5,500-years-old cave houses found in China

By Xinhua,

Xi’an : Archaeologists have unearthed the earliest man-made cave houses and privately-owned pottery workshops in China which date back 5,500 years.

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After four years of excavation, a row of 17 cave houses were found on a cliff along the Jinghe River in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, said Wang Weilin, deputy director of the Shaanxi Archaeology Institute and chief archaeologist of the excavation.

They were built between 3,500 to 3,000 BC, near the Yangguanzai village of Gaoling county, 20 km away from the provincial capital Xi’an.

Wang said the row of houses are within a 16,000-square-metre site which is being excavated.

The cave houses belonged to a late Neolithic culture named Yangshao. It originated in the middle reach of the Yellow River and was considered a main origin of Chinese civilisation. Yangshao is best known for red pottery ware with painted patterns and animals.

Each cave house, with an area of about ten square meters, was divided into two rooms. One was dug into the cliffside, the other, possibly made of wood and mud, was built on the outside of the cave, Wang said.

Archaeologists also found pottery kilns and caves to store pottery beside the houses as well as pottery wares, fragments and tools.

“Most of the cave houses had a pottery kiln beside it. We believe these cave houses were homes to families of pottery makers,” Wang said.

In previous excavations of Neolithic settlements in China, one pottery kiln was usually used by all families, he said. “Here we found the earliest evidence that a certain group of people were specialised in making pottery, a sign of division of labour.”

Caves storing pottery also show private ownership of property had emerged, Wang added.
In the north of the cave houses, archaeologists also discovered sections of a moat averaging six to nine meters wide.

Pottery unearthed from the moat’s bottom showed it also belonged to the Yangshao culture from between 4,000 to 3,500 BC.

An area covering 245,000 square meters inside the moat, equal to about the size of 46 American football fields, was yet to excavated.

“We haven’t excavated the settlement inside the moat but its scale was seldom seen at this age,” Wang said.

“As far as I know, the area inside the moat could be the largest and best preserved among settlements of this age,” said Yan Wenming, a history expert with the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University.

Archaeologists divide the Yangshao culture into three stages: between 5,000 to 4,000 BC, the middle period from 4,000 to 3,500 BC, and a stage from 3,500 to 3,000 BC.

“We know little about how people lived and were related in the middle stage. The discovery of this settlement offers a very rare and valuable chance to study this stage,” said Chen Xingcan, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

Early Yangshao settlements have mainly been found in Shaanxi, but during the middle stage people spread to nearly half of what is considered to be today’s China.

Discoveries have been made in the north near the Great Wall, south to the Yangtze River, east to Shandong Province and west to Gansu and Qinghai provinces, Wang said.

The finding at the Yangguanzai site was selected one of the six major archaeological findings of 2008 by the CASS.

Yangshao culture was named after its first settlement at Yangshao village of Henan province neighbouring Shaanxi. It was discovered by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and his Chinese colleague Yuan Fuli in 1921.