|Dates||c. 3000 – c. 2000 BC|
|Major sites||Taosi, Shimao|
|Preceded by||Yangshao culture, Dawenkou culture|
|Followed by||Erlitou culture, Yueshi culture|
The Longshan (or Lung-shan) culture, also sometimes referred to as the Black Pottery Culture, was a late Neolithic culture in the middle and lower Yellow River valley areas of northern China, dated from about 3000 to 2000 BC. The culture is named after the modern town of Longshan (lit. "Dragon Mountain") in the east of the area under the administration of Jinan, Shandong Province, where the first archaeological find (in 1928) and excavation (in 1930 and 1931) of this culture took place at the Chengziya Archaeological Site. The Longshan culture was noted for its highly polished black pottery (or egg-shell pottery). The population expanded dramatically, and many settlements had rammed earth walls. The population decreased in most areas around 2000 BC, until the central area developed into the Bronze Age Erlitou culture.
A distinctive feature of the Longshan culture was the high level of skill in pottery making, including the use of pottery wheels, producing thin-walled and polished black pottery. This pottery was widespread in North China, and also found in the Yangtze River valley and as far as the southeastern coast.
Until the 1950s, such black pottery was considered the principal diagnostic, and all of these sites were assigned to the Longshan culture. In the first edition of his influential survey The Archaeology of Ancient China, published in 1963, Kwang-chih Chang described the whole area as a "Longshanoid horizon", suggesting a fairly uniform culture attributed to expansion from a core area in the Central Plain. More recent discoveries have uncovered much more regional diversity than previously thought, so that many local cultures included within Chang's Longshanoid horizon are now viewed as distinct cultures, and the term "Longshan culture" is restricted to the middle and lower Yellow River valley. For example, the contemporaneous culture of the lower Yangtze area is now described as the Liangzhu culture. At the same time, researchers recognized the diversity within the Yellow River valley by distinguishing regional variants in Henan, Shanxi and Shaanxi from the Shandong or "classic" Longshan. In the fourth edition of his book (1986), Chang moved from a model centered on the Central Plain to a model of distinctive regional cultures whose development was stimulated by interaction between regions, a situation he called the "Chinese interaction sphere". Also in the 1980s, Yan Wenming proposed the term "Longshan era" to encompass cultures of the late Neolithic (3rd millennium BC) across the area, though he assigned the Central Plain a leading role.
Excavations in the 1950s in Shanxian, western Henan, identified a Miaodigou II phase (3000 to 2600 BC)[a] transitional between the preceding Yangshao culture and the later Henan Longshan. A minority of archaeologists have suggested that this phase, which is contemporaneous with the late Dawenkou culture in Shandong, should instead be assigned to the Yangshao culture, but most describe it as the early phase of the Henan Longshan. Some scholars argue that the late Dawenkou culture should be considered the early phase of the Shandong Longshan culture.
The late period (2600 to 2000 BC) of the Longshan culture in the middle Yellow River area is contemporaneous with the classic Shandong Longshan culture. Several regional variants of the late middle Yellow River Longshan have been identified, including Wangwan III in western Henan, Hougang II in northern Henan and southern Hebei, Taosi in the Fen River basin in southern Shanxi, and several clusters on the middle reaches of the Jing River and Wei River collectively known as Kexingzhuang II or the Shaanxi Longshan.
The Neolithic population in China reached its peak during the Longshan culture. Towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC, the population decreased sharply in most of the region and many of the larger centres were abandoned, possibly due to environmental change linked to the end of the Holocene Climatic Optimum. This was matched by the disappearance of high-quality black pottery found in ritual burials. In contrast, there was a rapid growth of population and social complexity in the basin of the Yi and Luo rivers of central Henan, culminating in the Erlitou culture. The material culture in this area shows a continuous development, through a Xinzhai phase centred on the Song Mountains immediately to the south. In the Taosi area, however, there is no such continuity between Longshan and Erlitou material culture, suggesting a collapse in that area and later expansion from the Erlitou core area.
The most important crop was foxtail millet, but traces of broomcorn millet, rice and wheat have also been found. Rice grains have been found in Shandong and southern Henan, and a small rice field has been found on the Liaodong peninsula. Specialized tools for digging, harvesting and grinding grain have been recovered.
The most common source of meat was the pig. Sheep and goats were apparently domesticated in the Loess Plateau area in the 4th millennium BC, found in western Henan by 2800 BC, and then spread across the middle and lower Yellow River area. Dogs were also eaten, particularly in Shandong, though cattle were less important.
Remains have been found in Shaanxi and southern Henan of scapulae of cattle, pigs, sheep and deer that were heated as a form of divination. Evidence of human sacrifice becomes more common in Shaanxi and the Central Plain in the late Longshan period.
Life during the Longshan culture marked a transition to the establishment of cities, as rammed earth walls and moats began to appear. By 1999 more than 30 walled towns belonging to this culture were discovered. In contrast to the larger centers found in the eastern and western ends of the Longshan region, the Central Plain features at least nine regional centers, each no more than 50 ha in area. They were fortified and roughly evenly spaced, suggesting that they represent competing polities.
The largest sites yet found in Shandong are Liangchengzhen (273 ha) and Yaowangcheng (368 ha). Both sites are near the southeast coast in the Rizhao area, with Yaowangcheng about 35 km to the south of Liangchengzhen. Each site is surrounded by a hierarchy of economically integrated settlements, but there are relatively few settlements in the area between the two, suggesting that they were political centers of rival polities. Both jade prestige items and utilitarian goods such as stone tools and pottery have been found at the sites, suggesting that they were also regional centers for production and exchange of goods.
The Hougang II variant of Longshan culture is located in northern Henan and Southern Hubei. The sites of this Longshan subtradition are densely distributed along the rivers in this region, many of the sites being less than 1 km apart. Walled sites include Hougang (10 ha) and Mengzhuang (16 ha). The Hougang II variant is known for having the first wells in the Yellow River area and the method they employed continued to be used by early bronze-age states in the region.
The Wangwan III variant of the Longshan culture is located in western and central Henan province. The number of sites in this region triples from the Yangshao period, developing into multi-centered competitive systems. There is evidence of metallurgy at the Wangchenggang site, though it is possibly attributed to later layers. The Wangwan III variant is said to have given rise to the Erlitou culture, specifically a 70 ha walled center at Xinzhai is said to lead "typologically directly to early Eriltou".
At 300 ha in area, the site at Taosi in the Linfen Basin in southern Shanxi, is the largest Longshan settlement in the middle Yellow River area. Mortuary practices indicate a complex society with at least three social ranks.
Sanliqiao II sites are located on both sides of the Yellow River in western Henan, southwestern Shanxi and eastern Shaanxi. There are nearly a hundred settlements belonging to this regional variant which show three level settlement hierarchy. The largest site (Xiaojiaokou, 10km southeast of modern Sanmenxia) is 240 ha in area, whereas local centers range from 30 ha to 70 ha.
Dwelling types of Sanliqiao II culture include both aboveground and semi-subterranean type houses as well as homes horizontally dug into loess cliffs with walls frequently coated with plaster.
There is noted similarity between the ceramics of this variant and that of the Kexingzhuang II variant. 
Kexingzhuang II sites are scattered across the Wei River valley in southern Shaanxi. The largest site in this area is 60 ha, which is less than half the size of the largest Yangshao-era site in this region. A population decline is also noted during this period, which scholars attribute to migration caused by environmental changes. Out of 718 identified sites, 25 would be considered "medium sized" centers surrounded by small village settlements in three-level settlement hierarchy.
The largest known walled site of the late Longshan-early bronze age period is Shimao (400 ha), located in the northern part of the Loess Plateau, on the southern edge of the Ordos Desert. The site is dated to around 2000 BC, near the end of the Longshan period. The city was surrounded by inner and outer stone walls, in contrast to the rammed earth walls typical of other Longshan sites. The walls were 2.5 meters thick on average, with perimeters of approximately 4200 m and 5700 m respectively, and feature gates, turrets and watch towers. The inner city contained a stone-walled platform, interpreted as a palatial complex, and densely packed residential zones, cemeteries and craft workshops. Unusual features include jade embedded in the city walls, possibly to provide spiritual protection, and paintings of geometrical patterns on the inner walls. Many human skulls were found under the city gate, suggesting ritual sacrifices during construction.
- This phase is distinct from the earlier Miaodigou phase identified as the Middle Yangshao period (4000–3500 BC).
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