Longshan Culture Timeline and Description

The Urban Revolution in China

White Pottery Gui, Longshan Culture, Rizhao, Shandong Province
White Pottery Gui, Longshan Culture, Rizhao, Shandong Province. Editor at Large

The Longshan culture is a Neolithic and Chalcolithic culture (ca 3000-1900 BC) of the Yellow River Valley of Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia provinces of China.

At the beginning of the Longshan period, there was a distinct shift of populations out of the small scattered autonomous villages of the Dawenkou culture into clusters of walled towns with concentrated populations. Although the first walled town built was ca 4000 BC, at the Daxi period site of Chengtoushan, it was during the Longshan period when walled towns became the norm.

Longshan Chronology

  • Early Longshan (3000-2500 BC) (Dinggong
  • Middle Longshan (2500-2400 BC) (Chengziya, Taosi)
  • Late Longshan (2400-1900 BC) (Taosi)

The new Longshan fortified settlements were built with rectangular plans, advanced drainage systems and buildings of adobe mud brick. Populations for one of the largest Longshan towns (Shijiahe) may have ranged from between 15,000 to 50,000 inhabitants within the settlement's walls. A recent survey of Shandong has revealed a regional political organization with four tiers of four-tiered set of administrative sites within the Longshan cultural period, with sites such as Yaowangcheng and Liangchengzhen acting as politically autonomous administrative centers. Some historians have argued that Longshan represents the archaeological correlative of the Wu Di, the "Five Emperors" period.

Longshan Urban Revolution

Longshan advances include the first large fortified villages with rammed-earth walls, and evidence for social stratification based on the presence of prestige goods such as thin-walled ceramics.

Other advances include mass-produced wheel-thrown pottery, and the manufacture of silk, lacquer wares and ivory carving, and numerous copper and bronze artifacts. Evidence for the use of writing has been found in the form of incised symbols on pottery sherds (called ostraca by archaeologists) at the Dinggong site.

Longshan Lifestyles

Whether the association with Wu Di is correct or not, fortified villages, an increase in weaponry and mass burials of people who died violently are evidence that Longshan was a fairly violent period in Chinese history. At the same time, religious and ritual activities became important, and the growing urban society of Longshan developed an elite of specialized professionals. Stone, jade, wood and pottery ritual objects were manufactured, including a very fine type of eggshell black pottery, and jade animal masks.

Stable isotope analysis of Longshan burials at Taosi revealed a diet based primarily on broomcorn and foxtail millet. Other crops identified archaeolgoically include paddy rice, Chinese cabbage, rape, and hemp as well as animal husbandry.

Archaeological Sites

Dinggong, Chengziya, Taosi, Shijiahe, Yaowangcheng, Liangchengzhen

Sources

Underhill, Anne P., et al. in press Changes in regional settlement patterns and the development of complex societies in southeastern Shandong, China. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Yang, Xiaoneng. 2004. Urban revolution in late prehistoric China. In Chinese Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: New Perspectives on China's Past, ed.

Xiaoneng Yang. Yale University Press, New Haven.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.