Hongshan culture

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Hongshan culture
Datesc. 4700 to 2900 BC
Preceded byXinglongwa culture, Xinle culture, Zhaobaogou culture
Followed byLower Xiajiadian culture, Upper Xiajiadian culture

The Hongshan culture (simplified Chinese: 红山文化; traditional Chinese: 紅山文化; pinyin: Hóngshān wénhuà) was a Neolithic culture in the West Liao river basin in northeast China. Hongshan sites have been found in an area stretching from Inner Mongolia to Liaoning, and dated from about 4700 to 2900 BC.[1]

The culture is named after Hongshanhou (simplified Chinese: 红山后; traditional Chinese: 紅山後; pinyin: Hóngshān hòu), a site in Hongshan District, Chifeng. The Hongshanhou site was discovered by the Japanese archaeologist Torii Ryūzō in 1908 and extensively excavated in 1935 by Kōsaku Hamada and Mizuno Seiichi.[2]

Historical context[edit]

Map of the middle Neolithic cultures in China. Hongshan culture is #1 on the map.

In northeast China, Hongshan culture was preceded by Xinglongwa culture (6200–5400 BC), Xinle culture (5300–4800 BC), and Zhaobaogou culture, which may be contemporary with Xinle and a little later.

The Yangshao culture of the Yellow River existed contemporaneously with the Hongshan culture (see map). These two cultures interacted with each other.

Hongshan culture was succeeded by the Lower Xiajiadian culture (2200–1600 BC), which was replaced by a different Upper Xiajiadian culture (1000-600 BC) with a shift from farming to pastoral nomadism, likely due to climate change. In the historical period, the West Liao basin was mainly populated by nomads.[3]

Genetics and linguistic identity[edit]

Jade humanoid, Hongshan Culture.[4][5]

A genetic study by Yinqiu Cui et al. from 2013 analyzed the Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup based N subclade; it found that DNA samples from 63% of the combined samples from various Hongshan archaeological sites belonged to the subclade N1 (xN1a, N1c) of the paternal haplogroup N-M231 and calculated N to have been the predominant haplogroup in the region in the Neolithic period at 89%, with its share gradually declining over time.[3] Today, this haplogroup is found in northern Han, Mongols, Manchu, Oroqen, Xibe and Hezhe at low frequencies. Other paternal haplogroups identified in the study were C and O3a (O3a3), both of which predominate among the present-day inhabitants of the region.[3]

Hongshan human figurine (jade)

Nelson et al. 2020 attempts to link the Hongshan culture to a "Transeurasian" (Altaic) linguistic context.[6] According to a study on genetic distance measurements from a large scale genetic study from 2021 titled 'Genomic insights into the formation of human populations in East Asia', hunter-gatherers of Mongolia and the Amur River Basin have ancestry shared by Mongolic and Tungusic language speakers, but they did not carry West Liao River farmer ancestry, contradicting the Transeurasian hypothesis proposed by Martine Robbeets et al. that the expansion of West Liao River farmers spread these proto-languages.[7]

A 2020 study discovered substantial genetic changes in the West Liao River region over time. An increase in the reliance on millet farming between the Middle-to-Late Neolithic is associated with higher genetic affinity to the Yellow River basin (generally associated with speakers of the Sino-Tibetan languages), while a partial switch to pastoralism in the Bronze Age Upper Xiajiadian culture is associated with a decrease in this genetic affinity. After the Late Neolithic, there was a sharp transition from Yellow River to Amur River-related genetic profiles (associated with speakers of Tungusic languages) around the West Liao River. This increase in Amur River affinity corresponds with the transition to a pastoral economy during the Bronze Age.[8][9]

A 2021 study found that Yellow River millet farmers from the modern-day provinces of Henan and Shandong had played an important role in the formation of Hongshan people or their descendants via both inland and coastal northward migration routes.[10]


Similarly to the Yangshao culture, the Hongshan culture cultivated millet. Isotope analyses revealed that millet contributed up to 70% of the human diet in the Early Hongshan and up to 80% in the Late Hongshan.[9]


The Hongshan culture is known for its carved jade.[11] Hongshan burial artifacts include some of the earliest known examples of jade working. The Hongshan culture is known for its jade pig dragons and embryo dragons. Clay figurines, including figurines of pregnant women, are also found throughout Hongshan sites. Small copper rings were also excavated.[citation needed][12]


Painted Cylindrical Pottery Vessel, Hongshan Culture (c. 4700–2900 BC), Liaoning, 1988. National Museum of China, Beijing

The archaeological site at Niuheliang is a unique ritual complex associated with the Hongshan culture.

Excavators have discovered an underground temple complex—which included an altar—and also cairns in Niuheliang. The temple was constructed of stone platforms, with painted walls. Archaeologists have given it the name "Goddess Temple" (Chinese: 女神庙; pinyin: nüshenmiao) due to the discovery of a clay female head with jade inlaid eyes.[13] It was an underground structure, 1m deep.[14] Included on its walls are mural paintings. Housed inside the Goddess Temple are clay figurines as large as three times the size of real-life humans.[13] The exceedingly large figurines are possibly deities, but for a religion not reflective in any other Chinese culture.[15]

The existence of complex trading networks and monumental architecture (such as pyramids[example needed][citation needed] and the Goddess Temple) point to the existence of a "chiefdom"[16] in these prehistoric communities.

Painted pottery was also discovered within the temple.[14] Over 60 nearby tombs have been unearthed, all constructed of stone and covered by stone mounds, frequently including jade artifacts.[17]

Cairns were discovered atop two nearby two hills, with either round or square stepped tombs, made of piled limestone. Entombed inside were sculptures of dragons and tortoises.[14]

It has been suggested that religious sacrifice might have been performed within the Hongshan culture.[14]

Feng shui[edit]

Just as suggested by evidence found at early Yangshao culture sites, Hongshan culture sites also provide the earliest evidence for feng shui. The presence of both round and square shapes at Hongshan culture ceremonial centres suggests an early presence of the gaitian cosmography ("round heaven, square earth").[18]

Early feng shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe.[19]

Development of Chinese civilization[edit]

Hongshan Culture painted pottery. Inner Mongolia Museum

The Hongshan culture region was thought to have been desert for the past 1 million years. However, a 2015 study found that the region once featured rich aquatic resources and deep lakes and forests that existed from 12,000 years ago to 4,000 years ago. It was changed into desert by climate change which began approximately 4,200 years ago.[20] Therefore, some of the people of the Hongshan culture may have emigrated south to the Yellow River valley approximately 4,000 years ago.[21][22] Archaeological evidence discovered at the Miaozigou site in Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia, a northern branch of the Yangshao culture from the Yellow River (the Yangshao culture is speculated to be the origin of the Sino-Tibetan languages[23][24][25][26]) demonstrates similarities in the material cultures between the Yellow River and Liao River cultures.[27] Three individuals from the Miaozigou site belonged to haplogroup N1(xN1a, N1c), while the main lineage of Yellow River valley cultures is O3-M122. The existence of N1(xN1a, N1c) among the Miaozigou individuals could serve as evidence for the migration of some of the Hongshan people.[28]

Some Chinese archaeologists such as Guo Da-shun see the Hongshan culture as an important stage of early Chinese civilization.[29][30] Whatever the linguistic affinity of the ancient denizens, Hongshan culture is believed to have exerted an influence on the development of early Chinese civilization.[31]

The culture may have also contributed to the development of settlements in ancient Korea.[32] However, the Hongshan culture is also commonly employed in Korean pseudohistory by some Korean scholars, who seek to contest any connections between the Hongshan culture with Chinese civilization and assert that the Hongshan culture is only related to Korean civilization.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Exhibition Brochure Timeline of cultures, dynasties, and archaeological sites represented in the exhibition". www.nga.gov. Archived from the original on 2014-04-08. Retrieved 2014-02-01. Timeline posted by National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
  2. ^ Hamada, Kosaku and Mizuno Seiichi. "Chifeng Hongshanhou," Archaeologia Orientalis, ser. A, No. 6. Far-Eastern Archaeology Society of Japan, (1938).
  3. ^ a b c Cui, Yinqiu (2013). "Y Chromosome analysis of prehistoric human populations in the West Liao River Valley, Northeast China". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 13: 216. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-216. PMC 3850526. PMID 24079706.
  4. ^ Dillon, Michael (1 December 2016). Encyclopedia of Chinese History. Taylor & Francis. p. 485. ISBN 978-1-317-81716-1.
  5. ^ "Aurora Museum page 上海震旦博物馆". www.auroramuseum.cn.
  6. ^ Nelson, Sarah. "Tracing population movements in ancient East Asia through the linguistics and archaeology of textile production" (PDF). Cambridge University. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  7. ^ Wang, Chuan-Chao (2021). "Genomic insights into the formation of human populations in East Asia". Nature. 591 (7850): 413–419. Bibcode:2021Natur.591..413W. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-03336-2. PMC 7993749. PMID 33618348.
  8. ^ Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (1 June 2020). "Ancient genomes link subsistence change and human migration in northern China". Science Daily. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  9. ^ a b Ning, Chao; Li, Tianjiao; Wang, Ke; Zhang, Fan; Li, Tao; Wu, Xiyan; Gao, Shizhu; Zhang, Quanchao; Zhang, Hai; Hudson, Mark J.; Dong, Guanghui (2020-06-01). "Ancient genomes from northern China suggest links between subsistence changes and human migration". Nature Communications. 11 (1): 2700. Bibcode:2020NatCo..11.2700N. doi:10.1038/s41467-020-16557-2. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 7264253. PMID 32483115.
  10. ^ He, Guanglin; Wang, Mengge; Zou, Xing; Chen, Pengyu; Wang, Zheng; Liu, Yan; Yao, Hongbin; Wei, Lan-Hai; Tang, Renkuan; Wang, Chuan-Chao; Yeh, Hui-Yuan (2021). "Peopling History of the Tibetan Plateau and Multiple Waves of Admixture of Tibetans Inferred From Both Ancient and Modern Genome-Wide Data". Frontiers in Genetics. 12: 725243. doi:10.3389/fgene.2021.725243. ISSN 1664-8021. PMC 8506211. PMID 34650596.
  11. ^ a b Logie, Andrew (2020). "Claiming the Lineage of Northeast Asian Civilization: The Discovery of Hongshan and the "Hongshan Turn" in Popular Korean Pseudohistory". Seoul Journal of Korean Studies. 33 (2): 279–322. doi:10.1353/seo.2020.0012. ISSN 2331-4826. S2CID 231624654.
  12. ^ "Iindustries include ... copper." Encyclopedia of Prehistory: Volume 3: East Asia and Oceania, Ed.: Peter N. Peregrine, Melvin Ember, Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, p. 79
  13. ^ a b Please refer to Niuheliang.
  14. ^ a b c d Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Sites of Hongshan Culture: The Niuheliang Archaeological Site, the Hongshanhou Archaeological Site, and Weijiawopu Archaeological Site". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2022-07-12.
  15. ^ "Teaching Chinese Archaeology, object 1 - NGA". Archived from the original on 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2017-02-05. Article by National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
  16. ^ [1] University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Regional Lifeways and Cultural Remains in the Northern Corridor: Chifeng International Collaborative Archaeological Research Project. Cited references: Drennan 1995; and Earle 1987, 1997.
  17. ^ "Late Prehistoric China". www.nga.gov. Archived from the original on 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2007-12-14. Exhibition Brochure, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
  18. ^ [2] Sarah M. Nelson, Rachel A. Matson, Rachel M. Roberts, Chris Rock and Robert E. Stencel: Archaeoastronomical Evidence for Wuism at the Hongshan Site of Niuheliang, 2006.
  19. ^ Sun, X. (2000) Crossing the Boundaries between Heaven and Man: Astronomy in Ancient China. In H. Selin (ed.), Astronomy Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy. 423–454. Kluwer Academic.
  20. ^ Yang, Xiaoping; Scuderi, Louis A.; Wang, Xulong; Scuderi, Louis J.; Zhang, Deguo; Li, Hongwei; Forman, Steven; Xu, Qinghai; Wang, Ruichang (2015-01-20). "Groundwater sapping as the cause of irreversible desertification of Hunshandake Sandy Lands, Inner Mongolia, northern China". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112 (3): 702–706. Bibcode:2015PNAS..112..702Y. doi:10.1073/pnas.1418090112. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 4311860. PMID 25561539.
  21. ^ New Thoughts on the Impact of Climate Change in Neolithic China Archaeology誌解説記事
  22. ^ Scuderi, Louis A.; Yang, Xiaoping; Ascoli, Samantha E.; Li, Hongwei (2019-02-21). "The 4.2 ka BP Event in northeastern China: a geospatial perspective". Climate of the Past. 15 (1): 367–375. Bibcode:2019CliPa..15..367S. doi:10.5194/cp-15-367-2019. ISSN 1814-9324. S2CID 135377757.
  23. ^ Zhang, Menghan; Yan, Shi; Pan, Wuyun; Jin, Li (24 April 2019). "Phylogenetic evidence for Sino-Tibetan origin in northern China in the Late Neolithic". Nature. 569 (7754): 112–115. Bibcode:2019Natur.569..112Z. doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1153-z. PMID 31019300. S2CID 129946000.
  24. ^ Bradley, David (27–28 October 2018). "Subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan languages". 10th International Conference on Evolutionary Linguistics, Nanjing University.
  25. ^ LaPolla, Randy (2019). "The origin and spread of the Sino-Tibetan language family". Nature. 569 (7754): 45–47. Bibcode:2019Natur.569...45L. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01214-6. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 31036967.
  26. ^ Sagart, Laurent; Jacques, Guillaume; Lai, Yunfan; Ryder, Robin; Thouzeau, Valentin; Greenhill, Simon J.; List, Johann-Mattis List (2019). "Dated language phylogenies shed light on the ancestry of Sino-Tibetan". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 116 (21): 10317–10322. Bibcode:2019PNAS..11610317S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1817972116. PMC 6534992. PMID 31061123.
  27. ^ "Analysis on the mutual movement relation between Xiaoheyan Culture and other archaeology culture--《Research of China's Frontier Archaeology》2009年00期". en.cnki.com.cn. Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  28. ^ Cui, Yinqiu; Li, Hongjie; Ning, Chao; Zhang, Ye; Chen, Lu; Zhao, Xin; Hagelberg, Erika; Zhou, Hui (2013-09-30). "Y Chromosome analysis of prehistoric human populations in the West Liao River Valley, Northeast China". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 13 (1): 216. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-216. ISSN 1471-2148. PMC 3850526. PMID 24079706.
  29. ^ Guo, Da-Shun 1995. Hongshan and related cultures. In: The archaeology of Northeast China: beyond the Great Wall. Nelson, Sarah M. ed. 21–64. London and New York: Routledge.
  30. ^ [3] Archived 2013-09-21 at the Wayback Machine Roger Blench(2004), Stratification in the peopling of China: how far does the linguistic evidence match genetics and archaeology? p.9
  31. ^ Kwang-chih Chang and Sarah Allan, The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective, p. 65
  32. ^ [4] Keith Pratt(2006), Everlasting Flower, p.30.

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