Neolithic Qujialing Culture Wooden Structures Uncovered in China
Qujialing culture (3400–2600 BC) wooden structures dating back some 4800 years have recently been excavated at the prehistoric Jijiaocheng Site in Changde City in China’s Hunan Province. Some of these large Neolithic-era Qujialing culture structures are surprisingly well preserved. Archaeologists were reported by China Daily to have said that the large-scale and well-preserved constructions and their craftsmanship and style would help improve their understanding of the architectural history of prehistoric China.
"The discovery helps us understand the overall architectural style of the Yangtze River Basin," Zhao Hui, a professor at Peking University School of Archaeology and Museology, said to CGTN.
The Neolithic (or New Stone Age) is the final stage of the Stone Age, wherein the transition from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture was made. Stone tools became more advanced, animal domestication began, and society began to be organized in terms of social hierarchies. In China, the Neolithic period began around 10,000 BC and ended with the introduction of metallurgy (or the metal age) about 8000 years later. China’s Neolithic era saw the transition to settled agricultural communities that domesticated animals and relied on farming rather than hunting and gathering.
The Jijiaocheng Site in Changde City in China’s Hunan Province showing the remains of Qujialing culture structures from the Neolithic period. (Xinhua News Agency)
The Qujialing Culture Closely Followed The Daxi Culture
Believed to have chronologically succeeded the Daxi culture in the middle Yangtze River valley in the fourth century BC, the Qujialing culture shared many traits of the Daxi culture, although the precise relationship between the two cultures has been debated. Similarities included rice production, ring-footed vessels, goblets with sharply angled profiles, ceramic whorls, and fired black pottery with painted red designs.
However, eggshell-thin goblets and bowls painted with black or orange designs, double-waisted bowls, tall, ring-footed goblets and serving stands, and many styles of tripods are entirely unique to Qujialing culture. Intricate painted clay whorls also suggest the existence of a flourishing textile industry.
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The Jijiaocheng Site was discovered by archaeologists in Lixian County, Changde City, in 1978. Since 1998, the Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology has carried out on-site investigations, mapping, and archaeological drilling. These investigations revealed the remains of an ancient city from the Qujialing culture period (3300 BC-2600 BC). The Qujialing culture was a Neolithic civilization based in the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River and its remains can mainly be found in today's Hunan and Hubei provinces.
A graceful piece of Qujialing culture pottery excavated at the Jijiaocheng Site. (Xinhua News Agency)
Jijiaocheng’s Stunning Neolithic Structures
Three excavations conducted at the southwestern part of the city walls of the Jijiaocheng Site since 2020 have unearthed more than 30 housing sites in the 721-square-meter (2365-square-foot) area.
In 2021, archaeologists discovered several wooden buildings belonging to the Qujialing culture (3300 BC-2600 BC). Of these, the F63 building spread over an area of about 500 square meters (1640 square feet) is the largest and best-preserved. Carbon dating and other testing of the F63 wood structure remains showed that these Neolithic buildings were built between 2800 and 2700 BC.
According to the China Daily, Fan Xianjun, the executive leader of the dig, said, "The archaeologists systematically sampled the wood of F63. The research results show they date back to between 2800 B.C. and 2700 BC."
Remains of rice husks were also found in an 80-square-meter (861-square-foot) area at the site. This is evidence of rice cultivation by the Neolithic dwellers at the site. Rice cultivation has been practiced in China in the areas surrounding the Yangtze River Valley and the Yellow River since around 7000 BC, archaeological records show.
Although the Jijiaocheng Site itself was discovered more than four decades ago, new and exciting finds keep emerging. There is enough evidence to show that the site belonged to the Neolithic Qujialing culture that made sophisticated ceramic pottery, had a flourishing textile industry, and practiced rice cultivation.
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But there are so many questions that remain to be answered. Was the sophistication in pottery making an early pointer to China’s later mastery of the craft? Do the recently discovered wooden structures show an architectural continuity into later times in the Yangtze River Valley area? To what use were these structures put? What kind of tools did the Jijiaocheng people use? Was rudimentary social stratification already beginning to emerge with settled agriculture?
In the absence of written records, it is only through further excavations and more detailed study of the finds that we can hope to piece together the story of this fascinating Neolithic site in central China.
Top image: Prehistoric wooden constructions from the Qujialing culture found at China’s Jijiaocheng Site in Hunan Province. Source: ChinaNews.com
By Sahir Pandey
China Daily. 2021. Prehistoric wooden constructions excavated in China's Hunan. Available at:https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202110/11/WS6163b348a310cdd39bc6e19b.html
CGTN. 2021. 4,800-yr-old wooden constructions excavated in central China. Available at: https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-10-10/4-800-yr-old-wooden-constructions-excavated-in-central-China-14f9R4beHo4/index.html
Encyclopaedia Britannica. China 4th and 3rd millennia BCE. Available at:https://www.britannica.com/place/China/4th-and-3rd-millennia-bce#ref589732