Evidence of pottery making appears during the Early Neolithic period with the rise of agriculture and sedentary living. As villages develop into settled cultures, discrete ceramic traditions evolve that show a distinctive Chinese approach to form, decoration, and technique, leading to the identification of more than thirty Late Neolithic cultures throughout China. Other artifacts include the earliest multinote instrument (flute) and reveal evidence of the earliest uses of lacquer, writing, and the themes of the tiger and dragon. Objects made of jade are thought to have played a ceremonial role in Late Neolithic cultures.
- ca. 20,0008000 B.C.Paleolithic
sites are found as early as 700,000 B.C. Zhoukoudian (ca. 500,000 B.C.) near Beijing is one of the most famous and most extensive. Homo erectus,
also known as "Peking Man," is first identified from fossils found in
a cave at this rich site that also yields antlers, bones, and teeth from
many animals, and evidence for the use of fire. Homo sapiens fossils
are found at the later "Upper Cave" dating from about 10,000 B.C.
- ca. 10,0007000 B.C.Early
evidence for pottery, usually associated with the rise of agriculture
and sedentary living, comes from rock shelters discovered at sites in
the southern provinces of Zhejiang and Guangxi.
- ca. 70005000 B.C.Small
agricultural villages, such as those excavated at the sites at Cishan
and Peilingang on the central plain, have simple pottery traditions sometimes
with cord impressions or other decorative markings. Some evidence suggests
that wood and other perishable materials are used in these early societies
- ca. 70005700 B.C.Six
exquisitely preserved flutes and fragments of many others made from the
ulnae (bone of the lower leg) of the red-nosed crane are excavated at Jiahu,
an extensive site in Henan Province with multiple dwellings and a massive
cemetery. These are the earliest complete, playable, multinote instruments
that are preserved.
- ca. 50004500 B.C.The
village of Hemudu in Zhejiang Province in the southeast features wooden
houses raised on stilts, an enormous sacrificial structure, wood and bone
artifacts, and weaving tools. The earliest example of the use of lacquer
(the resin of the Lac tree) is also discovered during the excavation of
- ca. 5000 B.C.During the Late
Neolithic period, numerous settled cultures, which increasingly interact
with one another and are often highly stratified, flourish throughout
China. In the early part of the twentieth century, only two such cultures
were known. Currently, more than thirty have been identified. They are
distinguished from one another by the types of ceramics or jade carvings
they produce, are usually named after specific archaeological sites, and
are often subdivided into phases.
- ca. 50001500 B.C.Some
of the earliest painted ceramics are produced by the Yangshao culture,
which flourishes first in north central China and later in the northwest.
Early Yangshao designs include masks, dancing figures, frogs, and creatures
with feathers. Later examples are characterized by their vibrant geometric
motifs. Xishuipo in Henan Province provides two extraordinary mosaics
made of river mussel shells. One depicts a tiger, the other a dragon.
They are thought to represent the earliest examples of these two perennial
- ca. 4500 B.C.In its later
phase, the Dawenkou culture along the east coast develops a firing technology
to make fine undecorated black and white wares. Ceramics of the subsequent
Longshan culture (ca. 25001700 B.C.) are admired for their extremely
thin walls. Shapes common to both cultures are influential in the development
of the forms of early bronze ritual vessels.
- ca. 3500 B.C.Ox scapulae
and turtle plastrons are first used in divination. Cracks made by applying
hot brands are studied and interpreted. The practice continues for centuries,
and inscriptions on oracle bones from the later Shang dynasty provide
some of the earliest evidence for writing.
- ca. 35002500 B.C.Cultures
such as the Hongshan in the northeast and the Liangzhu in the southeast
produce an astonishing range of figurines, adornments, and implements
made of jade (nephrite), and often decorated with engravings or low-relief
carvings. In addition, unusual (for China) clay sculptures of women with
protruding stomachs (probably indicative of pregnancy), a few lifesize,
are found in sites associated with the Hongshan culture such as Dongshangzui
and the "Temple of the Goddess" in Liaoning Province.
"China, 80002000 B.C.". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=02®ion=eac (October 2000)