the ancestral temple, and it is hitherto one of the earliest sacrificial temples discovered in the whole region of Northeast Asia.

There are 14 stone mounds ever discovered on the hilltops within Niuheliang Site. Each hill may have a single grave, double graves, or multiple graves. Given the scale, structural form, type and quantity of burial objects, the graves fall into four categories. First, a large grave is located at the center, dominating the other graves. This central grave, spaciously constructed, is deeply anchored into its rock foundation. A stone coffin, whose inner wall is neatly constructed, contains a variety of jade articles without other burial objects such as potteries and stone objects. The second-level graves are large-scale stone coffins, deeply anchored in rock foundation. Some coffins have steps at one side of the grave wall. The coffin is spacious and neatly constructed, with jade articles buried inside only. The third-level graves are constituted by regular stone coffins, constructed with slates or stone blocks, along with a few jade articles buried inside. Lastly, the small-scale stone graves have no burial artifacts inside. In this way, the Niuheliang Archeological Site is a large cluster of prehistoric burial sites, featuring a clear internal hierarchical order and system. Jade artifacts were made in shapes of dragon, phoenix, tortoise, and human beings, and most graves had only jade artifacts inside, which indicates a distinctive prehistoric convention-“buried exclusively with jade articles” and marks the first heyday in development of jade culture during the prehistoric period of China. The emergence of the central grave manifests social differentiation featuring “the supreme power of one person” in the late period of Hongshan culture, and fully reflects the privileged status of the owner of the central grave. In both scale and magnificence, the central grave is equivalent of emperors’ mausoleums of the following periods.

Altars are located next to the stone mounds. Until now, two altars have been discovered, namely, a round altar at Spot No. 2 and a square altar at Spot No. 5. The former is symbolically significant in terms of its plan arrangement, composition, and construction materials. To be specific, it has a nearly circular plan, comprising a three-layered Altar Border and a set of piled stones at its center. The Altar Border is constructed with standing stones arranged in order, which form three concentric circles. Gradually higher from outside to inside, they establish the foundation and make the outline of the altar. Besides, rows of canister-shaped potteries are placed right next to the standing stones. In the center of the inner circle of the altar, there are piled stones. In addition to this unique formation, the piled stones are distinctive for they are smaller than those of other stone mounds and they are of complex varieties of rocks. Resembling the sacrificial altars in later times that are used to worship Heaven and Earth, the architectural form of altars at Niuheliang is widely believed to be a significant exemplar of embryonic altars in China and even Northeast Asia. [Niuheliang Archaeological Site Coordinates: N 41°16 15", E 119°27 9"]

Weijiawopu Archaeological Site

The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site (15 kilometers south of Chifeng in eastern Inner Mongolia, 350 kilometers northeast of Beijing) is one of the Hongshan Culture sites nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Weijiawopu Site is a large-scale settlement ensemble distributed around the Hongshan Mountain. The semi-subterranean houses were constructed with standing wood columns. This kind of structure was being employed for a great period of time in Northeast China because of a neat advantage-warm in winter and cool in summer. Moreover, the well-ordered and trenched houses represent a sophisticate system of social organization and management. The site featured a diversified economic structure, dominated by farming which was complemented by fishing, hunting, and gathering. For farming, the most primary unit for grain production is the family; for hunting, however, families had to maintain close cooperation between each other.[Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The site is located on a relatively flat platform, and covers an area of 93,000 square meters in total. In May 2008, based on pottery samples collected on surface of the site, archaeologists confirmed that the site used to be a large settlement cluster during the Hongshan culture period. Between 2009 and 2011, a joint archaeology team consisting of the Inner Mongolia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Frontier Archaeology Center of Jilin University officially carried out archaeological excavations at this site, and discovered 103 semi-subterranean house remains, 201 cellars and sacrificial pits, as well as well-preserved trenches. Dating back to 6,000-5,500 years ago, the Weijiawopu site is a large-scale settlement cluster that is best preserved and contains the richest varieties and the largest number of unearthed cultural relics, including residential ruins, cellars, sacrificial pits, and trenches.

“The discovery and excavations of the Weijiawopu site have supplied rich materials for the study of settlement forms of the Hongshan culture period. The materials are also academically invaluable for the research of the population, society, lifestyle, and human-nature relation during the period. The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site is a relatively high-level residential ensemble with a large size and a great number of well-arranged residential houses. Being settled down, inhabitants of the Hongshan culture developed an advanced agriculture, revealed by the large number of tools for the production. Foods were also provided by hunting, gathering, and fishing. Family became the primarily social unit. In addition, handicraft became increasingly professionalized. In particular, pottery-making was highly developed. Painted pottery characteristic of the Central Plains of China was introduced and widely used. Openness and fusion were the major factor that stimulated the rapid development of Hongshan culture. Weijiawopu Archaeological Site Coordinates: N 42° 08 24.6", E 118° 57 41.3"]

Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou Cultures of Northeast China (6500 to 4500 B.C.)

The Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou Neolithic cultures of the Xilamulun-Liao river basins in northeast China preceded the Hongshan Culture Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou cultures. They are significant in that marked a transition from hunter-gatherers to settled people. Gideon Shelach and Teng Mingyu wrote in “A Companion to Chinese Archaeology”: ““The development of agriculture and sedentary ways of life are two processes that altered the subsistence strategies, dietary habits, and living conditions of humans in many regions of the world. At the same time, they are also associated with meaningful transformations of social relations and cultural formations that dramatically changed the nature of human societies and set the stage for the development of complex societies.” [Source: “Earlier Neolithic Economic and Social Systems of the Liao River Region, Northeast China” by Gideon Shelach and Teng Mingyu, A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, Edited by Anne P. Underhill, Blackwell Publishing, 2013; samples.sainsburysebooks.co.uk PDF ~|~]

“Understanding the variability of the processes that led to the development of sedentary agricultural societies in different regions of China, and the variability of sociopolitical forms and economic adaptations developed by these societies, will contribute much to our knowledge of one of the main centers of independent agricultural development and one of the world’s more vibrant civilizations. ~|~

“The drainage systems of the Xilamulun and Liao rivers in modern China are located in the southeastern part of Inner Mongolia, the western part of Liaoning province and northeastern parts of Hebei province. “The region is covered by mountains, hills, and rolling uplands up to 2,000 meters above sea level, dissected by wide valleys. Today the prime concentration of agricultural land is in the large- and medium-size tract of alluvium on the main valley floors, where most of the fields are irrigated.

“Dry agriculture as well as orchard cultivation and pastoralism are practiced in the highlands. Irrigation, however, was not used in this region during prehistoric times; valley floors were not inhabited because they were prone to flooding, and it is unclear whether and how extensively they were utilized for agriculture (Avni et al. 2010). Today this region is characterized by long and severe winters and mild summers. Average temperatures are around −20̊C (−6̊F) in January and around 20̊C (68̊F) in July. Local temperatures and precipitation levels within this region are affected by height above sea level and distance from the ocean, but on average the region has about 135 frost-free days a year and about 360 mm of rain, mostly during the summer. Yearly precipitation can fluctuate greatly – up to 100 percent or more – from year to year (Chifengshi 1996: 383–384). ~|~

During the period of the Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou cultures, about 6500 to 4500 B.C., climatic conditions in northeast China were more favorable to human occupation than they are today. According to some research, this time period corresponds to the Mid- Holocene Climatic Optimum when conditions were warmer and substantially wetter than at present (Shen et al. 1992: 33–39; Shi et al. 1992: 7). However, there is considerable disagreement about the magnitude of this climatic improvement and it is clear that severe fluctuations in the average yearly temperatures and levels of precipitation occurred during this period (An et al. 2000; Wagner 2006: 5). We argue that even under slightly better conditions, the Xilamulun–Liao river basins were still typified by a mixed steppe-forest environment where year-to-year fluctuations of precipitation and temperature introduce an inherent economic risk to human adaptation. It is under these conditions that we should understand the transition to agriculture and sedentary lifestyles in northeast China. ~|~

Xinglongwa Culture

Xinglongwa Culture (6200-5400 B.C.) is a culture of the early stages of the Neolithic Age in Inner Mongolia with a wide coverage that stretches to Xunhe in the west, Yiwulu Mount in the east, Wuerjimulun River in the north and the northern coast of Bohai Sea in the south. The remains of the Xinglongwa Culture are located at a tableland 1.5 kilometers to the southeast of Xinglongwa Village of Baoguotu Township, Aohan Banner, Chifeng, Inner Mongolia. The six rounds of excavations at Xinglongwa relics have discovered ruins of 170 houses and more than 30 graves, which took the lead in China in revealing all the traces of habitation, including ditches, ruins of houses and cave dwellings of the people of a pre-historic tribe. [Source: China.org **]

The evolution of the habitation at Xinglongwa goes through three stages. Houses of the first stage are comparatively spacious, distributed in lines from the northeast to the southeast and surrounded by elliptical ditches. Houses of the second stage follow their predecessors in arrangement but with smaller areas; houses of the third stage are disorderly and more densely arranged with still smaller areas, indicating the considerable prosperity of the tribes of Xinglongwa. **

jade plaque

The number and location of Xinglongwa graves suggest that they are related to the sacrificial activities of the people of that time. In one of the graves, we can find that the dead was buried side by side with two pigs, one male and the other female, which leads to our assumption that due to his social status and extraordinary cause of death, the dead was taken by his fellow tribesmen as the object of worship and sacrificial rites so that they could be blessed by certain kind of supernatural power. The pigs buried alongside the dead indicate that the offering of sacrifices to ancestors was combined with those to the preys, and the offering of sacrifice by the inhabitants of Xinglongwa to the spirit of pig is considered to be of the significance of totem worship. The large numbers of bones of deer, pigs and other animals unearthed at the ruins of houses and among the funerary subjects is another proof to the fact that hunting economy was in the dominant position in people's life at that time. **

The dozens of jade articles unearthed at Xinglongwa site shows that the people of Xinglongwa were aware of the selection of materials-most of the artifacts were made from pale green, yellowish green, milky white or light white materials, and that they had gained knowledge of polishing and boring. As the earliest genuine jade articles known to us in China so far, the artifacts unearthed at Xinglongwa site have marked the completion of the division of labor of the society, shifted the time of the use of ground genuine jade articles in China to the middle of Neolithic Age as far away as 8,000 years ago, and provided a direct origin for the jade articles of Hongshan Culture. **

The potteries unearthed at Xinglongwa are without exception sand-mixed ones, most of which are of loose quality, heavy roughcast and inadequate degree of forging, with grayish brown or yellowish brown exteriors and dark gray interiors. The decorative stripes outside are mostly pressed ones in the patterns of horizontal "^", "Z", woven mats and grids. All the potteries are manually made.The stoneware found in the relics of Xinglongwa consists typically of chipped stone hoes and axe-shaped implements. **

Kernels of juglans mandshurica, an arbor usually found in mixed forests of deciduous broad leaf trees and coniferous trees, which are typical in temperate zones, were unearthed at the earlier relics of Xinglongwa, indicating the warm and humid climate that is in sharp contrast to the arid climate of grassland and desert. **

Zhaobaogou Culture

The Zhaobaogou Culture (5400–4500 B.C.) originated in the middle and later period of the Xinglongwa Culture. The Zhaobaogou Culture was slightly younger than the Xinglongwa Culture, but older than the Hongshan Culture. The three cultures appear to have evolved in succession. The main ancient cultural remains of the Zhaobaogou Culture are located in Aohan Banner, Chifeng City of Inner Mongolia. The site covers an area of about 90, 000 square meters. [Source: China.org **]

The houses at the Zhaobaogou site are either square or of trapezium-shaped. They are semi-basements and arranged in rows. Compared to the Xinglongwa Culture, the settlements of the Zhaobaogou Culture were much larger. However, the two had much in common, for example, the arrangement of houses in rows and the different sizes of the houses. This affinity was attributable to shared regions, close technological levels, cultural heritage and other factors. However, the main factor was the close economic mode. The characteristic of Zhaobaogou's stoneware was the co-existence of ground stoneware and fine stoneware. The tools used to produce stoneware were mainly sharp-curved stone spades, flat stone axes, curve-edged stone knives, ground plates and ground sticks. It can be noticed that the Zhaobaogou Culture was more developed than the Xinglongwa Culture in terms of production tools. **

Pottery unearthed at the Zhaobaogou Culture site was mainly tan or mahogany with sand inclusions. They were all hand-made and simple, but more diversified in their shapes than those of the Xinglongwa Culture. Zun (a kind of ancient vessels for wine)-shaped ware is most typical of the Zhaobaogou Culture. It has small or straight mouths, long and thick necks, and flat and round bellies, with slightly curved bottoms. When it was polished, geometrical shapes were inscribed on it. Even the patterns of animals were cut into the bellies. Animals' heads were treated in both realistic and exaggerated ways to reflect the most noticeable part of the animal's organs. The pig-dragons, flying deer and magic birds patterns discovered at Xiaoshan made today's people marvel at the intricate designs. The zun with a pattern of a pig's head and a snake's body was the earliest example of dragon worship by the Chinese people, which shows that Inner Mongolia was also one of the important cradles of Chinese dragon worship. Pig-dragon, phoenix, flying deer and other zun-shaped ware showed that society was polarized to great extent at that time. These earliest "artistic divine works" were 1,000 years older than the 6,000-year-old Dragon-Tiger Heap Sculpture at Xishuipo, Puyang, Henan Province. **

No venues for sacrifices were found so far at the Zhaobaobou Culture sites. Therefore, the activities might have been carried out indoors. The zun-shaped ware was used during sacrificial activities for wishing successful hunts. This indicated that hunting was an important part of the life of the ancient Zhaobaogou people. Their religious ceremonies were mostly related to hunting. The ancient Xinglongwa people used the skulls of animals for sacrifices, while the ancient Zhaobaogou people used pottery with the images of animals they hunted. **

The Zhaobaogou Culture and the Hongshan Culture shared many common aspects and the former was more developed than the Hongshan Culture. For example, the pig-dragon and a jade dragon with a pig's head and a snake's body must have a close connection and the pottery of both cultures have Z shapes printed on them. Therefore, the Zhaobaogou Culture should be an ancient culture that exerted a great influence on the development of the Hongshan Culture. **

History of Research on the Earlier Neolithic Societies in Northeast China

Hongshan ceremonial object, perhaps a headdress

Gideon Shelach and Teng Mingyu wrote in “A Companion to Chinese Archaeology”: “Archaeological research in the areas of northeast China sometimes formerly referred to as Manchuria started in the early years of the twentieth century and continued during the 1930s and 1940s under the Japanese occupation of the area (Hamada and Mizuno 1938; Tong 1957; Liang 1959; Guo Dashan 1995). Research during the early years of the People’s Republic of China was focused on the identification of local “cultures” and the establishment of their relative chronology (Zhongguo Neimenggu 1974; Liu Guanmin and Xu 1981). With the introduction of radiometric dating to Chinese archaeology in the 1970s and the proliferation of local research, the chronological and geographical variables of this scheme were refined (cf. Liu Guanmin and Xu 1981; Liu Guanmin 1987; Zhang Zhaopei et al. 1987; Zhongguo Neimenggu 1987, 1988; Xu 1989; Zhang Zhongpei 1991). [Source: “Earlier Neolithic Economic and Social Systems of the Liao River Region, Northeast China” by Gideon Shelach and Teng Mingyu, A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, Edited by Anne P. Underhill, Blackwell Publishing, 2013; samples.sainsburysebooks.co.uk PDF ~|~]

“One of the main goals of research in this area, as in many other areas of China, has been the search for early Neolithic cultures. Until the mid-1980s the Hongshan, dated to c.4500–3000 B.C., was considered to be the earliest Neolithic culture of northeast China, and it attracted much attention both in China and in the West, not least because of its advanced jade industry and unique ritualistic expressions. Recognition of the pre-Hongshan occupation of northeast China started to emerge during the mid-1980s (Zhongguo Neimenggu 1985, 1987, 1988; Su 1986; Liaoning 1988) but only gained official recognition in the early 1990s with the classification of two pre-Hongshan techno-chronological entities (or “cultures”), the Xinglongwa dated to c.6200–5400 B.C.)and the Zhaobaogou dated to about 5400–4500 cal. (calibrated years) B.C.. During the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, more research confirmed the relatively early date of the Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou. This, along with the analysis of the unique features of their material cultures, is used to ascertain the indigenous nature of the social-economic trajectory of the region. ~|~

Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou Settlements and Houses

Gideon Shelach and Teng Mingyu wrote in “A Companion to Chinese Archaeology”: “The Xinglongwa type site was located in 1982 in Aohan banner in eastern Inner Mongolia (Zhongguo Neimenggu 1997). Following its excavations, Xinglongwa was first defined as an archeological culture in 1985 (Zhongguo Neimennggu 1985); since then some 100 Xinglongwa sites have been located and a few have been excavated. Most of these sites are found in the eastern part of Inner Mongolia, northern Shanxi Province, and the western part of Liaoning province, in the drainage systems of the Xilamulun river and the Laoha river. [Source: “Earlier Neolithic Economic and Social Systems of the Liao River Region, Northeast China” by Gideon Shelach and Teng Mingyu, A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, Edited by Anne P. Underhill, Blackwell Publishing, 2013; samples.sainsburysebooks.co.uk PDF ~|~]

“The geographic distribution of the Zhaobaogou sites is similar to that of the Xinglongwa. “Important sites of the Zhaobaogou period are the Zhaobaogou-type site, Nantaidi, and Xiaoshan located in the Aohan banner, Xiaoshandegou and Baiyinchanghan located in the northern part of the Chifeng region, and Houtaizi and Anxinzhuang located in northeastern Hebei province. ~|~

“Within the 1234 square kilometers surveyed by the Chifeng International Collaborative Archaeological Research Project (CICARP), of which we were among the principal investigators (PIs), fewer than 20 Xinglongwa and fewer than 30 Zhaobaogou sites, covering a total area of 28 hectares and 41 hectares respectively, were located (CICARP 2003, 2012). While the absolute number of early Neolithic sites found by the CICARP survey is not high, and the density of artifacts is relatively low, sites are ubiquitous enough to demonstrate the colonization and continuous occupation of this region by sedentary, presumably agriculturalist, societies. ~|~

“Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou sites seem to have been pre-planned, because houses are arranged in rows and are located at more or less even distances from each other. Some of the Xinglongwa settlements are surrounded by narrow ditches: those at the Xinglongwa and Baiyinchanghan sites were 0.55–1.00 meters deep and 1.5–2.0 meters wide (Zhongguo Neimenggu 1985a, 1997; Guo et al. 1991; Shelach 2000: 395–403; Neimenggu 2004: 41); but similar features are not found at Zhaobaogou sites. Excavations of Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou sites usually uncovered only a small portion of each site but based on surface remains their size is estimated at between 1.5 to 10 hectares (Liaoning 1988; Neimenggu 1993; Zhongguo Shehui 1997). The size of surface collections of Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou period pot sherds identified by the CICARP is usually between 1 and 2 hectares. Based on the sample of excavated houses, it was estimated that the population of the Zhaobaogou site numbered between 236 and 388 people (Shelach 2006: 334). ~|~

“Rectangular semi-subterranean houses are typical to this period and they reflect considerable investment in sedentary habitation. House sizes range between 20 and 80 square meters, with some larger houses up to 140 square meters also reported. At the Zhaobaogou site houses include rectangular shallow hearths, and some houses had niches dug into the back wall and storage pits dug into the floor. A few of the structures are divided into two halves, with the floor of the front half slightly elevated above the back part, creating a low step in the transition between them. Aside from houses, the only other type of structures commonly found at Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou sites are smaller and deeper pits commonly defined as storage pits. Storage pits are found among the houses but most typically inside them. “No formal cemeteries, such as those known from the Yangshao period in the Yellow and Wei river basins, have been located in or near Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou sites. Most typical Xinglongwa graves have been located under house floors. ~|~

Xinle Site Museum

The Xinle culture (5500–4800 B.C.) 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 archaeological site covers an area of 22,500 square meters and preserves a large-scale primitive dwelling site.

The discovery of this Neolithic site was first made at the Xinle Electric Power Plant, hence the name. The excavations are divided into Upper Strata and Lower Strata cultures, with the Upper Strata belonging to a period roughly 3,000 years ago. This corresponds with the bronze period, and excavated objects include ceramics such as three-legged vessels and stone tools that are predominantly of the polished-tool type. The Lower Strata belongs to a period roughly 7,200 years ago, or what is considered to be a primitive-society Neolithic period. Half?submerged or half-underground dwellings reveal the contemporary architecture. Recovered artefacts include deep-bellied pots with impressed rope patterns, microliths, polished stone tools, chipped stone tools, carbonized particles, and wooden carved items. Since this culture had unique characteristics and was important in researching the history of early peoples in the northeast, it was given the name Xinle Culture. [Source: chinamuseums.com +/]

After repeated excavations, the Xinle site has produced around thirty habitations in the Lower Strata Xinle Culture. Larger buildings are around 120 square meters in area, medium-sized are around 40-60 square meters, and smallsized are around 20-30 square meters. These are spaced closely together in lines so that this is considered to be a Neolithic settlement. +/

The Xinle Site Museum in the southern district currently has around 1,200 objects in its collection. In the northern district of the museum, one half-underground house has been preserved and is on view in its original state. This homesite was excavated in 1978. It is rectangular in shape, covers 95.46 square meters, and there is a round hearth in the middle. The four walls of the pit show the remaining traces of columns. A large number of items were excavated from within the house that are now exhibited mostly in the form in which archaeologists found them at the time. This, together with the actual structure of a dwelling that people used 7,000 years ago, gives visitors an authentic sense of what it was like to live here at that time. +/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University/+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021

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