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Yangshao Culture

ca. 5000 BC–ca. 3000 BC
Extent of Yangshao Culture
Capital Banpo
Government Tribal
 - Established ca. 5000 BC
 - Disestablished ca. 3000 BC
Currency Cowries

The Yangshao culture (Chinese: 仰韶文化pinyin: Yǎngsháo wénhuà) was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the central Yellow River in China. The Yangshao culture is dated from around 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The culture is named after Yangshao, the first excavated representative village of this culture, which was discovered in 1921 in Henan Province by the Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874-1960). The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi.



The subsistence practices of Yangshao people were varied. They cultivated millet extensively; some villages also cultivated wheat or rice. The exact nature of Yangshao agriculture—small-scale slash-and-burn cultivation versus intensive agriculture in permanent fields, is currently matter of debate. However, Middle Yangshao settlements such as Jiangzhi contain raised floor buildings that may have been used for the storage of surplus grains. They kept such animals as pigs, chickens and dogs, as well as sheep, goats, and cattle, but much of their meat came from hunting and fishing. Their stone tools were polished and highly specialized. The Yangshao people may also have practiced an early form of silkworm cultivation.


The Yangshao people mainly cultivated millet but some settlements grew rice. They also grew vegetables like turnips, cabbage, yams and other vegetables. The Yangshao people domesticated chickens, ducks, pigs, dogs and cattle. Millet and rice was made into gruel for the morning while millet was made into dumplings.Meat was only eaten on special occasions and rice was ground in to flour to make cakes.Most of the meat was gotten by hunting or fishing.


The Yangshao culture produced silk to a small degree and wove hemp. Men wore loin cloths and tied their hair in a top knot. Women wrapped a length of cloth around themselves leaving the shoulders bare or wore a skirt and took the front end between the legs and tied it in the back. Women tied their hair in a bun.The wealthy could wear silk. Children went naked until 11 years old.


Houses were built by digging a rounded rectangular pit few feet. Then they were rammed and a lattice of wattle was woven over it.Then it was plastered with mud.The floor was also rammed down. Next a few short wattle poles would be placed around the top of the pit and more wattle would be woven to it. It was plastered with mud and a framework of poles would be placed to make cone shape for the roof. Poles would be added to support the roof.It was then thatched with millet stalks. There was little furniture, a shallow fire place in the middle with a stool, a bench along the wall, a bed of cloth and food nd item were placed or hung against the walls. A pen would be built outside for animals.


The Yangshao culture is well-known for its painted pottery. Yangshao artisans created fine white, red, and black painted pottery with human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Unlike the later Longshan culture, the Yangshao culture did not use pottery wheels in pottery-making. Excavations found that children were buried in painted pottery jars.

Archaeological sites

The archaeological site of Banpo village, near Xi'an, is one of the best-known ditch-enclosed settlements of the Yangshao culture. Another major settlement called Jiangzhai (姜寨) was excavated out to its limits, and archaeologists found that it was completely surrounded by a ring-ditch. Both Banpo and Jiangzhai also yielded controversial incised marks on pottery which a few have interpreted as numerals or perhaps precursors to the Chinese script[1]. However, such conclusions may be premature [2].


Among the numerous overlapping phases of the Yangshao culture, the most prominent phases, typified by differing styles of pottery, include:

  • Banpo phase, approximately 4800 BC to 4200 BC, central plane
  • Miaodigou phase, circa 4000 BC to 3000 BC, successor to Banpo
  • Majiayao phase, approximately 3300 BC to 2000 BC, in Gansu, Qinghai
  • Banshan phase, approximately 2700 BC to 2300 BC, successor to Majiayao
  • Machang phase, approximately 2400 BC to 2000 BC


See also


  1. ^ Woon, Wee Lee (1987). Chinese Writing: Its Origin and Evolution. Joint Publishing, Hong Kong.
  2. ^ 裘錫圭 Qiú Xīguī (2000). Chinese Writing. Translation of 文字學概論 by Mattos and Norman. Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-071-7.
  • Chang, K.C. Archaeology of Ancient China. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1983.
  • Liu, Li. The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States, ISBN 0-521-81184-8
  • Underhill, Anne P. Craft Production and Social Change in Northern China, 2002. ISBN 0-306-46771-2.


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