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Painted clay goddess face with eyes inset with jade, found at Goddess Temple, Niuheliang.

Relics from the Niuheliang Goddess Temple, the most mysterious site of the ancient Hongshan

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The Neolithic Hongshan culture has revealed itself to researchers through its long-preserved bounty of jade artifacts, its ceremonial monuments, its burial traditions, and its influence in the origins of the Chinese civilization. The Hongshan underground Goddess Temple housed beautiful and mysterious relics of unknown deities, and larger-than-life statues.

Discovered in 1983, it can be said that no other site typifies and imparts the Hongshan spiritual heritage more than Niuheliang, featuring an underground Goddess Temple complex, ancient relics, cairns, mounds, altars and graves. Niuheliang is an outstanding example of “holy sacrificial land” of the early period of human civilization, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) writes.

The C-shaped jade dragon of Hongshan Culture.

The C-shaped jade dragon of Hongshan Culture. Wikimedia, Creative Commons

Niuheliang Archaeological Site

The sprawling Niuheliang Neolithic archaeological site, spanning 50 square kilometers (19-square-miles) in Northeast China, is comprised of multiple locations with monumental structures. Located in the Manchurian province of Liaoning, the site dates back 5,000 – 5,500 years. The ancient Niuheliang site was reserved for religious purposes, ceremonies, burials, and rituals, as no evidence of dwellings or settlements have been discovered there. UNESCO reports that the area has been separated into several different categories by researchers, including: “the Goddess Temple, the platform, the stone mound, the sacrificial altar, the building foundation, and the cellar.”

Niuheliang is the largest and most well preserved of Hongshan sites. It has revealed to researchers the largest number of remains and richest cultural relics, and combined with its sister sites – Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu – was declared a UNESCO world heritage cultural property in 2013.

Neolithic pottery vessel, Hongshan Culture.

Neolithic pottery vessel, Hongshan Culture. Wikimedia, Creative Commons

Goddess Temple

One of the more notable monuments at Niuheliang is the Goddess Temple, so named by archaeologists who discovered a clay female head sculpture with eyes inlaid with jade. The temple was an underground religious complex made of earth and wood structures and chambers. Wikipedia notes that the walls were painted in murals, and it housed clay figurines “as large as three times the size of real-life humans.” It is surmised the huge figures are deities, but they do not match representations found in any other Chinese culture. The larger figurines were made from wood and straw and then covered in clay.

Other artifacts unearthed at the temple were sacrificial potteries and animal sculptures, such as dragons, pig-dragons, and tortoises. Pigs, dragons, and eagles generally featured in the culture’s grave goods. Pig bones have been found buried with humans in graves, and Hongshan artifacts are some of the earliest examples of jade working. Fertility was a major theme in their work, with fetus and pregnant women objects featuring repeatedly.

Liu Guoxiang, researcher at the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences tells National Geographic, “In ancient times Earth goddesses were regarded as symbols of fertility, vitality, and the continuity of an ethnic group. This grand-size Goddess Temple and goddess figures found inside prove that goddess worship had a leading role in prehistoric Chinese religion.”

The temple is deemed one of the earliest sacrificial sites in Northeast Asia.

Stone Mounds

14 stone mounds dot hilltops at the Niuheliang site, each containing multiple graves representing a clear hierarchy. UNESCO reports, “First, a large grave is located at the center, dominating the other graves. This central grave, spaciously constructed, is deeply anchored into its rock foundation. A stone coffin, whose inner wall is neatly constructed, contains a variety of jade articles without other burial objects such as potteries and stone objects.” Jade objects were prized, and are indicative of status.

The second and third level graves have fewer jade grave goods, but are spacious and as well constructed as the center burials. These large clusters of prehistoric graves demonstrate a clear system of social rankings among people.

The central graves of the mounds match the scale and splendor of the later period emperor mausoleums.

Hongshan platform at Niuheliang (Left) and central burial with carved jades from another platform (Right).

Hongshan platform at Niuheliang (Left) and central burial with carved jades from another platform (Right). Credit: Liaoning Sheng Wenwu Kaogu Yanjiusuo.

Astronomical Site

The Niuheliang site is sometimes compared to Britain’s Stonehenge, as Niuheliang may have been used by the Neolithic priestesses to predict the solstices and equinoxes, as well as other astronomical phenomena.  Standing stones at Niuheliang altars form concentric circles, with stone piles located at the centers, suggesting to experts that complex rituals worshipping heaven and earth may have been preformed there.

University of Denver professor Robert Stencel says the precisely aligned structures may have been used to measure, “key solar and lunar rise and set points, which would make them usable today for simple seasonal calendar keeping and the beginning of study of eclipse cycles,” reports National Geographic.

Research continues on the potential astronomical history of Niuheliang.

The well-preserved relics and structures of the Goddess Temple and the Niuheliang site at large provide exemplary evidence of a sophisticated prehistoric culture, and a view of how they understood and shaped the earth and sky around them.

Featured Image:  Painted clay goddess face with eyes inset with jade, found at Goddess Temple, Niuheliang. Credit: Chinese Archaeology Museum at Niuheliang

By Liz Leafloor



While reading the section on the graves I found myself wondering if the surrounding graves, deemed as lower class in the article, could possibly be servants who were sacrificed to serve the higher class individuale. Any thoughts?

until recently China has got the written history about only the inside of the great wall. it has never insisted that its outside of the wall was Han nation's culture or territory. their history teachers and scholars were very strict and had honor oriented people. so historical records they wrote about the out side of the Walls could be considered to be trusted. to talk about the origin of hong shan culture, historically it never been existed. because almost of all korean historical records about this age were destroyed by the japanese and chinese systemically. why? because they knew Hong shan culture was korean ancestor's remains. they did not want korean and the rest of the world know about its origins. that is why they have no way they can prove that this histories are belonged to them. however, the cultures are connected to its natural offspring and it has never been disconnected through among their normal life styles. for korean their history has been said to be existed more then 10,000 years old and they're still carrying out the same culture until now and also it can be found all over the continents. specially Eurasia and north and south america and indian sub continent. you can find it its details on youtube "영문자막 환단고기북콘서트 미국편 1부" and "asian millenarianism"

i red something about some kindof 'ancestor civilization' supposedly earlier then Hongshan .
Its jade art craft are made by a so called 'black skin jade' .
I can't find much online or on the text in Western languages, but i realized that a lot of work has been made by Coreans ; less by Chinese .
Does anyone know anything more about it ?
thank you

Underground temples are part of the Stone civilization of Ancient Bulgarians first human beings on earth. Together with the rocky sanctuaries on mounts the underground temples vainly called tombs by official scientists are both religious and astrological devices. Underground temples were used by Ancient Bulgarians to recharge their bodies with the healing geomagnetic vibrations of earth. Our common ancestors knew that on special days and special moments of the day geomagnetism of earth is the most beneficial and therefore they folowed thouroughly the movement of the stars and sun on the sky to determine the right moment for religious ceremonies. Those religious ceremonies were called Spiritul mysteries by today science. Ancient Bulgarians were enlightened sages who knew man from Earth was made and needed to stay in connection with earth. Ancient Bulgarians were the first human beings the Giant Nephilims as mentionned in the Bible. Whenas earth gravitation started increasing they started suffering from this proces however slow. That is why they were called Nephilims - an old Bulgarian word meaning Weak Waist people. In order to alleviate the gravity pressure on their bodies Ancient Bulgarians Nephilims started looking for places whereas earth gravitation was lesser such as: rocky niches, caves, stone wholes, underground temples. Those sanctuaries when on top of underground water currents and under solar rays of especial strenght react as generators of geomagnetism. Those geomagnetic vibrations were healing for human bodies and minds and are healing still today. Niuhelang Godess is named after the Ancient Bulgarian God of Light Alen / Alan also called Bal. Bal gave the name of Bulgarians as well as of Hellada.

I noticed a very odd artifact at the Shanghai Museum: a small jade carving of a dwarf that was inserted into the mouth of the deceased.

"Odd" in that is strikingly resembles the dwarf god of Egypt called "Bes." Like a twin. For those that can think for themselves....figure it is "Bes" related to early "resurrection" gods of Egypt?


Liz Leafloor is former Art Director for Ancient Origins Magazine. She has a background as an Editor, Writer, and Graphic Designer. Having worked in news and online media for years, Liz covers exciting and interesting topics like ancient myth, history,... Read More

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