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The Erlitou culture was an early
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric that was characterized by the use of , in some areas , and other early features of urban . The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the , as proposed in modern times by , for classifying and studying a ...
urban society and
archaeological culture An archaeological culture is a recurring Assemblage (archaeology), assemblage of types of Artifact (archaeology), artifacts, buildings and monuments from a specific period and region that may constitute the material culture remains of a particular p ...
that existed in the
Yellow River The Yellow River (Chinese: , Jin: uə xɔ Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is ...
valley from approximately 1900 to 1500 BC. A 2007 study of
radiocarbon dating Radiocarbon dating (also referred to as carbon dating or carbon-14 dating) is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material Organic matter, organic material, or natural organic matter refers to the large source of ...
proposed a narrower date range of 1750 to 1530 BC. The culture was named after the site discovered at Erlitou in
Yanshi Yanshi District () is a District (China), district in the prefecture-level city of Luoyang in western Henan province of China, province, China. Yanshi lies on the Luo River (Henan), Luo River and is the easternmost county-level division of Luoyang. ...
,
Henan Henan (; ; alternatively Honan) is a landlocked province of China The provincial level administrative divisions () are the highest-level administrative divisions of China. There are 34 such divisions claimed by the People's Republic of ...

Henan
. The culture was widely spread throughout Henan and
Shanxi Shanxi (; ; Chinese postal romanization, formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of the province is ...

Shanxi
and later appeared in
Shaanxi Shaanxi (; , ; Chinese postal romanization, alternately Shensi) is a landlocked Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China. Officially part of Northwest China, it borders the province-level divisions of Shanxi (NE, ...

Shaanxi
and
Hubei Hubei (; ; alternately Hupeh) is a landlocked province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity ...

Hubei
. Chinese archaeologists generally identify the Erlitou culture as the site of the
Xia dynasty #REDIRECT Xia dynasty #REDIRECT Xia dynasty The Xia dynasty is the first dynasty in traditional Chinese historiography. According to tradition, the Xia dynasty was established by the legendary Yu the Great, after Shun, the last of the Five ...

Xia dynasty
, but there is no firm evidence, such as writing, to substantiate such a linkage.


Erlitou site

The Erlitou culture may have evolved from the matrix of
Longshan culture The Longshan (or Lung-shan) culture, also sometimes referred to as the Black Pottery Culture, was a late Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age, with a wide-ranging set of developments that appear to have arisen i ...
. Originally centered around Henan and Shanxi province, the culture spread to Shaanxi and Hubei provinces. After the rise of the
Erligang culture The Erligang culture () is a Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric Periodization, period that was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the s ...
, the site at Erlitou diminished in size but remained inhabited. Discovered in 1959 by
Xu Xusheng Xu Xusheng, also known by his courtesy name Xu Bingchang, (1888 – January 4, 1976) was a Chinese archaeologist, historian, and explorer born in Tanghe, Henan Province. Best known for his discovery of the Erlitou culture in 1959, he was one of Ch ...

Xu Xusheng
, Erlitou is the largest site associated with the culture, with palace buildings and bronze smelting workshops. Erlitou monopolized the production of ritual bronze vessels, including the earliest recovered
ding Ding may refer to: Bronze and ceramics * Ding (vessel) ''Ding'' () are prehistoric China, prehistoric and ancient China, ancient China, Chinese cauldrons, standing upon legs with a lid and two facing handles. They are one of the most important s ...

ding
s. The city is on the Yi River, a tributary of the Luo River, which flows into the
Yellow River The Yellow River (Chinese: , Jin: uə xɔ Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is ...
. The city was ; however, because of flood damage only are left. The
Erlitou Relic Museum The Erlitou culture was an early Chinese Bronze Age, Bronze Age urban society and archaeological culture that existed in the Yellow River valley from approximately 1900 to 1500 BC. A 2007 study of radiocarbon dating proposed a narrower date ran ...
, located in
Luoyang Luoyang is a city located in the confluence area of Luo River and Yellow River The Yellow River (Chinese: , Jin Chinese, Jin: uə xɔ Standard Beijing Mandarin, Mandarin: ''Huáng hé'' ) is the second-longest river in China, afte ...

Luoyang
, Henan province, which has more than 2,000 items excavated from the Erlitou site in its collection, opened on October 2019.


Phases

The site's growth is divided into four phases. During Phase I, covering , Erlitou was a rapidly growing regional center with an estimated population of several thousand people, but not yet an urban civilization. Urbanization began in Phase II, expanding to with a population of around 11,000. A palace area of was demarcated by four roads. It contained the Palace 3, composed of three courtyards along a 150-metre axis, and Palace 5. A bronze foundry was established to the south of the palatial complex and was controlled by the elite. The city reached its peak in Phase III, and may have had a population of around 24,000. The palatial complex was surrounded by a two-meter-thick
rammed-earth
rammed-earth
wall, and Palaces 1, 7, 8 and 9 were built. Palace 1, the largest, had an area of . Palaces 3 and 5 were abandoned and replaced by Palace 2, measuring , and Palace 4. In Phase IV, the population decreased to around 20,000, but building continued. Palace 6 was built as an extension of Palace 2, and Palaces 10 and 11 were built. Phase IV overlaps with the Lower Phase of the
Erligang culture The Erligang culture () is a Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric Periodization, period that was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the s ...
(1600–1450 BC). Around 1600 BC, a walled city was built at
Yanshi Yanshi District () is a District (China), district in the prefecture-level city of Luoyang in western Henan province of China, province, China. Yanshi lies on the Luo River (Henan), Luo River and is the easternmost county-level division of Luoyang. ...
, about northeast of Erlitou. Production of bronzes and other elite goods ceased at the end of Phase IV, at the same time as the Erligang city of
Zhengzhou Zhengzhou (; ), also spelt Zheng Zhou and Chinese postal romanization, alternatively romanized as Chengchow, is the Capital (political), capital and largest city of Henan, Henan Province in the Central China, central part of the China, People's ...

Zhengzhou
was established to the east. There is no evidence of destruction by fire or war, but, during the Upper Erligang phase (1450–1300 BC), all the palaces were abandoned, and Erlitou was reduced to a village of .


Inventions

The earliest metal bells, with one found in the
Taosi Taosi () is an archaeological site in Xiangfen County, Shanxi, China. Taosi is considered to be part of the late phase of the Longshan culture in southern Shanxi, also known as the Taosi phase (2300 BC to 1900 BC). Archaeology Taosi was surrounded ...
site, and four in the Erlitou site, dated to about 2000 BC, may have been derived from the earlier pottery prototype. The first bronze dagger-axe or ''ge'' appeared at the Erlitou site, where two were being found among the over 200 bronze artifacts (as of 2002) at the site, three jade ''ge'' were also discovered from the same site.


Relation to traditional accounts

A major goal of archaeology in China has been the search for the capitals of the
Xia Xia (Hsia in Wade–Giles) may refer to: Chinese history * Xia dynasty (夏) (c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC) * Xia (Sixteen Kingdoms) (夏) (407–431), a Xiongnu state * Xia (夏) (617–621), a state founded by Dou Jiande near the end of the Sui dynast ...

Xia
and
Shang The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China during much of its history. From ...

Shang
dynasties described in traditional accounts as inhabiting the
Yellow River The Yellow River (Chinese: , Jin: uə xɔ Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is ...
valley. These originally oral traditions were recorded much later in histories such as the ''
Bamboo Annals The ''Bamboo Annals'' (), also known as the ''Ji Tomb Annals'' (), is a chronicle A chronicle ( la, chronica, from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ) ...
'' () and the ''
Records of the Grand Historian The ''Records of the Grand Historian'', also known by its Chinese name ''Shiji'', is a monumental history of ancient China and the world finished around 94 BC by the Western Han Dynasty official Sima Qian after having been started by his father ...

Records of the Grand Historian
'' (1st century BC), and their historicity, particularly regarding the Xia, is an area of debate for the
Doubting Antiquity SchoolThe Doubting Antiquity School or Yigupai ( Wilkinson, Endymion (2000). ''Chinese History: A Manual''. Harvard Univ Asia Center. . Page 345, see/ref>Loewe, Michael and Edward L. Shaughnessy (1999). ''The Cambridge History of Ancient China'' Cambridge ...
of Chinese history. The discovery of writing in the form of
oracle bone Oracle bones () are pieces of ox scapula In anatomy, the scapula (plural scapulae or scapulas), also known as the shoulder bone, shoulder blade, wing bone, speal bone or blade bone, is the bone that connects the humerus (upper arm bone) with t ...

oracle bone
s at
Yinxu Yinxu (modern ; ) is the site of one of the ancient and major historical capitals of China There are traditionally four major historical capitals of China, collectively referred to as the "Four Great Ancient Capitals of China" (). The four are B ...

Yinxu
in
Anyang Anyang (; ) is a prefecture-level city in Henan province of China, province, China. The northernmost city in Henan, Anyang borders Puyang to the east, Hebi and Xinxiang to the south, and the provinces of Shanxi and Hebei to its west and north resp ...

Anyang
definitively established the site as the last capital of the Shang, but such evidence is unavailable for earlier sites. When Xu Xusheng first discovered Erlitou, he suggested that it was Bo, the first capital of the Shang under King Tang in the traditional account. Since the late 1970s, archaeologists in China have tended to identify the site with
Zhenxun Zhenxun () was the last capital for the pre historical China, Chinese Xia dynasty. There is a consensus among many Chinese scholars that the Erlitou site about 20 km east of central Luoyang is identified as Zhenxun. References ...
, the last Xia capital. The traditional account of the overthrow of the Xia by the Shang has been identified with the ends of each of the four phases of the site by different authors. The
Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project The Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project () was a multi-disciplinary project commissioned by the People's Republic of China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's List of c ...
identified all four phases of Erlitou as Xia, and the construction of the Yanshi walled city as the founding of the Shang. Other scholars, particularly outside China, point to the lack of any firm evidence for such an identification, and argue that the historiographical focus of Chinese archaeology is unduly limiting. Archaeological evidence of a large
outburst flood In geomorphology incised into shale at the foot of the North Caineville Plateau, Utah, within the pass carved by the Fremont River and known as the Blue Gate. GK Gilbert studied the landscapes of this area in great detail, forming the observati ...
that destroyed the
Lajia Lajia () is a Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric Periodization, period that was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second principal p ...
site on the upper reaches of the Yellow River has been dated to about 1920 BC. This date is shortly before the rise of the Erlitou culture in the middle Yellow River valley and the
Yueshi culture The Yueshi culture () was an archaeological culture in the region of eastern China, dated from 1900 to 1500 BC. It spanned the period from the to the early . In the Shandong area, it followed the period (c. 2600–1900 BC), and was later repl ...
in Shandong, following the decline of the
Longshan culture The Longshan (or Lung-shan) culture, also sometimes referred to as the Black Pottery Culture, was a late Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age, with a wide-ranging set of developments that appear to have arisen i ...
in the
North China Plain 200px, The North China Plain is shown in dark. The Yellow River is shown as "Río Amarillo". The North China Plain () is a large-scale downfaulted rift basin formed in the late Paleogene The Paleogene ( ; also spelled Palaeogene or Palæogene; ...
. The authors suggest that this flood may have been the basis for the later myth, and contributed to the transition of cultures. They further argue that the timing is further evidence for the identification of the Xia with the Erlitou culture. However, no evidence of contemporaneous widespread flooding in the North China Plain has yet been found.


See also

*
List of Neolithic cultures of China This is a list of Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, als ...
*
Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were two groups of Chinese mythology, mythological rulers or deities in ancient northern China. The Three Sovereigns lived before The Five Emperors, who have been assigned dates in a period from circa 3162 B ...
*
Women in ancient and imperial China Women in ancient and imperial China were restricted from participating in various realms of social life, through social stipulations that they remain indoors, whilst outside business should be conducted by men. The strict division of the sexes, app ...


References


Works cited

* * * * * * * * * * * * Original article in ''
Kaogu ''Kaogu'' () is a peer-reviewed Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people with similar competencies as the producers of the work ( peers). It functions as a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession with ...
'' 2007.8: 74–84.


Further reading

* *


External links

{{commons category
Bronze Age China
''The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology'': Exhibition brochure, National Gallery of Art.

''Erlitou Site – Relics of the Capital of the Xia Dynasty''
Cultural China
1959 archaeological discoveries Archaeological cultures of China Bronze Age in China Xia dynasty Yanshi