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March 3, 2019

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Unearthing Bangpo’s heritage

LYING along the Weihe River on the eastern outskirts of Xi’an City in Shaanxi Province, Banpo Village Site is one of the most important archeological sites of Yangshao Culture.

Yangshao Culture is steeped in Neolithic history. It existed along the Yellow River and dates back to around 5000 BC to 3000 BC.

Banpo, the earliest-known agricultural village in China, goes back 5,600 to 6,700 years. The Banpo Village Site was accidently discovered in the fall of 1953 during construction of a new power plant. From 1954 to 1957, the Institute of Archeology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences organized five excavations, which unearthed a number of precious relics.

The excavations uncovered 45 houses or buildings, two enclosed sheds, over 200 storage cellars, six pottery kilns, 250 graves (including 73 of dead children) and over 10,000 productive tools and apparatus.

In 1958, the Banpo Museum was built on the site to display the unearthed cultural relics and paint a vivid picture of how people lived thousands of years ago.

The museum is composed of three parts: the Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall, the Hall of the Banpo Site and the Auxiliary Exhibition Hall, while the Banpo Site is separated into three areas: a residential area, a cemetery and a pottery manufacturing area.

The residential area was surrounded by a 300-meter-long artificial moat to protect the village from wild animals, floods and other threats. Situated on a low river terrace, the Neolithic residential area had multi-shaped houses built of mud and wood, with the floor level often a meter below the ground.

Each house was supported by timber poles and had steeply pitched thatched roofs, which were clay reinforced. All dwellings contained several fireplaces and a number of food-storage cellars.

In some areas of the village there is evidence of multiple layers of foundations, showing successive generations building within the confines of the village.

Residents in Banpo Village lived in clans or tribes. Fishing and hunting were the main ways of acquiring food and millet was primary grain at that time.

Bones of pigs, dogs and sheep were found around the village, indicating the presence of domestic animals.

The women took responsibility in pottery manufacturing, weaving, raising poultry and other household chores.

The men were responsible for hunting, fishing and finding food to feed the family. During the time of the excavation of the site, Banpo was considered by archeologists to be a matriarchal clan community in which women were the dominant force in that society.

However, new research contradicts this claim and little can be said of the religion or political structure of Banpo from the archeological evidence.

A communal cemetery was found to the north of the village moat. Almost all individuals were buried in an east-west orientation with their head pointing west. There were two graves that buried multiple bodies. One of them buried four young females of similar age. The other buried two adult males.

Adornments were usually buried together with the dead body. Most of the graves had five or six pottery containers filled with various types of food such as millet and several kinds of implements. The size, number and shapes of the pottery vary from grave to grave.

There are more female graves than male, and the women’s burial chambers contained more objects and valuables than their male counterparts.

Children were buried in a very different way. They weren’t buried with the adults, but placed in an urn which were buried close to their homes. The lids on the urns have a hole in the top so the spirits of the deceased could travel to the after world. Several kilns were found on the site, as well as a number of colored red and grey bowls and jars.

Banpo Culture is renowned for its fine painted potteries. The pottery manufacturing area, or the kilns, were situated outside the moat perimeter and to the east of the residential area. There is a wide range of pottery meticulously painted with unusual patterns. Human faces, fish, deer, plants and other geometric figures are painted on the wares, which were usually dyed red with black-lined patterns. The most representative pottery ware is a basin with human face and fish patterns found in Banpo. The basin is now preserved at the Banpo Museum as a national treasure.

Judging from the patterns painted on the pottery, archeologists have concluded that the fish symbol was regarded as a good omen by clans at that time.

Various etchings inscribed on the edges of some pottery bowls, as many as 20-30 kinds, were also found. Archaeologists believe these inscribed etchings and symbols may be the origin of Chinese characters.


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