Neolithic and Bronze Age China (21,000-2,070 BCE)

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Pottery, Xiarengdong Cave, Jiangxi province
Pottery, Yuchanyan Cave, Hunan province
Gromatukha culture, Zeya River
Cishan culture bowl
Peilgang culture pot
Majiayao culture female figurine
Yangshao conjoined jars
Pottery, Amur River

Jade Dragon (aka First Dragon of China)
Jade artefact (British Museum)
Basin with a Fish Pattern with a Human Face
Jar Showing a Stork with a Fish and a Stone Axe

In China the period 1.7m years BP to 2,070 BCE are considered to be pre-historic, and viewed with three distinct parts – Paleolithic (2.5m BP-8,000 BCE), Neolithic (16,000-2,000 BCE) and Bronze ages (21st-5th c BCE). Very early hominids include Yuanmou Man from Yunnan Province (SW China), Lantian Man from Shaanxi Province (N China) and Peking Man (N China).

It is in these periods that the Chinese myths and legends were founded. The significant culture included the Creation of Heaven and Earh by Pan Gu, the first man in Daoist legend.

Britannica describes: Pan Gu, the first man, is said to have come forth from chaos (an egg) with two horns, two tusks, and a hairy body. Some accounts credit him with the separation of heaven and earth, setting the sun, moon, stars, and planets in place, and dividing the four seas. He shaped the earth by chiselling out valleys and stacking up mountains. All this was accomplished from Pan Gu’s knowledge of yinyang, the inescapable principle of duality in all things.

However Pan Gu had assistance. The goddess Nv Wa meltedd the rocks and repaired the sky. Three Wise Kings, were the immortals Fuk, Luk, and Sau who impacted upon the health and wealth in a person’s life.

Then there were cultural heroes that emerged, though actual identities vary. They are usually grouped into three sovereigns and five august emperors and usully accredited to 2,852 to 2,070 BCE. These folk heroes used their own capabilities to improve the lives of their people and taught them to develop essential skills and knowledge. This included the understanding of fire, farming and building homes, they are said to have invented the calendar, created Chinese script and developed medicine. They were said to be succeeded by Yu the Great, who learened how to control floods and founded the Xia Dynasty, though there is little historic confirmation of his life and acredited achievements.

Chinese Paleolithic art is usually dated to 14,000 – 11,000 BCE, followed by a transition to Mesolithic art from 10,000-8,000 BCE and the early Neolithic art between 8,000-6,000 BCE.

Pottery may have begun in Europe – see Venus of Dolní Věstonice – but it certainly also originated in the far north-east of China and Russia, and gradually spread westward along river valleys like the Amur and Zeya – see Venus figurines of Mal’ta.


18,000 BCE
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Xianrendong Cave in China’s Jiangxi Province has recently yielded up some pottery fragments that have rewritten world origins and development of pottery. Recent work has claimed them as the earliest ceramic art – but do see Venus of Dolní Věstonice for Europe’s counter-claim.

16,000 BCE
Image source: visual-arts-cork.com

Prior to the Xianrendong finds, the oldest pottery had been considered as that found in the Yuchanyan cave in the Hunan province. The image shows a reconstructed piece. This is 29 cm tall and has a 31 cm mouth. The piece is said to have been evidence or rice cultivation along the Yangtze River. There was little in the way of decoration on these pieces.

16,000-12,000 BCE
Image source: Smithsonian Magazine

Along the Amur and Zeya rivers, in NE China and Siberia, there have been many pottery fragment finds that indicate the local Gromatukha people subsisted on fish from the rivers. The pottery is surmised by the Smithsonian magazine as being hot-pots for their cooked fish.

6,500-5,000 BCE
Image source: Wikimedia commons

A Cishan culture earthenware bowl with legs from Hebei.

c6000–5200 BCE
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Red pot with two small “ear” handles, from the Peiligang culture. It is on show at the Shanghai Museum.

5,300-4,000 BCE
Image source: factsanddetails.com

Majiayao culture female figure.

5,000-3,000 BCE
Image source: factsanddetails.com

Yangshao culture thrived on the Loess Plateau along the Yellow River in China. It is named after Yangshao, the first excavated representative village of this culture, which was discovered in 1921 in Henan Province.

These conjoined jars are thought to have been involved in beer brewing.

5,000-1,000 BCE
Image source: Irina Zhuhovskayashchik/Ogla Danilova “Spiral patterns on the Neolithic Pottery of East Asia and the Far East” – and courtesy of Creative Commons

Amur river region pottery began to introduce designs. A vertical zig-zag design created by a small comb was then superimposed with various spiral patterns incised into the pottery. Many of the designs have yin-yang connotations and thus the vessels are described as most likely for festive use, rather than utilitarian pieces.

4,700 – 2,920 BCE
Image source: auroswords.com

This earliest Chinese dragon artefact was discovered in Liaoning province. It has been tagged as the ‘pig dragon’ for its pig or boar-like face and its serpentine body. It is also unusual for its pair of earflaps on its head, eye sockets and nostrils and its jaws featuring upward and downward pointing tusks

3,500 BCE
Image source: Wikimedia commons

This jade artefact held at the British Museum is one of a number of early Chinese dragons (see above). Another version is on show at the National Museum of China.

c3,000 BCE
Image source: chinaculture.org

Red pottery basin with a painted human face and fish patterns. It was discovered in Banpo village in the Shaanzi province, it is in the middle reaches of the Yellow River. It is thus from the Neolithic period, of theYangshao Culture and is dated to c3,000 BCE. It has a 40 cm diameter and is 17 cm high. It is at the National Museum of China.

c3,000 BCE
Image source: en.chnmuseum.cn
This Yanshao culture jar is 47cm high with a 33cm diameter. A stork is holding a large fish in its mouth, to the right is a wooden handled stone axe. The images have been formed by pressing a white pigment onto the jar. The stork’s eye and other items have been outlined in black. It therefore reflects the hunting and fishing occupations of the time, It is dated to c3,000 BCE. It is on show at the National Museum of China.

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