Ancient civilizations have always grabbed the attention of archeologists. Jiahu was a Chinese civilization and was the Neolithic settlement site near the Yellow River in China. Ni River binds it in the north and Sha River to the South. This civilization was situated 22km north of modern Wuyang, Henan territory. This site was one of the primal paradigms of the Peligang culture. It dated around 7000 BC and it was inundated during 5700 BC. It had an area about 55000 square metres which is approximately 5.5 hectares. During the ancient times, Jiahu was the domicile to at least 250 people and perchance maybe 800. It mainly grew up in the Henan region. This civilization recorded archeological histories of Jiahu symbols and proto-writings (discernible symbols communicating limited meanings). These writings were on tortoise shells and bones. They were the innovators of Jiahu flutes carved out of wing bones of cranes. Thirty three of them have been discovered and is believed to be the most antique specimens of musical instruments in the world. Even proofs of wine making have been found. Wine was fermented from rice, honey and hawthorn leaves. Even during the early Neolithic era, Jiahu was a very advanced and well structured civilization. Houses, cremation sites, earthenware furnaces, carvings on stone and a large communal workstation were discovered. Till date 45 dwellings have been found at Jiahu. The size ranges between 4-10 meters. These houses were mostly partially unfathomable dug into the earth. They consisted of single rooms and later built some extra rooms. Garbage containers, storage cellars and nine earthenware kilns were excavated.
History: This site was excavated during 1962 by Zhu Zhi. Many excavations only took place in 1980s. Most of the site still remains underground in spite of the work progress. The lifestyle of the Jiahu people can be traced by the burial grounds and trash pits. Archeological excavations have been carried out by Institute of cultural relics and Archeology of Henan province. This was led for decades by Professor Zhang Juzhong of the University of Science and Technology in China. The team carried out the discoveries in seven phases. Each phase took two to three years to complete. During the first two stages, large portions of the civilization were discovered amid 1983 to 1987. The detailed findings are noted down in the Antiquity journal.
Jiahu and Peiligang: Cultural distinctions have been noted amid these two traditions. They were quite far away from each other as well. Jiahu was hundreds of kilometers away from Peiligang. On foot it takes several days. According to the School of thought, these two civilizations were different but shared certain common characteristics. Jiahu civilization has been divided into three different phases namely:
- 7000-6000 BC- The oldest phase
- 6600-6200 BC- The middle phase
- 6200-5700 BC- The last phase.
Only this last phase matches up with the Peiligang culture while the others are exclusive to the Jiahu civilization. Over 400 skeletons of human species from 300 graves have been discovered by excavation teams over the period of 30 years. These excavations reveal the relationship between Jiahu cultural groups with the North Asian Mongoloid group. The Miaodigou and Xiawanggang sub-races were descendents of the hunters and gatherers community of the Henan territory.
Agriculture: The Jiahu people were cultivators of foxtail millet and rice. Millet cultivation was also common in Peiligang civilization but rice remains sole to Jiahu civilization. This further proves that, both of these civilizations were different cultures. According to certain scholars, the climatic patterns, rain and soil conditions might have not supported the growing of rice in the Peiligang region. The rice cultivation supports the fact that, Jiahu civilization was a very advanced one even during the early phases of history. The rice was short-grained japonica rice. Before this invention, the scholars thought that ancient domesticated rice was a part of Indian sub-group. Around the Yellow river valley many proofs of millet farming has been found due to its dry high altitudes. Rice was dominated by moist low latitudes of Yangtze River Valley. Their technologies were quite well advanced and they used permanent cultivation methods like concentrated farming in place of slash-and-burn procedures. They were even cultivators of soybean seeds and much has been found at the Jiahu excavation site. Food was in abundance as this was an agrarian economy. They were hunters and foragers too. Women acted as gatherers picking up wild pears, apricots, acorns, chestnuts, large beans, edible roots and tubers from landscape. They domesticated pigs, dogs, poultry and few cattle. They even made fertilizers from the litter of pigs and cattle to increase the fertility of their lands. The cattle gave egg, milk and meat. They hunted deer, rabbits, and wild boars. They also showed their skills in fishing. They used net of hemp fibers. Due to the paramount diet, the life span of the Jiahu people thrived. 400 cremation sites have been uncovered in Jiahu. Among this the skeletons were carefully studied to reveal the age and cause of death. According to findings the mortality rate among children was very low and the aged also had a enhanced life expectancy.
Artifacts: Sickles made of stone were excavated. It had a wooden handle for better gripping and harvesting. Baskets woven from feral grass have also been found. They used this to carry crops from the fields. They even produced cloths and spinning wheel has been unearthed. Many cookware and mud pots have also been found. The most eye catching among these are three-legged mud cooking pots with rigid fitting lids. A number of stone tools namely arrowheads, spades, axes and chisels have also been found. Stone spearheads were used for stockade fence along the shoreline of moat. Due to this artillery improved and served as a defense system for the primal civilization. The nomadic tribes often came to Jiahu and they were potential foes of this early settlement. However, the Jiahu masses weren’t war lovers but they knew how to defend themselves. Nothing related to violent death or warfare has been found. This was the result of their improved weapon and defense strategies. The civilization burgeoned without any war and the long lives of the people.
Culture: The study of 238 skeletons has suggested good heath among the Jiahu people. The average death age was 40 years which was quite remarkable during such an early age. The skulls sponge lessons indicate iron and anemia were a problem. From the study of bones, it was concluded that parasitic infections were uncommon. However hookworm parasites were used for cooking pork.
Burial: These were accompanied by offerings. Pottery and tortoise shells were used as objects of burial. Labor specialization differentiated the change in burial offerings. There were mainly farmers, fisherman, herdsmen, hunters etc. The burials took place in mud pots. Infants were buried in mud jars. All this took place in cemeteries. In a single pit multiple burials were performed and sometimes only one. No specific pattern of burial is noticed though perhaps couples were buried together. In certain cases heads were separated from the body and placed in the northwest direction. Heads were chopped of soon after the death of the person indicated by the cut marks on the fresh bones. The turquoise carving burials were perhaps of higher social status indicating the social hierarchy existed. Women were of lower strata and their burial offerings were less.
Flutes: Flutes from red-crowned crane wing bones were discovered. These have been found between 1980s-1999. It indicated that the cranes had large legs. Intact, fragmented, broken and several unfinished flutes have been found nearly 33. They range between 7-10 inches. They were of bamboo though only bone flutes have been found. This is due to the decaying nature of the bamboo. Tetra tonic, pentatonic and hexatone flutes have been found. They were finely made with cut edges and polished. They pertained to the Chinese folk music.
Pottery: Oldest Chinese potteries were excavated. Through chemical analysis, it is suggested that molecules of alcohol was found. Alcohol was extracted from rice by the process of mold saccharification. This was a remarkable addition to the science beverage making breaking down carbohydrates of grains into fermentable sugar. Chrysanthemum, China fir and other herbs were added to these beverages for aroma. Many ancient cities nearby Jiahu might have been there evidential from DNA tests but no such locality have been discovered yet.
Symbols: Eleven pictograms have been found. Among these 9 are on tortoise shells and 2 on bones. They bear resemblance to the later Chinese symbols. The symbols of eye and sun are similar to today markings. Similarities to earlier Shang dynasty in oracle bones have been suggested as well. During 3500 BC, Chinese cultures used tortoise shells as a symbol of divinity. The cracks on these shells from extreme heat were cited as omens. Permanent marks on shells and pictograms prove the popularity of similar cultures during ancient Chinese civilizations.
Decline: Around 5700 BC, the floods from the nearby rivers drowned the Jiahu civilization under water. Most of the people migrated though it’s unknown where they went. They escaped with most of their things as absence of weapons and tools from homes has been found. They might have set up new settlement still unknown, went to Peiligang places or dotted. They were led by their tribal priest to some higher ground to set up settlements according to Zhang Juzhong. Older sculptures and tools demolition might have exterminated the new civilization site if existed.
This was the tale of the most ancient Chinese civilization. Stay tuned for more such edifying articles. We will be back with more such influential stuffs. Till then take good care of yourselves and stay healthy.