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Gudi flute found at Jiahu, on display at the Henan Museum
Examples of the Jiahu Script

Jiahu (賈湖 pinyin: Jiǎhú) was the site of a Neolithic Yellow River settlement based in the central plains of ancient China, modern Wuyang, Henan Province. Archaeologists consider the site to be one of the earliest examples of the Peiligang culture. Settled from 7000 to 5800 BC, the site was later flooded and abandoned. The settlement at Jiahu was surrounded by a moat and covered an area of 55,000 square metres. Discovered by Zhu Zhi in 1962, extensive excavation of the site did not occur until much later. Most of the site has still not yet been excavated.

Archaeologists have divided Jiahu into three distinct phases. The oldest phase ranges from 7000 to 6600 BC. The middle phase ranges from 6600 to 6200 BC. The last phase ranges from 6200 to 5800 BC. The last two phases correspond to the Peiligang culture, while the earliest phase is unique to Jiahu.

The inhabitants of Jiahu cultivated foxtail millet and rice. While millet cultivation is common among the Peiligang culture, rice cultivation at Jiahu is unique. Jiahu rice cultivation is one of the earliest found, and the most northerly found at such an early stage in history.

Over 300 burials have been unearthed at Jiahu, accompanied by burial offerings. Burial objects range from pottery to tortoise shells. One of the most significant offerings discovered were playable tonal flutes. The flutes were made from Red-crowned Crane wing bones. The oldest phase at Jiahu only contains two flutes, which are tetratonic and pentatonic. The middle phase at Jiahu contains several flutes, including an interesting pair of hexatonic flutes. One of the flutes was broken, and the other flute seems to be a replica of the first flute. The second flute shows evidence of adjustments made to match the pitch of the first flute. Innovations in the last phase include the use of heptatonic flutes.

Jiahu yielded some of the oldest pottery yet found in Neolithic China. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania applied chemical analysis to pottery jars from Jiahu and found evidence of alcohol fermented from rice, honey and hawthorn. Researchers hypothesize that the alcohol was fermented by the process of mold saccharification. In July of 2007, Dogfish Head Brewery released a beer based on the chemical analysis of this early alcoholic beverage. The drink is called Chateau Jiahu.

At Jiahu, archaeologists identified eleven markings Jiahu script, nine on tortoise shells and two on bone, as possible evidence for proto-writing. The markings correspond to the middle phase. Some of the markings are quite similar to later Chinese characters; two of the most intriguing marks appear to be similar to later characters for eye (目) and sun (日). However, correspondence of many early non-writing symbols with the Shang dynasty period oracle bone writing is to be expected, given the pictographic flavor of many of the Shang characters.

References

  • Lee Yuan-Yuan and Shen, Sinyan. Chinese Musical Instruments (Chinese Music Monograph Series). 1999. Chinese Music Society of North America Press. ISBN 1-880464039
  • Liu, Li. The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States, ISBN 0-521-81184-8
  • Zhang, J., Xinghua Xiao, and Yun Kuen Lee, 2004, The early development of music. Analysis of the Jiahu bone flutes. Antiquity 78(302): 769-779.
  • Xueqin, L., Harbottle, G., Zhang, J. and Wang, C., 2003, The earliest writing? Sign use in the seventh millennium BC at Jiahu, Henan Province, China. Antiquity 77(295): 31-45.

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