Prehistoric Archaeology in China: 1920-60

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  • Prehistoric Archaeology in China: 1920-60Author(s): Kwang-Chih ChangSource: Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1963), pp. 29-61Published by: University of Wisconsin PressStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 16:11

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    A. History of Research B. Stratigraphy and Palaeontology C. Palaeolithic-Mesolithic Sites: A Synopsis

    Palaeolithic Mesolithic

    D. Human and Cultural Development E. Discussion

    Problems of Human Evolution Problems of Cultural Evolution Problems of Cultural Ecology Problems of Comparison


    A. History of Research B. Important Neolithic Sites: A Synopsis C. The Neolithic Developmental Sequence D. Discussion


    Scientific archaeology may be said to have be- gun in China in 1920, when Emile Licent dis- covered the first Palaeolithic implement in China from a sub-loess level at Ch'ing-yang in eastern Kansu (Teilhard de Chardin 1924; Teilhard de Chardin and Licent 1924), and when Liu Cnang- shan, a field assistant of J. G. Andersson, located the Neolithic site at Yang-shao-ts'un in Mien-chih Hsien, western Honan (Andersson 1923). During the subsequent forty years, a considerable amount of field work has been undertaken in China, and a preliminary framework of Chinese prehistory, from the beginning of human occupation through

    the threshold of civilization, has been firmly es- tablished (Cheng 1959; Fairservis 1959; Watson 1960, 1961a, 1961b; K. C. Chang 1963). This is no small achievement, considering that before 1920 the prehistory of China was virtually unknown (Laufer 1912: 54-55; de Morgan 1925: 293), but certainly unsolved problems still abound today. This paper outlines the accomplishments of pre- historic archaeology in China during these four decades, gives a preliminary bibliographic intro- duction to the field, and discusses some of the current problems.



    With a few exceptions field work in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology has been carried out in China by geologists and palaeontologists as a by-product of their own investigations, although concentrated efforts in the archaeological field are as a rule made when important Palaeolithic and Mesolithic stations are discovered. Three broad stages of archaeological development in this field can be distinguished: 1920-40, 1940-50, and 1950-60.


    During this period the geologists of the Geo- logical Survey laid the groundwork for the strati- graphic and palaeontological subdivision of the Pleistocene period in both North and South China (Boule et al 1928; Black et al 1933; Pei 1937). The most important single excavation was at Choukoutien, southwest of Peiping in Hopei Pro- vince, where the remains of Peking Man and his culture were found. Elsewhere Palaeolithic im- plements were discovered in the Ordos area of northern Shansi, Shensi, and eastern Kansu and Ninghsia by Emile Licent, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Young Chung-chien; and Mesolithic

    *Part 1 of this article was given as a lecture for Anthropology -Biology -Geology 192 at Yale dur- ing the Spring of 1963. Part 2 is a revised ver- sion of a paper, Current Problems in the Neo- lithic Archaeology of North China, read at the 14th annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in Boston on April 2, 1962.


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    assemblages were found in Manchuria, Mongolia and the Southwest by Chinese, Japanese, and Western scientists, both belonging to and outside of the Geological Survey.


    Toward the end of the last stage Pei Wen- chung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had begun to attempt making syntheses of the Chinese Pa- laeolithic and Mesolithic cultures and their geo- logical and palaeontological contexts, but more significant results were achieved after 1940 when the Second World War halted extensive field undertakings and stimulated library research. The Chinese Pleistocene geology, palaeontology, and archaeology as reconstructed by Teilhard de Chardin, de Terra and Movius sum up the pre- war materials, and their conclusions still guide field research and interpretation even today (de Terra 1941; Teilhard de Chardin 1941; Movius 1944).


    An Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (formerly Laboratory of Vertebrate Palaeontology and, subsequently, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology) was es- tablished under the Communist Academia Sinica to take complete control of the field research in the Pleistocene period (M. J. Kuo et al 1955; K. C. Chang 1958, 1959/61, 1962a; Chia 1959a). For the most part doing salvage work in coordi- nation with industrial and commercial construc- tion, the Institute has so far made concentrated excavations in no less than four regions: Chou- koutien, Ordos, the Fenho valley and the Huangho valley in Shansi and western Honan, and the limestone caves in Kwangsi. Shansi becomes the second prolific region of Palaeolithic cultures next to Choukoutien, and a great future is indicat- ed by the scattered but highly important finds of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic assemblages and human fossils in Southwest China, including west- ern Hupei, Szechwan, Yunnan, Kwangsi, and western Kwangtung.


    Throughout China the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary is well marked by tectonic movements

    and by the appearance of the Villafranchian fauna. Subsequently the stratigraphy of North China is characterized by four sedimentary periods and their respective intervening erosion stages; these are, successively from start to finish, the Red Clay, the Huangshui Erosion, the Reddish Clay, the Chingshui Erosion, the Malan Loess, the Pan- chiao Erosion, and the Panchiao Alluvium. From a palaeontological standpoint, a Villafranchian (Lower Pleistocene) fauna characterizes the Red Clay stratum, a Middle Pleistocene fauna charac- terizes the lower two thirds of the Reddish Clay stratum, an Upper Pleistocene fauna characteriz- es the upper third of the Reddish Clay stratum and the Malan Loess stratum, and a Modern fauna characterizes the Panchiao Alluvium. Both the fauna and the geological cycle of sedimentation and erosion suggest cyclical climatic changes, and Movius asserts that such climatic changes were probably related to the glacial and inter -

    glacial cycles of the Himalayas. Within each of the major climatic and sedi-

    mentary phases of the Pleistocene in North China- Red Clay, Reddish Clay, Loess, and the Panchiao Alluvium- minor subdivisions can in some in- stances be made. The Reddish Clay stage repre- sents a long cycle of Choukoutien (Upper Sanmeni- an) sedimentation which, according to the sedi- mentary history at Choukoutien alone, can be broken down into at least two cold and dry phases and a warm and damp interval; these have been correlated by Movius with the second glacial, the second interglacial, and the third glacial of the Himalayas, respectively. In the Fenho and the Huangho valleys of Shansi and Honan, a widespread horizon of "tubercles" or "concretions" has been identified in the upper levels of the Reddish Clay, in which Palaeolithic assemblages are often found. It is possible that this concretion band indicates a "fluviolacustrine" interstadial within the upper phase of the Reddish Clay Stage- the third glacial stage represented by Choukoutien Locality 15 (Chia, Wang and Chi 1960). But it seems equally possible that the Chingshui Erosion Stage is not universally represented geologically in North China, whereas the concretion bands in the upper levels of the Reddish Clay stage were deposited during a time when the Chingshui Erosion was active elsewhere but only marginally affected the Fenho valley (Movius 1956; K. C. Chang 1958, 1962a). More work in geomorphology and palaeon- tology will be necessary before one of these possi- bilities can be said to be the more likely. After the Chingshui Erosion Stage (when the so called Basal Gravel was deposited), the Malan Loess was accumulated during a long period of time that probably corresponds to the Fourth Glacial in the

    1. (Teilhard de Chardin 1937, 1941; de Terra 1941; Pei 1939e; Movius 1944, 1948; K. C. Chang 1958, 1962a).

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