Notes on the Recent Discovery of Ancient Cultivated Rice at Jiahu, Henan Province: A New Theory concerning the Origin of Oryza Japonica in China

By Juzhong, Zhang; Xiangkun, Wang | Antiquity, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Notes on the Recent Discovery of Ancient Cultivated Rice at Jiahu, Henan Province: A New Theory concerning the Origin of Oryza Japonica in China


Juzhong, Zhang, Xiangkun, Wang, Antiquity


China is one of the places for the origin of the Asian cultivated rice (Oka 1988), but there are different theories for precise locations where ancient cultivated rice first originated, including those proposing South China and Yunnan (Li 1989) or the middle and lower Yangtze River Valley (Yan 1989), or the middle Yangtze and the upper Huai River Valley (Wang 1996) as the site of the oldest rice cultivation in China. The discovery (Zhang et al. 1994) of ancient rice at Jiahu in Henan province not only pushed the history of rice agriculture in the Huai River region back to 9000 BP, but also indicated the existence of an agricultural tradition of rice cultivation in the region from the beginning of the Holocene Anathermal until the end of the Holocene megathermal.

Jiahu is located at 33 [degrees] 36 [minutes] N and 113 [degrees] 40 [minutes] E. It is now in a transitional zone between the northern subtropical and the northern temperate zones, and covers an area of 55,000 sq. m. Six seasons of excavation have been carried out by the Henan Archaeology Institute since 1983. The total excavated area was about 2400 sq. m, and 400 remains of houses, pits, earthenware kilns and 300 graves were found, together with several thousand pieces of pottery and stone tools, animal bones, horns and teeth. The most interesting items among them include 7-note bone flutes, turtle shells and bones with carved ancient characters, carbonated rice grains, husks, impressions of rice grains in pottery and a large quantity of rice phytoliths (Zhang et al. 1998).

Investigation of the rice grains and husks revealed that the length of the grains approached that of japonica, the width that of indica, and the L/W ratio approached that of early indica and later japonica. The shape of the phytoliths also approached that of japonica (49% of them were fan-shaped, approaching the shape of japonica; 22% approached that of indica, and 29% were of intermediate type). The bi-peak-tubercles on lemma were also pro-japonica. Thus an integrated analysis of the Jiahu ancient rice suggested that it should be a pro-japonica primitive type of cultivated rice with some characteristics of the common wild rice and whose I-J (indica-japonica) identity has not yet been fully differentiated.

Results from a scanning electronic microscope observation revealed that the grains of the Jiahu ancient rice had all been processed. It was also found that some of pottery had carbonated rice husks within the fabric. Analysis of excavated human bones revealed that the average contents of [[Delta].sup.13]C and[[Delta].sup.18]O were [[Delta].sub.13]C VSPDB = -20.76[per thousand] and [[Delta].sup.18] VSPDB = -18-53[per thousand] respectively, indicating that the staple food of the Jiahu man was mainly [C.sup.3] plants, including rice; and this shows, in turn, the importance of rice-cropping agriculture in the life of the Jiahu people. The large number of stone axes, spades, sickles, knives, mills and clubs excavated implies that rice agriculture of the Jiahu tribes was already well developed.

Among the excavated specimens, there were remains of a great many animals and plants adapted to a warm, humid environment, such as Yangtze alligator (Alligator sinensis), Cuora flavomarginata, Muntiacus cf. reevesiogilly, buffalo (Bufalus), sweetgum (Liquidambar), beech (Fagus), water fern (Ceratopteris), cattail (Typha) and common wild rice (Oryza rufipagan), indicating that the natural conditions of the Jiahu district then were similar to those of the present Yangtze River region. Thus, the water and temperature factors of this region then were quite suitable for the growth and propagation of rice, and this was a prerequisite for the emergence of the Jiahu rice-cropping agriculture.

Following a systematic study of the cultural remains of Jiahu, the excavators classified them into three periods belonging to the earlier, middle and later periods (TABLE 1). More than 20 14C determinations were obtained from specimens of charcoal, ash, fruit stones and human bone, [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] indicating a date range from 8285 to 7450 BP, or about 7000-5800 BC after calibration. …

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