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Aerial view of the Shuanghuaishu site in central China's Henan Province.        Source: Li An/Xinhua/SCIO

Discovery of Ancient Chinese City Rewrites History

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In China, an ancient city has been brought to light that could transform our understanding of the origin of civilization in the region. Experts believe the ruined urban settlement in Zhengzhou dates back 5,300 years. This means that Chinese civilization and cities are much older than is commonly assumed.

The Zhengzhou municipal institute of cultural relics and archaeology announced the discovery of the city. Archaeologists unearthed it at the Shuanghuaishu site, which is in, Gongyi, just outside Zhengzhou in Henan. It is in the historic areas known as Zhongyuan or the Central Plains an area, which is traditionally regarded as important in the development of civilization. The site is massive and covers an area over 3 million square feet (279000 sq meters) and is on the south bank of the Yellow River . The Archaeology News Network reports that, ‘The ruins are one of the largest tribal clusters of the middle and late phases of Yangshao Culture, emerging around 7,000 years ago during the Neolithic Age’.

Aerial photo of Shuanghuaishu site in central China's Henan Province (Image: Li An/Xinhua/SCIO)

Aerial photo of Shuanghuaishu site in central China's
Henan Province (Image: Li An/Xinhua/
SCIO)

It appears that the settlement was ringed by three deep trenches forming a complex defensive system for the prehistoric urban center. It had a central residential area and there is even evidence of urban planning. Also uncovered was a rudimentary sanitation system, storehouses, even a road system. This city displays many characteristics of civilized urban living, at a much earlier date than widely believed. Moreover, many of the finds suggest that distinctive elements of Chinese culture and society developed much earlier than once believed.

Aerial of part of the ancient Chinese city. Image: Xinhua / SCIO)

Aerial of part of the ancient Chinese city. Image: Xinhua / SCIO)

Silkworms and astronomy

There have been a great many artifacts from the Yangshao culture found at the site, and they date from 7000 to 5000 years ago. A carved boar tusk in the form of a silkworm may indicate that silk was produced at Shuanghuaishu. China. org quotes Li Boqian, of Peking University as saying that ‘the sculpture of the silkworm also provides evidence of ancient silk production’. This provides evidence that silk was being produced in the Middle Kingdom over five millennia ago.

A boar tusk carving of a silkworm unearthed at the Shuanghuaishu site in central China's Henan province. (Image: Xinhua/SCIO)

A boar tusk carving of a silkworm unearthed at the Shuanghuaishu site in central China's Henan province. (Image: Xinhua/ SCIO)

Also found at the location were three platforms, that are believed to have played a role in rituals and ceremonies. Nine earthenware pottery pots were arranged in a pattern reminiscent of the nine stars in the Big Dipper constellation, Ursa Major . This would suggest that the inhabitants had astronomical knowledge at a very early date. Archaeology News Network reports Gu Wanfa, from the Zhengzhou Institute, as saying that these “unearthed objects showed ‘the aura of kings’”. This is because the nine pieces of earthenware pottery could have been used to demonstrate the sacred or special nature of the elite and their rulings.

One of nine pottery pots arranged in the pattern of the nine stars of the Big Dipper, at an astronomical relic at the Shuanghuaishu site in central China's Henan province. Image:Xinhua/ SCIO)

Was this Ancient Chinese City the Origin of its Civilization?

In Henan where Shuanghuaishu, is located, archaeologists have found many archaeological sites from the early history of China, including possibly the capital of the Xia Dynasty . The discovery of the city provides evidence that local people transitioned from groups of tribes to urban living over 5000 years ago in Zhongyuan. According to Wang Wei, of the Chinese Society of Archaeology, this site shows that the ‘Development of civilizations accelerated in these areas’, according to Archaeology News Network .

Experts believe that the Shuanghuaishu site is referenced in ancient Chinese literature. Li Boqian told China.org that ‘the location of the site coincides with the descriptions from the ‘Book of Changes’ .  This is one of the first books of philosophy and it relates that there was a powerful and sophisticated state on the Yellow River. Li told China.org that, ‘Therefore, the ruins can definitely be considered as part of the Ancient State of the Yellow River and Luo River’.

Legendary rulers

Based on the location of the site there is the possibility that the city was the seat of the semi-mythical monarch Xuanyuan.  However, no evidence of a palace has yet been found so it is too early to state if the center was ruled by a king.  It has also been theorized that the city flourished during the reign of the legendary Yellow Emperor who is credited with teaching people how to grow crops such as rice and millet. Li is quoted by Archaeology News Network , as stating the ruined city comes from ‘a period of time when the earliest China was being incubated’.

The importance of the site cannot be overstated. This city is in an area that has been almost continuously settled for millennia and demonstrates that Zhongyuan was one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. It shows that civilization is much older than often thought in China and is proof that it is over 5000 years old.  Shuanghuaishu was granted the coveted status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.

Top image: Aerial view of the Shuanghuaishu site in central China's Henan Province.         Source: Li An/Xinhua/ SCIO

By Ed Whelan

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