Dawenkou Culture and the Emergence of Social Complexity in Neolithic China Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Dawenkou Culture

The Emergence of Social

Complexity in Neolithic China

This work will focus on the burial assemblages of the Dawenkou site in Shandong Northern China and will revolve around the main idea that these burial sites present convincing evidence of an emerging social complexity. A second focus will be to provide proof that the Dawenkou culture played a major role in the emerging complexity of the Neolithic Chinese period.

Until recently, archaeologists had believed that the Chinese civilization began in the center of China around the Yellow River valley and eventually migrated from there. However, new discoveries have revealed an extremely more complex version of Neolithic China. It is more viable today that China developed from multiple cultures from different regions of the land as opposed to a single or bi- cultural evolution. "As in other parts of the world, the Neolithic period was marked by the development of agriculture, including both the cultivation of plants and the domestication of livestock, as well as the development of pottery and textiles. Permanent settlements became possible, paving the way for more complex societies." (Neolithic China) Another focus will assess the customs and rituals associated with the burial assemblages and will provide insight into items discovered within the tombs of the Dawenkou site in Shandong Northern China. And finally, this research will attempt to present ideas and/or more speculation as to what the discovered items tell us about the ancient Northern Chinese Neolithic cultures as well as where the future of Chinese archaeological discoveries may lead.

Some insight into Neolithic China is as good a place to start as any. The Neolithic period has been classified as a time where there was a combination of cultures spreading over settled agricultural communities with the migratory patterns of hunting and gathering practiced by other communities. "The largest concentration of agriculture was below the southern bend of the Yellow River and millet was the main crop." (Neolithic China)

There is convincing evidence of discovered Neolithic settlements. These settlements have been dated to have existed around 4,000 B.C. Some archeologists believe that the true beginning of China's Neolithic period may have begun around 12,000 B.C. And lasted until around 2,000 B.C. China during the Neolithic period was very different from how we know it today. "It was much wetter, with most of Northern China being lakes and marshes and central China covered in an enormous lake. The climate was warm and moist, rather than the colder, arid China of today. The mountains were well forested and there was a variety of animals." (Neolithic China)

There have been multiple cultures discovered in the area for the Neolithic time period:

Yangshao culture (5000-3000 BC)

Dawenkou culture (4300-2500 BC)

Longshan culture (2500-2000 BC)

Hongshan culture in northeastern China

Liangzhu culture in the lower Yangzi River delta

Shijiahe culture in the middle Yangzi River basin

There is a great deal of evidence that the Neolithic people were displaying a unique societal complexity as early as 5000 B.C. "We may assume that since the Neolithic cultures and their remains are distributed over such an expansive region, distinct regional or local differences and different cultural characters are bound to exist, and that at the same time they are most likely to contain many elements of influence that came from primitive cultures in the heartland of the Northeast and the coastal region of the Southeast; they thus reflect the historical lineage of the region and its characteristic of being a place where many different ethnic groups had gathered and settled." (Guldin) It has been discovered that jade and silk production was already a major part of the economic philosophies throughout the Neolithic era.

The process for creating the silk, feeding the silk worms leaves from the mulberry bush and later boiling the worm's cocoons to extract the silk, is the same process used today in modern China. During the later parts of the Stone Age or Neolithic period, polished stone implements were developed. "There can be little doubt that the use of and appreciation for the tonalities and lustrous qualities of jade evolved from a selective process within a highly developed lithic industry." (Thorp and Vinograd) As additional proof, pottery was in use during the period. Although it has been shown that the pottery was not for everyday use, Neolithic cultural groups were also already decorating their works artistically.

As mentioned earlier, the area was damper than today and also heavily forested. The Neolithic cultures had dwellings that were maintained in clusters which signify that family units were an important part of everyday life. "Archaeologists have employed the term "Neolithic" to characterize archaeological cultures that made stone tools by grinding or polishing. The regular shapes and smooth surfaces of such tools are readily recognized. Indeed polished stone celts (axes) first led J.G. Andersson to investigate the Yangshao site, the namesake for the Yangshao or "Painted Pottery" Culture, in 1912. (Thorp and Vinograd)

Other clues to the times societal complexity stem from the fact that they also had domesticated pets such as pigs and dogs.

The Dawenkou culture continues to be an excellent source for providing modern day archaeologists with all new insights into the history of China and more importantly, mankind. There have been well over one hundred Dawenkou burial sights and tombs discovered and unearthed. "The Dawenkou culture (4300-2500 BC) based in present-day Shandong province overlapped in time with Yangshao culture, and can be considered one of the precursors of the Longshan." (Neolithic Tomb at Dawenkou).

Neolithic Tomb at Dawenkou)

During the Dawenkou cultures reign, certain changes began to appear from a perspective of community dependence and societal complexity. "As intravillage differences emerged, a pattern of mutually dependent larger and smaller settlements developed, changing the preexisting simple geographic relationship of political control." (Liu Li). In other words, early on the Dawenkou communities were based on small and mainly self-sufficient villages. Around the middle of their tenure, archaeological discoveries show that by the Longshan era, Dawenkou communities began to shows signs of moving to a more politically centered, hub and spoke, system. It is also assumed that the system most likely created a strong codependency on the other like an England castle providing political stability and on the exterior of the fort lived the producers of food. This is not to say the Dawenkou were organized like a castle in the sense of waging war, only to show the political structure. "Thus, while the major centers would create a bureaucratic system with a specialized class devoted to the handling and control of information, the smaller centers and villages were made to specialize in food and resource production, losing their political and economic independence in the process." (Dematte)

One other important note in regard to the Dawenkou time period, it is generally believed that the population was increasing during the ending of the Dawenkou reign. "Surveys in Shandong province indicate that, compared to the Dawenkou times, by the start of the Longshan period, village densities had almost quadrupled. In the county of Shouguang, for example, only 14 Dawenkou sites were discovered, compared to the 51 Longshan sites. In the southern part of the county, in the Sunjiaji village area, 47 sites were discovered, in an area of c. 77 [km.sup.2], a number that gives a density of one village per 1.68 [km.sup.2]. In certain areas, the concentration is so high it rivals today's."(Dematte)

Death has always been an indicator of a society's social complexity. As mentioned, there have been well over a hundred tombs unearthed in the Shandong province of Northern China. The well to-do has the right to expect the same prosperity in the after life. "The tombs have many features in common; all are rectangular pit-graves, most are oriented with the dead persons' heads toward the east, and most of the bodies had deer teeth in their hands. Some tombs had one or two items in them, but most tombs had ten or twenty items. Four tombs are joint burials. Among them, three had one adult man and one adult woman; and one had an adult man, an adult woman and a child." (Neolithic Tomb at Dawenkou)

The unearthed Dawenkou tombs have provided proof that the people of the time expected to retain their prosperity on the other side. The following is a description of Dawenkou Tomb 10. It was apparently built for a woman who died when she was approximately fifty to fifty-five years old. "The tomb pit was 4.2 m in length, 3.2 m in width, and 0.36 m deep. Inside the pit was a wooden chamber which contained the coffin. The woman wore a stone necklace, a jade ring, and a stone jewel on her chest. An ivory comb was by her head, a jade ax by her right thigh, a bone tube by her right knee, and a stone hammer near her left shoulder. Most of the burial items were placed on a second-level ledge outside the burial chamber." (Neolithic Tomb at Dawenkou)

In addition to the relics…

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