Archaeology Program, School of Historical and European Studies, La Trobe University. Melbourne, VIC 3086 Australia The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Science ; Harvard University, USA; Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, USA; Institute of Archaeology, University College London, UK
Duration: from 1997 to 2005
The emergence of ancient Chinese civilization is an important research topic in world archaeology - major archaeological finds in recent decades have contributed to a growing interest in this subject.
The Yiluo River Survey Project aims to articulate processes underlying the evolution of ancient societies in the Yiluo River valley, western Henan province, where the earliest Chinese states emerged. This project focuses on the trajectories of the development of complex society and state formation in the Yiluo region. Sites yielding material remains belonging to the entire Neolithic and Three Dynasties (c. 6500 - 200 BC) era, are widely distributed throughout the Yiluo River valley, suggesting a great potential for the study of social processes on a regional scale in this area.
This project envisions an internationally collaborative and interdisciplinary archaeological program. The major component of the project is full-coverage archaeological survey, which is integrated with geo-archaeological, ethnobotanical studies, and ceramic and lithic analyses. The data generated from these investigations is used to assess changes in population, environment, land use, agricultural production and craft production. These assessments will allow us to test theoretical propositions regarding the development of social complexity.
Much archaeological evidence has suggested that complex societies may have developed in several regions in Neolithic China, but that many collapsed around 2000 BC. However, the Yiluo River valley in western Henan appears to be the place where the earliest Chinese states evolved.
During the first six field seasons, from January 1997 to June 2002, a full-coverage survey was conducted over the alluvial plains and loess tableland along five small river valleys in the Yiluo region: the Wuluo, the Caohe, the Gan'gou, the Majian and the Liujian river valleys. A total area of approximately 219 square kilometres was surveyed and 194 sites dating from the Late Peiligang to the Zhou period were recorded. Most of these sites are multi-component (date to multiple time periods) and are located close to the river courses.
The 6000 years covered by these sites can be divided into six archaeological time periods: Late Peiligang (c. 6000 - 5000 B.C.), Yangshao (c. 5000 - 3000 BC), Longshan (3000 - 2000 BC), Erlitou (1900 - 1500 BC), Shang ( 1600 - 1046 BC) and Zhou (Western 1046 - 771 BC, Eastern 771 - 206 BC).
From the data collected, we are able to document the development of settlement patterns in this area from the early Neolithic to the Zhou dynasty. While our data is still sketchy, when the survey program is finished we will have invaluable information for monitoring the process of early state formation in China.
Current survey results show us that during the Late Peiligang period, only 7 sites were found. These were all small in size, ranging from 0.2ha to 1 ha. There does not appear to be any hierarchy between the sites but they tend to group together, one group in the Wuluo valley and one in the Liujian valley.
Site numbers remain small during the early Yangshao with only 3 sites being located within the survey area. However, during the middle Yangshao, population began to increase significantly with a total of 16 sites being located. A two-tiered settlement hierarchy also begins to emerge with two sites over 9 ha (Beizhai SE 9ha, Huizui 10ha, and Zhaocheng 20ha) whilst the other sites are all less than 6ha. Interestingly, only one large site is located in different river valleys (except for the Wuluo and Caohe which have no large sites). There does not appear to be a grouping of smaller 'satellite' villages around these larger sites, implying a level of self-sufficiency. An increase in site numbers also continues into the Late Yangshao, as well as the two tiered settlement hierarchy.
The Longshan period can be divided into two phases (Early - 3000 - 2500 BC, Late - 2500 - 2000 BC). In the Early Longshan, site numbers decrease dramatically, falling from 47 sites to 12 sites. However, in the Late Longshan, settlement numbers increase dramatically, with a total of 77 sites located. The reasons behind the drop in sites during the Early Longshan are currently unclear but they also coincide with a loss in settlement hierarchy, with the two-tiered settlement hierarchy only being reestablished during the Late Longshan period.
The Erlitou period experienced the first settlement nucleation in the surveyed area, indicated by the emergence of a regional centre at Shaochai, along with three secondary centres at Lukuo NE (18ha), Huizui (25ha) and Xikouzi NW (18ha). Together with the emergence of the primary centre at Erlitou (300ha), the Yiluo region witnessed the development of a four-tiered settlement hierarchy. This change in settlement patterns clearly coincided with the emergence of urbanism and the state in the greater Yiluo region during the second half of the second millennium BC.
Shaochai, the largest site of the Erlitou period (60 ha) in the study area, is located on the confluence off the Wuluo and Yiluo rivers. Shaochai was apparently a local centre, strategically located for extracting resources from the hinterland of the Wulou River valley. The location of regional centres near resources and major transport routes appears to have contributed to the expansion of the Erlitou state.
The number of sites drops after the Erligang period in the surveyed area. This coincides with a possible shift in the Shang capital from Zhengzhou to Anyang, causing a decrease in importance of the Yiluo River Basin.
more details, visiting Yi-luo project website http://www.latrobe.edu.au/archaeology/research/survey/index.htm