Hemudu culture

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Hemudu culture
Hemudu map.svg
Geographical range Eastern China
Period Neolithic China
Dates c. 5500 – c. 3300 BC
Preceded by Kuahuqiao culture
Followed by Liangzhu culture
Chinese name
Chinese 河姆渡文化
Black pottery of the Hemudu culture

The Hemudu culture (5500 BC to 3300 BC[1]) was a Neolithic culture that flourished just south of the Hangzhou Bay in Jiangnan in modern Yuyao, Zhejiang, China. The culture may be divided into an early and late phases, before and after 4000 BC respectively.[2] The site at Hemudu, 22 km north-west of Ningbo, was discovered in 1973. Hemudu sites were also discovered on the islands of Zhoushan. Hemudu are said to have differed physically from inhabitants of the Yellow River sites to the north.[3] Scholars view the Hemudu Culture as a source of the proto-Austronesian cultures.[4][5][6]

Material culture[edit]

Some scholars assert that the Hemudu culture co-existed with the Majiabang culture as two separate and distinct cultures, with cultural transmissions between the two[citation needed]. Other scholars group Hemudu in with Majiabang subtraditions.[2] Two major floods caused the nearby Yaojiang River to change its course and inundated the soil with salt, forcing the people of Hemudu to abandon its settlements. The Hemudu people lived in long, stilt houses.Communal longhouses were also common in Hemudu sites, much like the ones found in modern day Borneo.[7]

The Hemudu culture was one of the earliest cultures to cultivate rice. Recent excavations at the Hemudu period site of Tianluoshan has demonstrated rice was undergoing evolutionary changes recognized as domestication.[8] Most of the artifacts discovered at Hemudu consist of animal bones, exemplified by hoes made of shoulder bones used for cultivating rice.

The culture also produced lacquer wood. The remains of various plants, including water caltrop, Nelumbo nucifera, acorns, melon, wild kiwifruit, blackberries, peach, the foxnut or Gorgon euryale and bottle gourd, were found at Hemudu and Tianluoshan.[9] The Hemudu people likely domesticated pigs, and dogs but practiced extensive hunting of deer and some wild water buffalo. Fishing was also carried out on a large scale, with a particular focus on crucian carp.[10] The practices of fishing and hunting are evidenced by the remains of bone harpoons and bows and arrowheads. Music instruments, such as bone whistles and wooden drums, were also found at Hemudu. Artifact design by Hemudu inhabitants bears many resemblances to those of Insular Southeast Asia.[11]

The culture produced a thick, porous pottery. The distinct pottery was typically black and made with charcoal powder. Plant and geometric designs were commonly painted onto the pottery; the pottery was sometimes also cord-marked. The culture also produced carved jade ornaments, carved ivory artifacts and small, clay figurines.

Sociopolitical Organization[edit]

In the early Hemudu period is the maternal clan phase. Descent is said to be matrilineal and the social status of children and women is comparatively high. In the later periods, they gradually transitioned into patrilineal clans. During this period, the social status of men rose and descent is passed through the male line.


Hemudu’s inhabitants worshiped a sun spirit as well as a fertility spirit. They also enacted shamanistic rituals to the sun and believed in bird totems. A belief in an afterlife and ghosts is believed to have taken place as well. People were buried with theirs heads facing east or northeast and most had no burial objects. Infants were buried in urn-casket style burials, while children and adults received earth level burials.They did not have a definite communal burial ground, for the most part, but a clan communal burial ground has been found in the later period. Two groups in separate parts of this burial ground are thought to be two intermarrying clans. There were noticeably more burial goods in this communal burial ground.[12]


Fossilized amoeboids and pollen suggests Hemudu culture emerged and developed in the middle of the Holocene Climatic Optimum. A study of a sea-level highstand in the Ningshao Plain from 7000 – 5000 BP shows that there may have been stabilized lower sea levels at this time followed by, from 5000 to 3900 BP, frequent flooding. The climate was said to be tropical to subtropical with high temperatures and much precipitation throughout the year.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Liu & Chen (2012), p. 200.
  2. ^ a b Wang (2001), p. 209.
  3. ^ Goodenough, Ward (1996). Prehistoric Settlement of the Pacific, Volume 86, Part 5. p. 53. 
  4. ^ "The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum". 
  5. ^ Tarling, Nicholas (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. pp. 102–103. 
  6. ^ Liu, Li (2012). The Archaeology of China: From the Late Paleolithic to the Early Bronze Age. p. 204. 
  7. ^ Maisel, Charles Keith (1999). Early Civilizations of the Old World: The Formative Histories of Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, India and China. Psychology Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-4151-0975-8. 
  8. ^ Fuller, Dorian Q, Ling Qin, Yunfei Zheng, Zhijun Zhao, Xugao Chen, Leo Aoi Hosoya, and Guo-ping Sun (2009) "The Domestication Process and Domestication Rate in Rice: Spikelet bases from the Lower Yangtze". Science 323: 1607–1610 doi:10.1126/science.1166605
  9. ^ Fuller & Qin (2010).
  10. ^ Nakajima T, Nakajima M, Mizuno T, Sun G-P, He S-P and Yamazaki T (2010) "On the pharyngeal tooth remains of crucian and common carp from the Neolithic Tianluoshan site, Zhejiang Province, China, with remarks on the relationship between freshwater fishing and rice cultivation in the Neolithic Age". International Journal of Osteoarchaeology doi:10.1002/oa.1206.
  11. ^ Tarling, Nicholas (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. pp. 102–103. 
  12. ^ Wang (2001), p. 211.
  13. ^ Underhill, Anne (2013). A Companion To Chinese Archaeology. p. 561. 
  • Fuller, D.Q.; Qin, Ling (2010), "Declining oaks, increasing artistry, and cultivating rice: the environmental and social context of the emergence of farming in the Lower Yangtze Region", Environmental Archaeology 15 (2): 139–159, doi:10.1179/146141010X12640787648531. 
  • Liu, Li; Chen, Xingcan (2012), The Archaeology of China: From the Late Paleolithic to the Early Bronze Age, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-64310-8. 
  • Wang, Haiming (2001), "Majiabang", in Peregrine, Peter N.; Ember, Martin, Encyclopedia of Prehistory, Volume 3: East Asia and Oceania, Springer, pp. 206–221, ISBN 978-0-306-46257-3. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Allan, Sarah (ed), The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective, ISBN 0-300-09382-9
  • Chang, Kwang-chih. The Archaeology of Ancient China, ISBN 0-300-03784-8
  • Fuller, D.Q & Harvey, E., Qin,L. (2007). Presumed domestication? Evidence for wild rice cultivation and domestication in the fifth millennium BC of the Lower Yangzte region.Antiquity 81(312), 316-331
  • Zhu C, Zheng CG, Ma CM, Yang XX, Gao XZ, Wang HM, Shao JH. On the Holocene sea-level highstand along the Yangtze Delta and Ningshao Plain, east China. CHINESE SCIENCE BULLETIN 48 (24): 2672-2683 DEC 2003

Coordinates: 29°57′51″N 121°20′40″E / 29.9642°N 121.3444°E / 29.9642; 121.3444