Academic journal article Antiquity

Lijiagou and the Earliest Pottery in Henan Province, China

Academic journal article Antiquity

Lijiagou and the Earliest Pottery in Henan Province, China

Article excerpt


Current research into Chinese prehistory suffers from a dearth of information concerning the cultural and social changes that occurred during the transition from the Terminal Pleistocene to the early Holocene period (e.g. Bar-Yosef & Wang 2012; Liu & Chen 2012; Qu et al. 2013; Wagner et al. 2013; Wang et al. 2013). This period is crucial to our understanding of the transition from mobile hunter-gatherer groups to sedentary communities of foragers, as it is widely agreed to be the time when cultivation of millet, in the north, and rice, in the south, most likely began. The sites of the first hunter-gatherers to practise cultivation are as yet unknown, but within two or three millennia the new subsistence strategy resulted in the domestication of millet and rice (e.g. Crawford 2006; Zhang & Hung 2008,2012; Bettinger et al. 2010; Liu et al. 2010; Z. Zhao 2010, 2011; Bar-Yosef 2011; Cohen 2011; Fuller et al. 2011; Liu & Chen 2012; Yang et al. 2012; Wagner et al. 2013). While excavations of sites dating to this period considerably increase our understanding of the complex processes that led to the emergence of farming in China, they are few in number. Sites of this date that have been excavated in northern China include Donghulin, Zhuanian and Nanzhuangtou (e.g. Cohen 2011; Liu & Chen 2012).

During the Late Pleistocene in northern China, the world of foraging societies was different from that of the southern regions. All across the area from the western semi-desert regions and the highlands of Qinghai and Tibet through the lowlands and plateaus of the Yellow River, Inner Mongolia and north-eastern China were mobile groups of foragers who were the creators of the microblade industries.

Microblades, a term researchers in East Asia adopted from the American literature (e.g. Morlan 1967; Inizan 1991; Inizan et al. 1992), are very small blades (generally less than 10mm wide), and it is often assumed that their production technique evolved from the earlier Upper Palaeolithic knapping of larger blades (see online supplementary material for a description of the operational sequence and typology of microblades). While visually they look similar, the operational sequences for obtaining these microlithic bladelets are different. Therefore, the shift from the common reduction sequences of blades to the making of these small bladelets requires additional technical knowledge.

The study of microblade assemblages has benefited from in-depth investigations conducted in Siberia, Korea, the Japanese archipelago and western North America (e.g. Kobayashi 1970; Flenniken 1987; West 1996; Lu 1998; Seong 1998; Bleed 2001, 2002, 2008; Elston & Kuhn 2002; Goebel et al. 2003; Nakazawa et al. 2005; Kuzmin et al. 2007; Bae 2010; Elston et al. 2011).

A cross-continental review would place the microblade assemblages in a well-established chronological scheme that would allow us to posit questions concerning the origins and dispersal of the makers and their skills. The current challenge in China is to trace the entire sequence of microblade industries made by mobile foragers that first appeared in the archaeological record c. 28-26 000 years ago (e.g. Zhang et al. 2011; Nian et al. 2014) and to trace their fate in view of the establishment of farming communities.

Within this chrono-cultural context, this paper reports two discoveries from the site of Lijiagou. First, it demonstrates a relatively close chronological relationship between the late hunter-gatherer makers of microblade industries and early farmers in China's central plain. Second, it announces the discovery of previously unknown pottery production by foragers, a cultural attribute known from southern China from some 20-18 800 years ago (e.g. Boaretto et al. 2009; Wu et al. 2012). The making of pots is archaeologically recorded among other hunter-gatherer societies across the world, demonstrating independent invention in more than one geographic region (Jordan & Zvelebil 2009). …

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