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Coordinates: 36°07′36″N 114°18′50″E / 36.12667°N 114.31389°E / 36.12667; 114.31389
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Yinxu, the site of the Shang dynasty capital between c. 1350 and c. 1046 BCE
Yinxu is located in Henan
Shown within Henan
Yinxu is located in China
Yinxu (China)
LocationYindu District, Anyang, Henan, China
Coordinates36°07′36″N 114°18′50″E / 36.12667°N 114.31389°E / 36.12667; 114.31389
Official nameYin Xu
CriteriaCultural: ii, iii, iv, vi
Inscription2006 (30th Session)
Area414 ha
Buffer zone720 ha
Literal meaning"Ruins of Yin"

Yinxu (Mandarin pronunciation: [ín.ɕý]; Chinese: 殷墟; lit. 'Ruins of Yin') is a Chinese archeological site corresponding to Yin, the final capital of the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1046 BCE). Located in present-day Anyang, Henan, Yin served as the capital during the Late Shang period (c. 1250 – c. 1046 BCE) which spanned the reigns of 12 Shang kings and saw the emergence of oracle bone script, the earliest known Chinese writing. Along with oracle bone script and other material evidence for the Shang's existence, the site was forgotten for millennia. Its rediscovery in 1899 resulted from an investigation into oracle bones that were discovered being sold nearby. The rediscovery of Yinxu marked the beginning of decades of intensive excavation and study. It is one of China's oldest and largest archeological sites, and was selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2006.[1] Yinxu is located in northern Henan, near modern Anyang and the borders Henan shares with Hebei and Shanxi. Public access to the site is permitted.

Traditional history


According to the 2nd century Shuowen Jiezi dictionary (說文解字), the Chinese character "" (yīn) originally referred to "vibrant music-making".[2] Although frequently used throughout written history to refer to both the Shang dynasty and its final capital, the name Yīn () appears to have not been used in this way until the succeeding Zhou dynasty. In particular, the name does not appear in the oracle bones, which refer to the state as Shāng (), and its final capital as Dàyì Shāng (大邑商 "Great Settlement Shang").[3]

Among surviving ancient Chinese historical documents, Yin is described as the final capital of the Shang dynasty. There is some disagreement, though, as to when the move to Yin took place. Both the Book of Documents, (specifically, the "Pan Geng" chapter, which is believed to date from the late Spring and Autumn period), and the Bamboo Annals state that Shang king Pan Geng moved the Shang capital to Yin. The Bamboo Annals state, more specifically, that during his reign Pan Geng moved the capital from Yān (奄; present-day Qufu, in present-day Shandong Province), to a site called Běimĕng (北蒙), where it was then renamed to Yīn ().[4][5][6] (Conversely, according to the Records of the Grand Historian of Sima Qian, Pan Geng moved the Shang capital from a location north of the Yellow River to Bo , the capital of Shang dynasty founder Tang, on the south side of the river—a location inconsistent with the location of Yin.[7])

Regardless, Yin was clearly established as the Shang capital by the time of Shang king Wu Ding. Wu Ding launched numerous military campaigns from this base against surrounding tribes, thus securing Shang rule and raising the dynasty to its historical zenith.

According to the traditional accounts, later rulers became pleasure-seekers who took no interest in state affairs. King Zhòu, the last of the Shang dynasty kings, is particularly remembered for his ruthlessness and debauchery. His increasingly autocratic laws alienated the nobility until King Wu of the Zhou dynasty was able to gain the support to rise up and overthrow the Shang.

The Zhou dynasty established their capital at Fenghao near modern-day Xi'an, and Yīn was abandoned to fall into ruin. These ruins were mentioned by Sima Qian in his Records of the Grand Historian, more precisely in the Battle of Julu, and described in some detail by Li Daoyuan in his Commentary to the River Classic, published during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (420-589 CE). Thereafter, the once-great city of Yīn was relegated to legend along with its founding dynasty until its rediscovery in the final years of the Qing dynasty.

Archaeological discoveries

Ox scapula recording divinations by Zhēng 爭 in the reign of King Wu Ding

Yinxu is well known for its oracle bones, which were first recognized as containing ancient Chinese writing in 1899 by Wang Yirong, director of the Imperial Academy.[8] One account of Wang's discovery was that he was suffering from malaria at the time and was prescribed Longgu (龍骨) (dragon bones) at a traditional Chinese pharmacy. He noticed strange carvings on these bones and concluded that these could be samples of an ancient form of Chinese writing.

News of the discovery of the oracle bones created a market for them among antiques collectors, and led to multiple waves of illegal digs over several decades, with tens of thousands of pieces taken.[9][10] The source of the "dragon bones" was eventually traced to the small village of Xiaotun, just outside Anyang.[8] In 1910, noted scholar Luo Zhenyu affirmed that the area was the site of the last Shang dynasty capital.[11] Canadian missionary and oracle bone analyst James Menzies also independently identified Anyang as the capital in 1910.[12] In 1917, Wang Guowei deciphered the oracle bone inscriptions of the names of the Shang kings and constructed a complete Shang genealogy. This closely matched that in the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, confirming the historical authenticity of the legendary Shang dynasty and the archaeological importance of Yinxu.[8] However, the oracle bone inscriptions record the name of the state as Dàyìshāng (大邑商) or Shāngyì (商邑).

The first official archeological excavations at Yinxu were led by the archeologist Li Ji of the Institute of History and Philosophy from 1928-37.[13] They uncovered the remains of a royal palace, several royal tombs, and more than 100,000 oracle bones that show the Shang had a well-structured script with a complete system of written signs.[14]

Since 1950 ongoing excavations by the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have uncovered evidence of stratification at the Hougang site, remains of palaces and temples, royal cemeteries, oracle bone inscriptions, bronze and bone workshops and the discovery of the Huanbei site on the north bank of the Huan River.[13] One of the largest and oldest sites of Chinese archaeology, excavations here have laid the foundation for work across the country.

Four periods are recognized at the site. They correlate approximately with oracle bone periods assigned by Dong Zuobin, royal reigns and dates assigned by the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project as follows:[15][16]

Layer Oracle bone period Kings Approximate dates
Yinxu I Pan Geng, Xiao Xin, Xiao Yi 1300–1250 BCE
Yinxu II I Wu Ding 1250–1192 BCE
II Zu Geng, Zu Jia 1191–1148 BCE
Yinxu III III Lin Xin, Geng Ding
IV Wu Yi, Wen Wu Ding 1147–1102 BCE
Yinxu IV V Di Yi, Di Xin 1101–1046 BCE

Excavation sites


At 30 square kilometers, Yinxu is the largest archaeological site in China. Excavations have uncovered over 80 rammed-earth foundation sites including palaces, shrines, tombs and workshops. From these remains archaeologists have been able to confirm that this was the spiritual and cultural center of the Shang dynasty.

Burial pit at Tomb of Lady Fu Hao

The best preserved of the Shang dynasty royal tombs unearthed at Yinxu is the Tomb of Fu Hao. The extraordinary Lady Hao was a military leader and the wife of Shang King Wu Ding. The tomb was discovered in 1976 by Zheng Zhenxiang and has been dated to 1250 BCE. It was completely undisturbed, having escaped the looting that had damaged the other tombs on the site, and in addition to the remains of the Queen the tomb was discovered to contain six dog skeletons, 16 human slave skeletons, and numerous grave goods of huge archaeological value. The tomb was thoroughly excavated and extensively restored and is now open to the public. The exhibition hall also features chariot pits where the earliest samples of animal-driven carts discovered by Chinese archaeology are on display.

Historical importance

The Houmuwu ding

Before the excavation of Yinxu, the Chinese historical record began in the first year of the subsequent Zhou dynasty, but the discovery of oracle bone inscriptions confirmed the historicity of the Shang, which had come under question. The framework of early ancient Chinese history was reconstructed, making it possible to assess the credibility of traditional accounts of Shang history.

The 150000 oracle bones unearthed at Yinxu comprise much of the earliest evidence of written Chinese. Bronze and jade relics constitute evidence of the funeral customs of Yinxu, including human and animal sacrifice.[17]

A large number of handicrafts and workshops have been discovered at Yinxu. Patterns on utensils and bronzeware include those resembling animal faces, whorl patterns, and the taotie pattern. Large-scale bronzeware excavated at the site like the Houmuwu ding were cast by an elaborate section-mold process.[18]

Genetic studies


A study of mitochondrial DNA (inherited in the maternal line) from Yinxu graves showed similarity with modern northern Han Chinese, but significant differences from southern Han Chinese.[19]

See also





  1. ^ "Yin Xu". UNESCO. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  2. ^ See Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字 entry 殷.
  3. ^ Keightley (1999), p. 232.
  4. ^ Pan Geng I. Retrieved 29 March 2018. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  5. ^ Pan Geng. Retrieved 28 March 2018. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  6. ^ Bai, Shouyi (2002). An Outline History of China. Beijing: Foreign Language Press. ISBN 7-119-02347-0.
  7. ^ Annals of Yin. Retrieved 28 March 2018. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  8. ^ a b c "The Discovery of Oracle Bones and the Locating of Yinxu site". The Garden Museum of Yin Ruins. The Discovery of Oracle Bones and the Locating of Yinxu site. In 1899, Wang Yirong, the director of the Imperial College and a well-known scholar of ancient inscriptions discovered dragon bones (known today as oracle bone inscriptions). He sent his assistants to Xiaotun village in Anyang, (安陽), and enabled him to confirm that Xiaotun was indeed the Yinxu (Ruins of Yin) in the historical records. In 1917 Wang Guowei successfully deciphered the names in oracle bone inscriptions of Shang ancestors and from these was able to reconstruct the Shang genealogy. It matched the record in (司馬遷), Sima Qian's 'Shiji' (史記) (Records of the Historian). Thus, the legend of Shang dynasty was confirmed as history and the importance of Yinxu was recognized by the academic world. The first excavations at Yinxu began in 1928.
  9. ^ Chou 1976, p. 1.
  10. ^ Xu 2002, p. 6.
  11. ^ Wilkinson (2000), 391.
  12. ^ Goodrich, L. Carrington (August 1957). "James Mellon Menzies, 1885–1957". The Journal of Asian Studies. 16 (4): 672–673. doi:10.1017/S0021911800134813. S2CID 162745662.
  13. ^ a b "Information Panel". The Garden Museum of Yin Ruins. Since the first excavation in 1928, archaeologists have been working at the Yinxu site for over seventy years. There have been two main periods of excavation: (1) from 1928–1937, when excavations were carried out by the Institute of History and Philosophy; and (2) since 1950, when the Institute of Archeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (formerly Chinese Academy of Sciences) have been responsible for excavations have yielded some very important results: evidence of stratification of the Hougang site, remains of palaces and temples, royal cemeteries, oracle bone inscriptions, bronze-and bone-workshops and the discovery of the Shang city on the north bank of the Huan River.
  14. ^ "An Yang, ancient capital of the Shang dynasty". China Central Television. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  15. ^ Thorp, Robert L. (1981). "The Date of Tomb 5 at Yinxu, Anyang: A Review Article". Artibus Asiae. 43 (3): 239–246. doi:10.2307/3249839. JSTOR 3249839. p. 241.
  16. ^ XSZCP Group (2000), Xià-Shāng-Zhōu duàndài gōngchéng 1996—2000 nián jiēduàn chéngguǒ bàogào: Jiǎn běn 夏商周断代工程1996—2000年阶段成果报告: 简本 [The Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project Report for the years 1996–2000 (abridged)], Beijing: 世界图书出版公司, ISBN 978-7-5062-4138-0
  17. ^ Zhou Yaogang (周要港) (2020). 文化遗产价值的评估——以安阳殷墟为例. 洛阳考古 (in Chinese). 2: 71.
  18. ^ Peng, Peng (2021). "Decentralizing the Origin of Civilization: Early Archaeological Efforts in China". History of Humanities. 6 (2): 515–548. doi:10.1086/715935. ISSN 2379-3163. S2CID 244133983.
  19. ^ Zeng, Wen; Li, Jiawei; Yue, Hongbin; Zhou, Hui; Zhu, Hong (2013). Poster: Preliminary Research on Hereditary Features of Yinxu Population. 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

Works cited

Preceded by Capital of China
1350 BC – 1046 BC
Succeeded by