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HomeResearch workExploration on the origin of Chinese civilization
Exploring the Earliest State of China: New archaeological Evidence from Taosi
From:Chinese Archaeology  Writer:He Nu  Date:2014-10-20
Regarding to the concepts both of civilization and sate society, there are various terms in various aspects. I would like to point out that civilization is a kind of lifestyle in high level of state society. Most scholars, who concern about retracing Chinese civilization, absolutely focus on the earliest state formation in China. I suggest that the state society is top stage of complex society. 
 
Archaeologically, the social complication in prehistoric China was prominently triggered around 3d millennium BC. The pioneer was the Hongshan Culture in the Liaohe River valley, followed by the Lianzhu Culture in Lower Yangtze River valley, and the Qujialing-Shijiahe Culture in Middle Yangtze River valley. Undoubtedly they had respectively reached to the unprecedented peak of religious and cultural development by the middle of 3d millennium BC, based on chiefdom organizations. But the final civilized core of China was established in the Middle Yellow River valley, the so-called “Central Land” or “Central Plain” in Chinese classical documents. “China” originally could be termed as “the state in Central Land”. Most international scholars believe that Shang Dynasty is the first civilization in China, while most native scholars consider Erlitou Culture as the earliest state, which could be dated at 1,700 BC in the beginning. It is quite clear that there is a big interval between the great achievements contributed by the above three chiefdoms and the civilization of Erlitou. The trail of Chinese civilization appeared foggy in the late days of 3d millennium BC. Given this, most Chinese scholars focus on the Taosi Site in Shanxi Province, trying to find some evidence to demonstrate that the earliest state in China established in southern Shanxi Province, also referred to “Central Land” region.  
 
In order to identify a given state society in aspect of archaeology, the most effective strategy is settlement pattern research dedicated to capital site. Besides, the specific cognitions for state society containing in archaeological evidence serve as crucial indicators of formation of state society.
 
Fortunately, the archaeological work at Taosi in the past three decades, has yielded most remarkable evidence referring to settlement pattern and cognitive archaeology, to demonstrate where and when the earliest state appeared in China.
 
1.Micro-settlement pattern of Taosi
 
Taosi Site is located at 7 km. northeast to the downtown of Xiangfen County, in southern part of Shanxi Province (Fig. 1), which is covering an area over 300 ha. From 1978 to 1987, the Institute of Archaeology of CASS excavated Taosi Site, trying to find the early capital of the Xia Dynasty, based on one statement in the historical documents, that southern Shanxi was called as Ruin of Xia, which probably had served as the capital of Xia Dynasty(Shanxi Team of Archaeology Institute of CASS & Linfen Cultural Bureau of Shanxi,1980,1983,1984,1986). Archaeologists recovered a common residential area and a huge cemetery, in which over 1,000 burials were recovered (Fig.2). It was very striking that 9 big tombs referred to chiefs or kings, producing assemblages of furniture symbolizing authority, including  ceramic tray painted with dragon design, ceramic drum, wooden drum covered with crocodile skin, big chime stone, jade axe, colorful wooden wares, over 100 offerings in each tomb, while over 95% small graves contained nothing in contrast. Besides chiefs and poor people, there are 40 aristocratic tombs compassing the chiefs’ ones, containing several dozens of artifacts. It has suggested not only the social stratification or even classes had occurred in Taosi, but Taosi might have worked as the central town of a given polity. It was still uncertain, nevertheless, whether it had acted as the capital of a certain state society or a dynasty.
 
Taosi site is located on loess terrace at western side of Mt. Chongshan (the folk name is Ta’ershan), facing to Fenhe River. One of the fruitful outcomes of archaeological work on Taosi in last century established Taosi Culture and its chronological date. The detail date of Taosi Culture is as follow.
 
Early Taosi period: 2,400 to 2,100 BC
 
Middle Taosi period: 21,00 to 2,000 BC
 
Late Taosi period: 2,000 to 1,900 BC
 
It is convinced that the civilization is a highly advanced lifestyle for a state society. And the capital settlement serves as the principle indicator for a state society. Archaeologically, we believe that palaces, royal tombs, monumentally ceremonial structures, executive storage area, executive craft industry, as well as the fortifications such as enclosure or wall and moat, could indicate a capital settlement. Given this, form 1999 to 2010, we have been conducting successive fieldwork at Taosi, trying to search for archaeological evidence regarding to palace, mausoleum, altar, shrine, city wall, which is organized and financed by the Project of Retracing Chinese Civilization. Within last 11 years, we have explored over 4,000 square meters, and do have recovered some significant archaeological evidence in terms of such issues.
 
By the spring season of 2002, we identified the small walled-town of the Early period and the large one of Middle period at Taosi. The former one is about 56 ha, and later one covers an area over 280 ha including the 10 ha southern small town (Fig.2). The entire town is proximately in square shape. Its direction is 225°. The large town of Middle period at Taosi has been considered as one of the largest walled-towns of prehistoric China.


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