Near East: Neolithic
In the Middle East, cultures identified as Neolithic began appearing in the 10th millennium BC. Early development occurred in the Levant (e.g., Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) and from there spread eastwards and westwards.
The Natufian period or “proto-Neolithic” lasted from 12,500 to 9,500 BC, and is taken to overlap with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNA) of 10,200–8800 BC. As the Natufians had become dependent on wild cereals in their diet, and a sedentary way of life had begun among them, the climatic changes associated with the Younger Dryas (about 10,000 BC) are thought to have forced people to develop farming.
The Neolithic started in around 10,200 BC in the Levant, arising from the Natufian culture, when pioneering use of wild cereals evolved into early farming. A temple area in southeastern Turkey at Göbekli Tepe, dated to around 9500 BC, may be regarded as the beginning of the period.
The surviving structures not only predate pottery, metallurgy, and the invention of writing or the wheel, but were built before the so-called Neolithic Revolution, that marks the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry, around 9000 BC. The construction of Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an advanced order not hitherto associated with Paleolithic, PPNA, or PPNB societies, however.
Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in sequence to wild wheat found on Karaca Dağ 30 km (20 mi) away from the site, suggesting that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.
By 10,200–8800 BC farming communities had arisen in the Levant and spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia. Neolithic cultures are also attested in southeastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia by around 8000 BC.
Early Neolithic farming was limited to a narrow range of plants, both wild and domesticated, which included einkorn wheat, millet and spelt, and the keeping of dogs, sheep and goats. By about 6900–6400 BC, it included domesticated cattle and pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery.
Like the earlier PPNA culture (c. 9500- 8000 BC), the PPNB culture (c. 7600-6000 BC) developed from the Mesolithic Natufian culture. However, it shows evidence of a northerly origin, possibly indicating an influx from the region of north eastern Anatolia.
Near East: Pottery
Around 8000 BC during the Pre-pottery Neolithic period, and before the invention of pottery, several early settlements became experts in crafting beautiful and highly sophisticated containers from stone, using materials such as alabaster or granite, and employing sand to shape and polish.
Artisans used the veins in the material to maximum visual effect. Such object have been found in abundance on the upper Euphrates river, in what is today eastern Syria, especially at the site of Bouqras located around 35 kilometres (22 mi) from Deir ez-Zor in Syria.
Pottery making began in the 7th millennium BC. The earliest history of pottery production in the Fertile Crescent can be divided into four periods, namely: The Hassuna period (7000–6500 BC), the Halaf period (6500–5500 BC), the Ubaid period (5500–4000 BC), and the Uruk period (4000–3100 BC).
By about 5000 BC pottery-making was becoming widespread across the region, and spreading out from it to neighbouring areas. Pyrotechnology was highly developed in this period. During this period, one of the main features of houses is evidenced by a thick layer of white clay plaster floors highly polished and made of lime produced from limestone.
It is believed that the use of clay plaster for floor and wall coverings during PPNB led to the discovery of pottery. The earliest proto-pottery was White Ware vessels, made from lime and gray ash, built up around baskets before firing, for several centuries around 7000 BC at sites such as Tell Neba’a Faour (Beqaa Valley).
Sites from this period found in the Levant utilizing rectangular floor plans and plastered floor techniques were found at Ain Ghazal, Yiftahel (western Galilee), and Abu Hureyra (Upper Euphrates). The period is dated to between ca. 7500 – 6000 BC.
Jarmo, a prehistoric archeological site located in modern Iraq on the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, is one of the oldest sites at which pottery has been found, appearing in the most recent levels of excavation, which dates it to the 7th millennium BC.
This pottery is handmade, of simple design and with thick sides, and treated with a vegetable solvent. There are clay figures, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic, including figures of pregnant women which are taken to be fertility goddesses, similar to the Mother Goddess of later Neolithic cultures in the same region.
Excavations revealed that Jarmo was an agricultural community dating back to 7090 BC. It was broadly contemporary with such other important Neolithic sites such as Jericho in the southern Levant and Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia.
The earliest forms, which were found at the Hassuna site, were hand formed from slabs, undecorated, unglazed low-fired pots made from reddish-brown clays. Within the next millennium, wares were decorated with elaborate painted designs and natural forms, incising and burnished.
The site of Umm Dabaghiyah in the same area of Iraq, is believed to have the earliest pottery in this region, and is sometimes described as a ‘Proto-Hassuna culture’ site. Other related sites in the area are Sotto, and Kul Tepe (Iraq). Another pre-Hassuna or proto-Hassuna site in Iraq is Tell Maghzaliyah.
More recently, the concept of a very early ‘Pre-Proto-Hassuna’ pottery tradition has been introduced by some scholars. This has been prompted by more recent discoveries of still earlier pottery traditions. Nevertheless, all of these nomenclatures may refer to quite similar types of pottery, depending on some specific geographic region of Upper Mesopotamia.
The Halaf culture is a prehistoric period which lasted between about 6100 BC and 5100 BC. The period is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia.
The new archaeology demonstrated that Halaf culture was not sudden and was not the result of foreign people, but rather a continuous process of indigenous cultural changes in northern Syria, that spread to the other regions.
The best known, most characteristic pottery of Tell Halaf, called Halaf ware, produced by specialist potters, can be painted, sometimes using more than two colors (called polychrome) with geometric and animal motifs.
Halaf pottery has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region.
In the Chalcolithic period in Mesopotamia, Halafian pottery achieved a level of technical competence and sophistication, not seen until the later developments of Greek pottery with Corinthian and Attic ware. The potter’s wheel was invented in Mesopotamia sometime between 6,000 and 4,000 BC (Ubaid period) and revolutionised pottery production.
Within the debate concerning the relations between Anatolia, Greece and Southeast Europe,the so called “stamp seals” have often been under discussion. The Halaf culture saw the earliest known appearance of stamp seals in the Near East.
The pottery of Tell Sabi Abyad is somewhat similar to what was found in the other prehistoric sites in Syria and south-eastern Turkey. Yet in Sabi Abyad, the presence of painted pottery is quite unique. It was discovered that around 6700 BC, pottery was already mass-produced.
Archaeologists discovered what seems like the oldest painted pottery here. Remarkably, the earliest pottery was of a very high quality, and some of it was already painted. Later, the painted pottery was discontinued, and the quality declined.
Our finds at Tell Sabi Abyad show an initial brief phase in which people experimented with painted pottery. This trend did not continue, however. As far as we can see now, people then gave up painting their pottery for centuries.
Instead, people concentrated on the production of undecorated, coarse wares. It was not until around 6200 BC that people began to add painted decorations again. The question of why the Neolithic inhabitants of Tell Sabi Abyad initially stopped painting their pottery is unanswered for the time being.
Pottery found at the site includes Dark Faced Burnished Ware and a Fine Ware that resembled Hassuna Ware and Samarra Ware. Bowls and jars often had angled necks and ornate geometric designs, some featuring horned animals. Only around six percent of the pottery found was produced locally.
Significant cultural changes are observed at c. 6200 BC, which seem to be connected to the 8.2 kiloyear event. Nevertheless, the settlement was not abandoned at the time.
The Samarra culture is a Chalcolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia that is roughly dated to 5500–4800 BCE. It partially overlaps with Hassuna and early Ubaid. Other sites where Samarran material has been found include Tell Shemshara, Tell es-Sawwan and Yarim Tepe.
The culture is primarily known for its finely made pottery decorated with stylized animals, including birds, and geometric designs on dark backgrounds. This widely exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra.
At Tell Sabi Abyad and other Late Neolithic sites in Syria, scholars adopt increasingly vague terms such as Samarra “influenced”, Samarra-“related” or even Samarra “impulses”, largely because we do not understand the relationships with the traditional Samarra heartlands.
The term may be extended to include sites in Syria such as Tell Chagar Bazar, Tell Boueid II, Tell Sabi Abyad or Tell Halula, where similar pottery is currently being excavated in Pre-Halaf to Early Halaf Transitional contexts.
At Tell es-Sawwan, evidence of irrigation—including flax—establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period.
The Ubaid period (c. 6500–3800 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvial plain although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. It has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.
Tell el-‘Oueili is a tell, or ancient settlement mound, located in Dhi Qar Governorate, southern Iraq. The excavations have revealed occupation layers predating those of Eridu, making Tell el-‘Oueili the earliest known human settlement in southern Mesopotamia.
The environment of ‘Oueili is characterized by temperatures that can reach more than 50º C in summer and less than 250 mm of annual rainfall, making the area unsuitable for rainfed agriculture. The phase Ubaid 0 was first discovered at this site and was hence provisionally termed ‘Oueili-phase (6500–5400 BC).
Ubaid 1, sometimes called Eridu corresponding to the city Eridu, (5400–4700 BC), is a phase limited to the extreme south of Iraq, on what was then the shores of the Persian Gulf. This phase, showing clear connection to the Samarra culture to the north, saw the establishment of the first permanent settlement south of the 5 inch rainfall isohyet.
These people pioneered the growing of grains in the extreme conditions of aridity, thanks to the high water tables of Southern Iraq. Ubaid 2 (4800–4500 BC), after the type site of the same name, saw the development of extensive canal networks from major settlements. Irrigation agriculture, which seems to have developed first at Choga Mami (4700–4600 BC) and rapidly spread elsewhere, form the first required collective effort and centralised coordination of labour in Mesopotamia.
In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC. It is preceded by the Halaf period and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period (ca. 5500/5400 to 5200/5000 BC) and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.
The Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period is still a complex and rather poorly understood period. At the same time, recent efforts were made to study the gradual change from Halaf style pottery to Ubaid style pottery in various parts of North Mesopotamia.
The Halaf appears to have ended around 5200 cal. BC and the northern Ubaid begins around then. There are several sites that run from the Halaf until the Ubaid. Many Halafians settlements were abandoned, and the remaining ones showed Ubaidian characters.
The new period is named Northern Ubaid to distinguish it from the proper Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia, and two explanations were presented for the transformation.
The first maintain an invasion and a replacement of the Halafians by the Ubaidians, however, there is no hiatus between the Halaf and northern Ubaid which exclude the invasion theory. The most plausible theory is a Halafian adoption of the Ubaid culture, which is supported by most scholars.
The PPNB culture disappeared during the 8.2 kiloyear event, a term that climatologists have adopted for a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BCE, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries.
In the following Munhatta and Yarmukian post-pottery Neolithic cultures that succeeded it, rapid cultural development continues, although PPNB culture continued in the Amuq valley, where it influenced the later development of the Ghassulian culture in the Southern Levant (c. 4400 – c. 3500 BC).
The Ghassulian stage was characterized by small hamlet settlements of mixed farming peoples, who had immigrated from the north and settled in the southern Levant – today’s Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Their pottery was highly elaborate, including footed bowls and horn-shaped drinking goblets, indicating the cultivation of wine.
The Ghassulian culture correlates closely with the Amratian of Egypt, also called Naqada I, a culture of prehistoric Upper Egypt which lasted approximately from 4000 to 3500 BC, and also seems to have affinities (e.g., the distinctive churns, or “bird vases”) with early Minoan culture in Crete.
Old Europe, or Neolithic Europe, refers to the time between the Mesolithic and Bronze Age periods in Europe, roughly from 7000 BCE (the approximate time of the first farming societies in Greece) to ca. 1700 BCE (the beginning of the Bronze Age in Scandinavia)
The duration of the Neolithic varies from place to place: in southeast Europe it is approximately 4000 years (i. e., 7000–3000 BCE); in parts of North-West Europe it is just under 3000 years (ca. 4500–1700 BCE).
The Neolithic age in China can be traced back to about 10,000 BC. The first agriculture known in China involves two species of millet, foxtail (Setaria italica) and broomcorn or panic millet (Panicum miliaceum). Several sites report them around that date.
Specialized archaeologists called palaeoethnobotanists, relying on data such as the relative abundance of charred grains found in archaeological sites, hypothesize that the cultivation of millets was of greater prevalence in prehistory than rice, especially in northern China and Korea.
Some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China was found at Cishan culture (6500–5000 BC) in northern China, on the eastern foothills of the Taihang Mountains, where proso millet husk phytoliths and biomolecular components have been identified around 10,300–8,700 years ago in storage pits along with remains of pit-houses, pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation.
The Cishan culture was based on the farming of broomcorn millet, the cultivation of which on one site has been dated back 10,000 years. The people at Cishan also began to cultivate foxtail millet around 8700 years ago. However, these early dates have been questioned by some archaeologists due to sampling issues and lack of systematic surveying.
There is also evidence that the Cishan people cultivated barley and, late in their history, a japonica variety of rice. Common artifacts from the Cishan culture include stone grinders, stone sickles and tripod pottery. The sickle blades feature fairly uniform serrations, which made the harvesting of grain easier.
Cord markings, used as decorations on the pottery, was more common compared to neighboring cultures. Also, the Cishan potters created a broader variety of pottery forms such as basins, pot supports, serving stands, and drinking cups.
Since the culture shared many similarities with its southern neighbor, the Peiligang culture, a Neolithic culture in the Yi-Luo river basin (in modern Henan Province, China) that existed from 7000 to 5000 BC, both cultures were sometimes previously referred to together as the Cishan-Peiligang culture or Peiligang-Cishan culture.
The Cishan culture also shared several similarities with its eastern neighbor, the Beixin culture (5300–4100 BC), a Neolithic culture in Shandong, China. However, the contemporary consensus among archaeologists is that the Cishan people were members of a distinct culture that shared many characteristics with its neighbors.
The Beixin culture was the successor of the Houli culture (6500–5500 BC) and precursor of the Dawenkou culture (4100–2600 BC). The Houli culture was a Neolithic culture in Shandong, China. Aside from the type site at Houli, excavations have also taken place at Xihe, Xiaojingshan, Qianbuxia, and Yuezhang.
The millet found at Yuezhuang was predominately broomcorn millet and dated to around 6000 BC, making it one of the earliest sites in China to show evidence of millet cultivation. Rice grains were also found at the site. The carbonized rice was dated to 6010-5700 BC. Footed stone grinding slabs, in a style identical to those found at the Peiligang culture, were discovered at Yuezhang. This similarity is most likely due to technological transfer.
The oldest evidence of noodles in China were made from these two varieties of millet in a 4,000-year-old earthenwear bowl containing well-preserved noodles found at the Lajia archaeological site located in Minhe County, Haidong Prefecture in Northwest China’s Qinghai province in north China.
Lajia is associated with the Qijia culture (2200 BC – 1600 BC), an early Bronze Age culture distributed around the upper Yellow River region of Gansu (centered in Lanzhou) and eastern Qinghai, China. It is regarded as one of the earliest bronze cultures in China.
Qinghai is located on the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. The Yellow River originates in the southern part of the province, while the Yangtze and Mekong have their sources in the southwestern part. Qinghai is separated by the Riyue Mountain into pastoral and agricultural zones in the west and east.
Prior to Qijia culture, in the same area there existed Majiayao culture (3300 to 2000 BC), a group of neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River region in eastern Gansu, eastern Qinghai and northern Sichuan, China, that was also familiar with metalwork.
The Majiayao culture represents the first time that the upper Yellow River region was widely occupied by agricultural communities and it is famous for its painted pottery, which is regarded as a peak of pottery manufacturing at that time. At the end of the third millennium B.C., Qijia culture succeeded Majiayao culture at sites in three main geographic zones: Eastern Gansu, Middle Gansu, and Western Gansu/Eastern Qinghai.
The earliest evidence of cultivated rice, found by the Yangtze River, is carbon-dated to 8,000 years ago. The Yangtze has played a major role in the history, culture and economy of China. For thousands of years, the river has been used for water, irrigation, sanitation, transportation, industry, boundary-marking and war.
Recent findings in archaeology have considerably pushed back the dates for domestication of chickens, millets, rice, pigs, and other domestic life forms of eastern Asia. Early evidence of milking and stockraising in central Asia is relevant.
Farming gave rise to the Jiahu culture (7000 to 5800 BC). Jiahu was the site of a Neolithic settlement based in the central plain of ancient China, near the Yellow River. Most archaeologists consider the site to be one of the earliest examples of the Peiligang culture.
At Damaidi in Ningxia, 3,172 cliff carvings dating to 6000–5000 BC have been discovered, “featuring 8,453 individual characters such as the sun, moon, stars, gods and scenes of hunting or grazing”. These pictographs are reputed to be similar to the earliest characters confirmed to be written Chinese.
Chinese proto-writing existed in Jiahu around 7000 BC, Dadiwan from 5800 BC to 5400 BC, Damaidi around 6000 BC and Banpo dating from the 5th millennium BC. Some scholars have suggested that Jiahu symbols (7th millennium BC) were the earliest Chinese writing system.
Excavation of a Peiligang culture site in Xinzheng county, Henan, found a community that flourished in 5,500 to 4,900 BC, with evidence of agriculture, constructed buildings, pottery, and burial of the dead. With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and the potential to support specialist craftsmen and administrators.
In late Neolithic times, the Yellow River valley began to establish itself as a center of Yangshao culture (5000 BC to 3000 BC), and the first villages were founded; the most archaeologically significant of these was found at Banpo, Xi’an. Later, Yangshao culture was superseded by the Longshan culture, which was also centered on the Yellow River from about 3000 BC to 2000 BC.
Bronze artifacts have been found at the Majiayao culture (3300 to 2000 BC), a group of neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River region in eastern Gansu, eastern Qinghai and northern Sichuan, China.
The Majiayao culture represents the first time that the upper Yellow River region was widely occupied by agricultural communities and it is famous for its painted pottery, which is regarded as a peak of pottery manufacturing at that time.
The Bronze Age is also represented at the Lower Xiajiadian culture (2200–1600 BC), an archaeological culture in Northeast China, found mainly in southeastern Inner Mongolia, northern Hebei and western Liaoning, China. Stone, bone and painted pottery artefacts were discovered at Lower Xiajiadian sites, while gold, lead, lacquer, jade, copper and bronze artefacts are also found.
Sanxingdui (lit: ‘three stars mound’) located in what is now Sichuan province is believed to be the site of a major ancient city, of a previously unknown Bronze Age culture between 2000 and 1200 BC. Chinese archaeologists have identified the Sanxingdui culture to be part of the ancient kingdom of Shu, linking the artifacts found at the site to its early legendary kings.
Shu was based on the Chengdu Plain, in the western Sichuan basin with some extension northeast to the upper Han River valley. To the east was the Ba tribal confederation. Further east down the Han and Yangtze rivers was the State of Chu. To the north over the Qinling Mountains was the State of Qin. To the west and south were tribal peoples of little military power.
There are very few mentions of Shu in the early Chinese historical records until the 4th century BC. Although there are possible references to a “Shu” in Shang Dynasty oracle bones inscriptions that indicate contact between Shu and Shang, it is not clear if the Shu mentioned refer to the kingdom in Sichuan or other different polities elsewhere. This independent Shu state was conquered by the state of Qin in 316 BC.
Ferrous metallurgy begins to appear in the late 6th century in the Yangzi Valley. The Yangtze, or Yangzi, is the longest river in Asia, the third-longest in the world and the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country. It rises in the northern part of the Tibetan Plateau and flows in a generally easterly direction to the East China Sea.
For this reason the term “Iron Age” have been used by convention for the transitional period of c. 500 BC to 100 BC, roughly corresponding to the Warring States period (475-221 BC) of Chinese historiography, an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation.
The Warring States period followed the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BC), which corresponds roughly to the first half of the Eastern Zhou period, and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest that saw the annexation of all other contender states, which ultimately led to the Qin state’s victory in 221 BC as the first unified Chinese empire, known as the Qin dynasty, the first dynasty of Imperial China, lasting from 221 to 206 BC.
The Zhou dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang dynasty and preceded the Qin dynasty. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history (790 years). The military control of China by the royal house, surnamed Ji, lasted initially from 1046 until 771 BC.
The Western Zhou (1045-771 BC) began when King Wu of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty at the Battle of Muye and ended when the Quanrong nomads sacked its capital Haojing and killed King You of Zhou in 771 BC. The Eastern Zhou (770–256 BC) is divided into two periods: the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States.
An Iron Age culture of the Tibetan Plateau has tentatively been associated with the Zhang Zhung culture (c. 500 BC–625 AD) described in early Tibetan writings. Zhang Zhung culture was an ancient culture and kingdom of western and northwestern Tibet, which pre-dates the culture of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet. It is associated with the Bon religion, which in turn, influenced the philosophies and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
Pottery may well have been discovered independently in various places, probably by accidentally creating it at the bottom of fires on a clay soil. All the earliest vessel forms were pit fired and made by coiling, which is a simple technology to learn.
The earliest-known ceramic objects are Gravettian figurines such as those discovered at Dolní Věstonice in the modern-day Czech Republic. The Venus of Dolní Věstonice is a Venus figurine, a statuette of a nude female figure dated to 29,000–25,000 BC (Gravettian industry).
Sherds have been found in China and Japan from a period between 12,000 and perhaps as long as 18,000 years ago. As of 2012, the earliest pottery found anywhere in the world, dating to 20,000 to 19,000 years before the present, was found at Xianrendong Cave in the Jiangxi province of China.
Other early pottery vessels include those excavated from the Yuchanyan Cave in southern China, dated from 16,000 BC, and those found in the Amur River basin in the Russian Far East, dated from 14,000 BC.
The Odai Yamamoto I site, belonging to the Jōmon period, currently has the oldest pottery in Japan. Excavations in 1998 uncovered earthenware fragments which have been dated as early as 14,500 BC.
The term “Jōmon” means “cord-marked” in Japanese. This refers to the markings made on the vessels and figures using sticks with cords during their production. Recent research has elucidated how Jōmon pottery was used by its creators.
It appears that pottery was independently developed in Sub-Saharan Africa during the 10th millennium BC, with findings dating to at least 9,400 BC and in South America during the 10,000s BC.
The Malian finds date to the same period as similar finds from East Asia – the triangle between Siberia, China and Japan – and are associated in both regions to the same climatic changes (at the end of the ice age new grassland develops, enabling hunter-gatherers to expand their habitat), met independently by both cultures with similar developments: the creation of pottery for the storage of wild cereals (pearl millet), and that of small arrowheads for hunting small game typical of grassland.
Alternatively, the creation of pottery in the case of the Incipient Jōmon civilisation could be due to the intensive exploitation of freshwater and marine organisms by late glacial foragers, who started developing ceramic containers for their catch.
In Japan, the Jōmon period has a long history of development of Jōmon Pottery which was characterized by impressions of rope on the surface of the pottery created by pressing rope into the clay before firing.
Glazed Stoneware was being created as early as the 15th century BC in China. A form of Chinese porcelain became a significant Chinese export from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–906) onwards. Korean potters produced porcelain as early as the 14th century AD. Koreans brought the art of porcelain to Japan in the 17th century AD.
In contrast to Europe, the Chinese elite used pottery extensively at table, for religious purposes, and for decoration, and the standards of fine pottery were very high. From the Song dynasty (960–1279) for several centuries elite taste favoured plain-coloured and exquisitely formed pieces; during this period true porcelain was perfected in Ding ware, although it was the only one of the Five Great Kilns of the Song period to use it.
The traditional Chinese category of high-fired wares includes stoneware types such as Ru ware, Longquan celadon, and Guan ware. Painted wares such as Cizhou ware had a lower status, though they were acceptable for making pillows.
The arrival of Chinese blue and white porcelain was probably a product of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) dispersing artists and craftsmen across its large empire. Both the cobalt stains used for the blue colour, and the style of painted decoration, usually based on plant shapes, were initially borrowed from the Islamic world, which the Mongols had also conquered.
At the same time Jingdezhen porcelain, produced in Imperial factories, took the undisputed leading role in production, which it has retained to the present day. The new elaborately painted style was now favoured at court, and gradually more colours were added.
The secret of making such porcelain was sought in the Islamic world and later in Europe when examples were imported from the East. Many attempts were made to imitate it in Italy and France. However it was not produced outside of the Orient until 1709 in Germany.
The current scientific consensus, based on archaeological and linguistic evidence, is that rice was first domesticated in the Yangtze River basin in China. Because the functional allele for nonshattering, the critical indicator of domestication in grains, as well as five other single-nucleotide polymorphisms, is identical in both indica and japonica, Vaughan et al. (2008) determined a single domestication event for O. sativa.
This was supported by a genetic study in 2011 that showed that all forms of Asian rice, both indica and japonica, sprang from a single domestication event that occurred 13,500 to 8,200 years ago in China from the wild rice Oryza rufipogon.
A more recent population genomic study indicates that japonica was domesticated first, and that indica rice arose when japonica arrived in India about ~4,500 years ago and hybridized with an undomesticated proto-indica or wild O. nivara.
There are two most likely centers of domestication for rice as well as the development of the wetland agriculture technology. The first, and most likely, is in the lower Yangtze River, believed to be the homelands of the pre-Austronesians (and possibly also the Kra-Dai) and associated with the Kauhuqiao, Hemudu, Majiabang, Songze, Liangzhu, and Maquiao cultures.
It is characterized by typical Austronesian innovations, including stilt houses, jade carving, and boat technologies. Their diet were also supplemented by acorns, water chestnuts, foxnuts, and pig domestication.
The second is in the middle Yangtze River, believed to be the homelands of the early Hmong-Mien-speakers and associated with the Pengtoushan, Nanmuyuan, Liulinxi, Daxi, Qujialing, and Shijiahe cultures.
Both of these regions were heavily populated and had regular trade contacts with each other, as well as with early Austroasiatic speakers to the west, and early Kra-Dai speakers to the south, facilitating the spread of rice cultivation throughout southern China.
Rice was gradually introduced north into early Sino-Tibetan Yangshao and Dawenkou culture millet farmers, either via contact with the Daxi culture or the Majiabang-Hemudu culture.
By around 4000 to 3800 BC, they were a regular secondary crop among southernmost Sino-Tibetan cultures. It didn’t replace millet, largely because of different environment conditions in northern China, but it was cultivated alongside millet in the southern boundaries of the millet-farming regions. Conversely, millet was also introduced into rice-farming regions.
By the late Neolithic (3500 to 2500 BC), population in the rice cultivating centers had increased rapidly, centered around the Qujialing-Shijiahe culture and the Liangzhu culture. There was also evidence of intensive rice cultivation in paddy fields as well as increasingly sophisticated material cultures in these two regions.
The number of settlements among the Yangtze cultures and their sizes increased, leading some archeologists to characterize them as true states, with clearly advanced socio-political structures. However, it is unknown if they had centralized control.
Liangzhu and Shijiahe declined abruptly in the terminal Neolithic (2500 to 2000 BC). With Shijiahe shrinking in size, and Liangzhu disappearing altogether. This is largely believed to be the result of the southward expansion of the early Sino-Tibetan Longshan culture. Fortifications like walls (as well as extensive moats in Liangzhu cities) are common features in settlements during this period, indicating widespread conflict.
This period also coincides with the southward movement of rice-farming cultures to the Lingnan and Fujian regions, as well as the southward migrations of the Austronesian, Kra-Dai, and Austroasiatic-speaking peoples to Mainland Southeast Asia and Island Southeast Asia.
The spread of japonica rice cultivation to Southeast Asia started with the migrations of the Austronesian Dapenkeng culture into Taiwan between 3500 to 2000 BC (5,500 BP to 4,000 BP). The Nanguanli site in Taiwan, dated to ca. 2800 BC, has yielded numerous carbonized remains of both rice and millet in waterlogged conditions, indicating intensive wetland rice cultivation and dryland millet cultivation.
From about 2000 to 1500 BC, the Austronesian expansion began, with settlers from Taiwan moving south to colonize Luzon in the Philippines, bringing rice cultivation technologies with them.
From Luzon, Austronesians rapidly colonized the rest of Island Southeast Asia, moving westwards to Borneo, the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra; and southwards to Sulawesi and Java. By 500 BC, there is evidence of intensive wetland rice agriculture already established in Java and Bali, especially near very fertile volcanic islands.
However, rice (as well as dogs and pigs) did not survive the first Austronesian voyages into Micronesia due to the sheer distance of ocean they were crossing. These voyagers became the ancestors of the Lapita culture.
By the time they migrated southwards to the Bismarck Archipelago, they had already lost the technology of rice farming, as well as pigs and dogs. However, knowledge of rice cultivation is still evident in the way they adapted the wetland agriculture techniques to taro cultivation.
The Lapita culture in Bismarck reestablished trade connections with other Austronesian branches in Island Southeast Asia. They also came into contact with the non-Austronesian (Papuan) early agriculturists of New Guinea and introduced wetland farming techniques to them.
In turn, they assimilated their range of indigenous cultivated fruits and tubers, as well as reacquiring domesticated dogs and pigs, before spreading further eastward to Island Melanesia and Polynesia.
Rice, along with other Southeast Asian food plants, were also later introduced to Madagascar, the Comoros, and the coast of East Africa by around the 1st millennium AD by Austronesian settlers from the Greater Sunda Islands.
Much later Austronesian voyages from Island Southeast Asia succeeded in bringing rice to Guam during the Latte Period (AD 900 to AD 1700). Guam is the only island in Oceania where rice was grown in pre-colonial times.
Within Mainland Southeast Asia, rice was presumably spread through river trade between the early Hmong-Mien-speakers of the Middle Yangtze basin and the early Kra-Dai-speakers of the Pearl River and Red River basins, as well as the early Austroasiatic-speakers of the Mekong River basin.
Evidence for rice cultivation in these regions, dates to slightly later than the Dapenkeng settlement of Taiwan, at around 3000 BC. Southward migrations of the Austroasiatic and Kra-Dai-speakers introduced it into Mainland Southeast Asia.
The earliest evidence of rice cultivation in Mainland Southeast Asia come from the Ban Chiang site in northern Thailand (ca. 2000 to 1500 BC); and the An Sơn site in southern Vietnam (ca. 2000 to 1200 BC).
Mainstream archaeological evidence derived from palaeoethnobotanical investigations indicate dry-land rice was introduced to Korea and Japan sometime between 3500 and 1200 BC. The cultivation of rice then occurred on a small scale, fields were impermanent plots, and evidence shows that in some cases domesticated and wild grains were planted together.
The technological, subsistence, and social impact of rice and grain cultivation is not evident in archaeological data until after 1500 BC. For example, intensive wet-paddy rice agriculture was introduced into Korea shortly before or during the Middle Mumun pottery period (circa 850–550 BC) and reached Japan by the final Jōmon or initial Yayoi periods circa 300 BC.
Rice was cultivated in the Indian subcontinent from as early as 5,000 BC. “Several wild cereals, including rice, grew in the Vindhyan Hills, and rice cultivation, at sites such as Chopani-Mando and Mahagara, may have been underway as early as 7,000 BP. Rice appeared in the Belan and Ganges valley regions of northern India as early as 4530 BC and 5440 BC, respectively.
The early domestication process of rice in ancient India was based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ agriculture of local Oryza sativa var. indica rice agriculture, before the truly ‘wetland’ rice Oryza sativa var. japonica, arrived around 2000 BC.
Rice was cultivated in the Indus Valley civilization (3rd millennium BC). Agricultural activity during the second millennium BC included rice cultivation in the Kashmir and Harrappan regions. Mixed farming was the basis of Indus valley economy.
O. sativa was recovered from a grave at Susa in Iran (dated to the first century AD) at one end of the ancient world, while at the same time rice was grown in the Po valley in Italy. In northern Iran, in Gilan province, many indica rice cultivars including ‘Gerdeh’, ‘Hashemi’, ‘Hasani’, and ‘Gharib’ have been bred by farmers.
A 2012 study, through a map of genome variation in modern wild rice populations, indicated that the domestication of rice probably occurred around the central Pearl River valley region of southern China, in contradiction to archaeological evidence.
However, the study is based on modern distribution maps of wild rice populations which are potentially misleading due to drastic climatic changes that happened during the end of the last glacial period, ca. 12,000 years ago.
Human activity over thousands of years have also removed populations of wild rice from their previous ranges. Based on Chinese texts, there were populations of wild rice along the Yangtze basin in c. AD 1,000 that are now recently extinct.
An older theory, based on one chloroplast and two nuclear gene regions, Londo et al. (2006) had proposed that O. sativa rice was domesticated at least twice—indica in eastern India, Myanmar, and Thailand; and japonica in southern China and Vietnam—though they concede that archaeological and genetic evidence exist for a single domestication of rice in the lowlands of southern China.
In 2003, Korean archaeologists alleged they discovered burnt grains of domesticated rice in Soro-ri, Korea, which dated to 13,000 BC. These antedate the oldest grains in China, which were dated to 10,000 BC, and potentially challenge the mainstream explanation that domesticated rice originated in China. The findings were received by academia with strong skepticism.
Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food. Millets are important crops in the semiarid tropics of Asia and Africa. The crop is favored due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high-temperature conditions.
Millets are indigenous to many parts of the world. Millets may have been consumed by humans for about 7,000 years and potentially had “a pivotal role in the rise of multi-crop agriculture and settled farming societies”.
The different species of millets are not necessarily closely related. All are members of the family Poaceae (the grasses) but can belong to different tribes or even subfamilies. The most widely grown millet is pearl millet, which is an important crop in India and parts of Africa. Finger millet, proso millet, and foxtail millet are also important crop species.
Panicum miliaceum is a grain crop with many common names including proso millet, broomcorn millet, common millet, hog millet, Kashfi millet, red millet, and white millet. Archeological evidence suggests that the crop was first domesticated before 10,000 BC in Northern China. This is seen as the first step of Neolithic age in China.
Panicum miliaceum is a tetraploid species with a base chromosome number of 18, twice the base chromosome number of diploid species within the genome Panicum. The species appears to be an allotetraploid resulting from a wide hybrid between two different diploid ancestors.
One of the two subgenomes within proso millet appears to have come from either Panicum capillare or a close relative of that species. The second subgenome does not show close homology to any known diploid Panicum species; however, it appears that same unknown diploid ancestor also contributed a copy of its genome to a separate allotetraploid species Panicum repens (torpedo grass).
Weedy forms of proso millet are found throughout central Asia, covering a widespread area from the Caspian Sea east to Xinjiang and Mongolia. These may represent the wild progenitor of proso millet or represent feral escapes from domesticated production.
Indeed, in the United States weedy proso millet, representing feral escapes from cultivation, are now common, suggesting current proso millet cultivars retain the potential to de-domesticate, similar to the pattern seen for weedy rice.
The cultivation of common millet as the earliest dry crop in East Asia has been attributed to its resistance to drought, and this has been suggested to have aided its spread. Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica) were important crops beginning in the Early Neolithic of China.
Currently, the earliest archeological evidence for domesticated proso millet and and foxtail millet comes from the Cishan site in semi-arid North East China, where proso millet husk phytoliths and biomolecular components have been identified around 10,300–8,700 years ago in storage pits along with remains of pit-houses, pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation.
At Nanzhuangtou, somewhat south of Beijing, is not only early millets but the earliest domestic chickens in the world are found, at 8000 BC. The earliest dog in China is also there, and is even earlier, at 10,000 BC. Very early pigs and dogs are found at nearby sites.
The Nanzhuangtou site got its domesticates during the rise of warm wet weather around 8000 BC. There and elsewhere, rise and spread of domestication tracks warming and wetting trends, with dramatic improvement of growing conditions.
The oldest evidence of noodles in China were made from these two varieties of millet in a 4,000-year-old earthenwear bowl containing well-preserved noodles found at the Lajia, an archaeological site located in Minhe County, Haidong Prefecture in Northwest China’s Qinghai province in north China. Lajia is associated with the Qijia culture and was discovered by archaeologists in 2000.
Because early varieties of proso millet had such a short life cycle — as little as 45 days from planting to harvest — it is thought that they made it possible for semi-nomadic tribes to first adopt agriculture, forming a bridge between hunter-gatherer focused lifestyles and early agricultural civilizations.
Palaeoethnobotanists have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun pottery period (around 3500–2000 BCE). Millet continued to be an important element in the intensive, multicropping agriculture of the Mumun pottery period (about 1500–300 BCE) in Korea. Millets and their wild ancestors, such as barnyard grass and panic grass, were also cultivated in Japan during the Jōmon period some time after 4000 BCE.
Asian varieties of millet made their way from China to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 BC. Millets are C4 plants, almost everything else in China is C3 (including rice), so where C4 shows up in bone signatures one can be sure that millet is being devoured. This allows us to find transitions to agriculture in the record, with C4 dominating by 6000 BC.
Several sites in the Yellow River drainage report millets back to 7000 BCE. Millet agriculture had reached Dadiwan, far out into west China and almost in the Central Asian desert, by 6000 BC. It had also reached Inner Mongolia by this time.
Archaeological evidence for cultivation of domesticated proso millet in east Asia and Europe dates to at least 5,000 BCE in Georgia and Germany (near Leipzig, Hadersleben) by Linear Pottery culture (Early LBK, Neolithikum 5500–4900 BCE), and may represent either an independent domestication of the same wild ancestor, or the spread of the crop from east Asia along trade routes through the arid steppes.
Millet was growing wild in Greece as early as 3000 BCE, and bulk storage containers for millet have been found from the Late Bronze Age in Macedonia and northern Greece. Hesiod describes that “the beards grow round the millet, which men sow in summer.” And millet is listed along with wheat in the 3rd century BCE by Theophrastus in his “Enquiry into Plants”.
Evidence for cultivation in southern Europe and the Near East is comparatively more recent, with the earliest evidence for its cultivation in the Near East a find in the ruins of Nimrud, Iraq dated to about 700 BC.
The Cishan culture (6500–5000 BC) was a Neolithic culture in northern China, on the eastern foothills of the Taihang Mountains, a Chinese mountain range running down the eastern edge of the Loess Plateau in Shanxi, Henan and Hebei provinces. The name of Shanxi Province, meaning “west of the mountains”, derives from its location west of the Taihang Mountains, as does the name of Shandong Province (east of the mountains).
The Cishan culture was based on the farming of broomcorn millet, the cultivation of which on one site has been dated back 10,000 years. The people at Cishan also began to cultivate foxtail millet around 8700 years ago. However, these early dates have been questioned by some archaeologists due to sampling issues and lack of systematic surveying.
There is also evidence that the Cishan people cultivated barley and, late in their history, a japonica variety of rice. Common artifacts from the Cishan culture include stone grinders, stone sickles and tripod pottery.
The sickle blades feature fairly uniform serrations, which made the harvesting of grain easier. Cord markings, used as decorations on the pottery, was more common compared to neighboring cultures. Also, the Cishan potters created a broader variety of pottery forms such as basins, pot supports, serving stands, and drinking cups.
The type site at Cishan is located in Wu’an, Hebei, China on a low elevation mesa. The site covers an area of around 80,000 m2 (861,113 sq ft). The houses at Cishan were semi-subterranean and round. The site showed evidence of domesticated pigs, dogs and chickens, with pigs providing the primary source of meat.
The Cishan people hunted deer and wild boar. Nuts (Juglans regia and Corylus heterophylla), Celtis bungeana, wild apricots and pears, and various roots and tubers were foraged from the surrounding forests.
Fish was also an important part of the diet at Cishan, specifically carp and herring from the nearby river; fishing nets made from hemp fibers were used. Over 500 subterranean storage pits were discovered at Cishan. These pits were used to store millet. The largest pits were 5 meters deep and capable of storing up to 1,000 kg (2,205 lb) of millet.
Since the culture shared many similarities with its southern neighbor, the Peiligang culture, both cultures were sometimes previously referred to together as the Cishan-Peiligang culture or Peiligang-Cishan culture.
The Cishan culture also shared several similarities with its eastern neighbor, the Beixin culture. However, the contemporary consensus among archaeologists is that the Cishan people were members of a distinct culture that shared many characteristics with its neighbors.