Jiahu 1: Earliest Farmers beyond the Yangtze River

Article excerpt


The cultivation of rice (Oryza cativa) significantly shaped the development of human civilisation, especially in eastern Asia. Since the 1970s, discoveries of early rice at sites such as Hemudu (ZPICRA 2003), Pengtoushan (HPlCRA 2006), and Chengbexi (HPICRA 2001) in China, dating to between e. 7000 and 5000 cal BC, have drawn attention to the Yangtze Valley as the most probable region of origin for early domesticated rice of the japonica subspecies (e.g. Crawford & Chen 1998; Higham & Lu 1998; Zhao 1998; Bellwood 2005:111, 2011; Jiang & Liu 2006; Londo et al. 2006; Fuller et al. 2007, 2009; Liu et al. 2007; Zhang & Hung 2008, 2010; Fuller 2011; Molina et al. 2011). However, recent discoveries north of the Yangtze Valley proper, from Jiahu in the upper Huai Valley and Baligang in the middle Hanshui Valley, located between the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, have revealed the first significant occurrence of morphologically domesticated rice in China, at c. 7000-6500 cal BC.

Interestingly, the Huai and Hanshui valleys at that time were very close to (Fuller 2011: fig. 1), or perhaps even beyond (Fan et al. 1999), the early Holocene northern boundary of wild rice distribution, suggesting possible transport of rice seed into the region for cultivation purposes by humans. This cultivation of rice at or close to the edge of its natural early Holocene range could have been an important factor that enhanced its eventual domestication, involving both climatic stress and spatial separation of early domesticated rice from its wild forebears. The significance of edge-of-the-range domestication in the case of rice was suggested originally by Yan Wen-ming (1991), based on the discoveries in the Yangtze site of Pengtoushan.

Until recently, the Neolithic dry-land farmers (especially of millets) of the Yellow River region, such as Laoguantai, Peiligang and Cishan, were regarded as the earliest food producers in northern China. With the discovery of Jiahu, further to the south in Henan, Chinese archaeologists commented on the similar cultural characteristics shared between Jiahu and the Yellow River Neolithic assemblages, especially Peiligang (KBCRM & XBCRM 1978; KBCRM et al. 1979; HPICRA 1999: 531; DTHTA et al. 2002). However, the true role of the phase 1 assemblage at Jiahu, and the contemporary assemblage at Baligang, in the rise of domesticated food production in China has only recently been realised. This paper intends to situate Jiahu and Baligang in Chinese Neolithic prehistory through the most recent findings.

Jiahu 1: chronology and discovery

Jiahu is located in the Huai Valley in Wuyang county, Henan province (Figure 1). From 1983 to 2001, more than 2600[m.sup.2] of an estimated total of 50 000[m.sup.2] (5ha) of occupation area with three successive cultural phases was excavated during seven successive seasons of research (e.g. Zhang & Wang 1998; HPICRA 1999; DTHTA et al. 2002; Luo & Zhang 2008). In addition to the earliest evidence for domesticated rice (Liu et al. 2007, 2009) and pigs (Luo & Zhang 2008), and a claim for the earliest examples of Chinese notation akin to writing (Li et al. 2003), the site has also offered evidence for China's oldest known wine residues (McGovern et al. 2004; Zhang & Lan 2010) and bone flutes (Zhang et al. 1999, 2004).

Jiahu 1 pottery is reddish or reddish-brown with fine sand temper. Most vessels are plain or cord-marked jars, bowls or basins. Many jars (hu) have a straight rim profile, flat base, and two small vertical lug handles (Figure 2, top row). Some vessels, especially at Jiahu itself, are red-slipped (Figure 2). At Jiahu, 148 excavated structures were placed by the excavators in phase 1, including circular or oval sunken house floors ringed with postholes for roof support, burial pits and storage pits. The Jaihu phase 1 graves contained mostly extended supine skeletons (Figure 3). Burial goods included pottery hu placed near the head of the deceased, with stone and bone tools placed elsewhere. …