New Evidence for the Origins of Sedentism and Rice Domestication in the Lower Yangzi River, China

Article excerpt

The Shangshan site

Shangshan is located at Qu'nancun in Pujiang county, Zhejiang province. It is situated on a flat basin in the upper Puyang River, a tributary of the Qiantang River (Figure 1). The site, 50m above sea level, appears to be one of many small mounds in the basin, about 3-5m higher than the surrounding ground; most of these mounds, however, have been levelled to make agricultural lands in recent decades. Archaeologists of the Zhejiang Institute of Archaeology discovered the Shangshan site during a survey project in 2000.

Archaeologists excavated an area of 600[m.sup.2] in 2001. The cultural deposits are about 80-100cm in thickness. The Neolithic occupation, divided into five strata and measuring up to 60cm in thickness, is superpositioned by a Shang-Zhong stratum (second-first millennium BC) and a ploughed layer. Four AMS carbon (14) dates obtained from charred plants tempered in the Neolithic pottery point to a period around 10 000 cal. BP (Table 1).


The site appears to have been a sedentary village. Within the excavated area there were several dwellings and more than twenty ash pits, round or nearly square in shape. The dwelling remains are composed of rows of trenches or postholes. The earliest building, Building F2, was unearthed from the lowest strata. It was a trench-style structure, composed of a foundation surrounded by a U-shaped trench on the eastern, northern and western sides. The better-preserved western trench measures 8.5m long, lm wide, and 10-26cm deep. The trenches on the three sides were filled with soil in different colours. This type of structure seems to be unique in the region.

Building F1, found in an upper stratum of the Neolithic period, is a structure of 14m long and 6m wide, oriented along a north-west-south-east axis. There are three parallel rows of postholes, which are 27-50cm in diameter and 70-90cm in depth. In each row the distance between postholes is about 1.6m, while the distance between rows is 3m (Figure 2). Some of the postholes are constructed with small stones on the side or base. Such a structural plan seems to resemble the well-preserved pile-dwellings found at the Hemudu site (Zhejiang Institute of Archaeology 2003), some 150km north-east of but 2000 years later than Shangshan.


The Shangshan material assemblage includes stone balls, chipped stone tools, large grinding slabs, rectangular-shaped stone pestle, and red pottery tempered with charred plants. Due to the acid soil conditions, most organic material has not been preserved.

The stone tool assemblage shows a transition from Palaeolithic to Neolithic technologies. More than 100 stone balls, similar in size and shape, were uncovered. They are made of river pebbles, 5-10cm in diameter; while most show chipped and worn surfaces, some still have a cortex. There are many chipped stone core and flake tools, showing continuity of Palaeolithic traditions. Grinding slabs are 30-50cm in width, with a concave surface, while pestles are made of pebbles, often showing a convex surface on one side. These slab-and-pestle sets may have been used together for processing food. Some perforated pebble disks, which probably served as digging stick weights (Song & Zhou 1994), are made by hammer-dressing technique and worked from both sides. The Neolithic technology is indicated by the presence of a few finely polished stone axes and adzes, and whetstones (Figure 3).


Pottery appears to have been fired at a low temperature. The fabrics are yellowish in colour, walls are thick, in some cases more than 2cm in thickness, and the exterior surfaces seem to be covered with red slip. Most pottery vessels are tempered with charred plants, but a few with sand. Some potsherds show layers in cross-section, revealing that slab-modelling technique was employed. Based on preliminary analysis, 85 per cent of pottery vessels are flat-bottomed in shape, while a few are round-bottomed and short ring-bottomed. …