Longshan culture

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Longshan culture
Longshan map.svg
Geographical range China
Period Neolithic China
Dates c. 3000 – c. 2000 BC
Type site Chengziya
Major sites Taosi, Shimao
Preceded by Yangshao culture, Dawenkou culture
Followed by Erlitou culture, Yueshi culture
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 文化
Simplified Chinese 文化

The Longshan (or Lung-shan) culture, also sometimes referred to as the Black Pottery Culture, was a late Neolithic culture in China, centered on the central and lower Yellow River and 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 Erlitou culture.


Black eggshell pottery of the Shandong Longshan
Jadeware from the Shandong Longshan

Some researchers state that the Longshan culture is a later development of the Yangshao culture.[1] Some also state the Longshan culture to be a successor of the Dawenkou culture.[2][3][4][5] There are also others that state the Longshan is a successor of both Yangshao and Dawenkou cultures.[6][7] Besides the traditional Longshan culture areas, there are also many "Longshanoid" or "Longshan era" cultures that showed varying degrees of similarity with the Longshan culture but were far from being a unified cultural type.[8]

The distinctive feature of the Longshan culture was the high level of skill in pottery making, including the use of pottery wheels. This thin-walled and polished black pottery has also been discovered in the Yangtze River valley and as far as today's southeastern coast of China.[9] This is a clear indication that neolithic agricultural sub-groups of the greater Longshan Culture had spread out across ancient boundaries of China.[10]

Rice cultivation was clearly established by that time. Small-scale production of silk by raising and domesticating the silkworm Bombyx mori in early sericulture was also known.[10]

Remains found at archaeological sites suggest that the inhabitants used a method of divination based on interpreting the crack patterns formed in heated cattle bones.[11] But the cultural feature that is perhaps the most striking in the Longshan site excavations is the discovery of many burned animal scapulas: uninscribed oracle bones. These seem to offer very positive evidence that the Longshan people were the ancestors of the Shang, particularly in light of the shared feature of city walls.[12]

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.[13] This was matched by the disappearance of high-quality black pottery found in ritual burials.[citation needed] 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.[14] The material culture in this area shows a continuous development, through a Xinzhai phase centred on the Song Mountains immediately to the south.[15] 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.[16]

Eleven characters found at Dinggong in Shandong, China on a pottery shard


The early period of the Longshan culture is considered to be 3000 to 2600 BC, while the late period is 2600 to 2000 BC.[17] A variety of geographic regions of China are involved among the various sub-periods of the Longshan civilisation, particularly for the Late Longshan period.[17] For example the middle reaches of the Jing River and Wei River evince settlement known as the Shaanxi Longshan.[17] The We'i River valley would participate in key historic events in China as the North Silk Road developed in that same area.


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.[18] 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.[19]

Liangchengzhen and Yaowangcheng[edit]

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.[20] 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.[21][22][23]


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.[24]


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.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Karl Moore, David Charles Lewis (2009). The Origins of Globalization. Routledge. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-1359-7008-6. 
  2. ^ Underhill, Anne P. (Feb 28, 2013). A Companion to Chinese Archaeology. John Wiley & Sons. p. 576. ISBN 978-1-4443-3529-3. 
  3. ^ Maisel, Charles Keith (1999). Early Civilizations of the Old World: The Formative Histories of Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, India and China. Psychology Press. pp. 273, 283. ISBN 978-0-4151-0975-8. 
  4. ^ Chang, Kwang-Chih (2005). The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective. Yale University. p. 97. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  5. ^ Tanner, Miles (2010). China: From Neolithic cultures through the Great Qing Empire 10,000 BCE-1799 CE. p. 24. 
  6. ^ West, Barbara. Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. p. 467. 
  7. ^ Li (2013), p. 41.
  8. ^ Paola Dematte, "Longshan-Era Urbanism: The Role of Cities in Predynastic China", p. 121 [1]
  9. ^ Fairbank & Goldman (2006), p. 32.
  10. ^ a b Fairbank & Goldman (2006), p. 33.
  11. ^ Longshan culture. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 31, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  12. ^ Eno, R. "NEOLITHIC CHINA: BEFORE THE SHANG DYNASTY" (PDF). www.indiana.edu. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  13. ^ Liu & Chen (2012), pp. 220, 227, 251.
  14. ^ Liu & Chen (2012), pp. 258–259.
  15. ^ Liu (2005), p. 226.
  16. ^ Liu (2005), pp. 190, 226, 228.
  17. ^ a b c Kwang-chih Chang, "The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective", 2005, Yale University Press, 384 pages ISBN 0-300-09382-9
  18. ^ Paola Dematte, "Longshan-Era Urbanism: The Role of Cities in Predynastic China", p. 123 [2]
  19. ^ Liu & Chen (2012), p. 221.
  20. ^ Shelac-Levi, Gideon (2015). The Archaeology of Early China. p. 130. 
  21. ^ Liu (2005), pp. 199–201.
  22. ^ Liu & Chen (2012), p. 217.
  23. ^ Sun (2013), p. 440.
  24. ^ Liu & Chen (2012), p. 222.
  25. ^ Sun, Zhouyong (2013). "Shimao: A Stone-Walled Settlement of the 2nd Millennium BC in Northern China". IA CASS. 

Works cited

  • Fairbank, John King; Goldman, Merle (2006), China: A New History, Second Enlarged Edition, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-03665-9. 
  • Li, Feng (2013), Early China: A Social and Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-5218-9552-1. 
  • Liu, Li (2005), The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-81184-2. 
  • 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. 
  • Sun, Bo (2013), "The Longshan culture of Shandong", in Underhill, Anne P., A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 436–458, ISBN 978-1-118-32578-0. 
  • Zhao, Chunqing (2013), "The Longshan culture in central Henan province, c.2600–1900 BC", in Underhill, Anne P., A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 236–254, ISBN 978-1-118-32578-0.