The Shanghaiese of 4000 Years Ago-the Liangzhu Culture

1. What Is the Liangzhu Culture?

   The natives of Shanghai entered the patriarchal commune stage in the late Neolithic Age over 4000 years ago, a highly-developed prehistoric period--the "Liangzhu Culture" period. It was named after the place where it was first found in Yuhang, Zhejiang province. In 1982-1988, a group of large tombs of the Liangzhu Culture were excavated in Fuquanshan Site, Zhonggu, Qingpu, together with a great number of fine pieces of the Liangzhu Culture. The stratum of the Fuquanshan site, as an annals of ancient Shanghai history, recording the beginning of the oriental civilization.

2. The Excavation at the Fuquanshan Site

  Fuquanshan Site, situated on the west side of the old street of Zhonggu town, Qingpu, underwent three large-scaled and very fruitful archaeological excavations by the archaeologist from Shanghai Municipal Commission of Cultural Heritage in 1982-1988. It was issued by the State Council as a historic monument under the protection of the state in 2001.

  Excavation at the Fuquanshan Site

3. Large Tombs of the Liangzhu Culture at the Fuquanshan Site

  ① All the large tombs were buried on a man-built platform-shaped mound, so called "earthwork pyramid". Small tombs on the ground level are obviously different from them. The large ones are much richer in funerary objects, mainly of large-sized ritual jades, including Cong, Yue axe and Bi disc which can be ranked as the top prehistoric jades of the world in terms of their quantity and quality of carving. Small tombs are much simpler with no large ritual jade, mirroring that equality did not exist among the people in the Liangzhu Culture period even in front of gods. This is the only example of separating the burying of the nobles and the ordinary people by building a huge grave mount for the nobles in Chinese prehistoric history.

  ② Looking at the types of those large tombs, they are all of a dug pit with a wooden coffin consisting of two halves of a block of a scooped tree. Inside the coffin are precious jades, including jade axes, Cong pieces, Bi discs, awl-shaped objects and so on; and outside the coffin are fine potteries, including pottery Ding tripods, Yan pots, Dou stem bowls, Pan plates, etc.. Obviously, the owners of such tombs with so many funerary objects, especially the jade Yue axes, a symbol of power, must be the nobles in the Liangzhu Cultural period.

 Tomb No. 101

  The small tombs of the ordinary Liangzhu people buried on the ground are very simple with no large ritual objects. It shows there was no equality among the people in the Liangzhu Culture period even in front of gods. It is the only example of separating the burying of the nobles and the ordinary people by building a huge grave mount for the nobles in Chinese prehistoric history.

4. Burning at the Sacrificial Altar

  During the Liangzhu Culture period, the local Shanghaiese entered the patriarchal society and started the development of human civilization on the land of Qingpu.
  In the Fuqanshan Site, several layers of Liangzhu tombs were buried stacking one after another under the three-stepped sacrificial altar. Red burnt mud was piled up on the surroundings of each step, and a large ewer was placed under the top. People offered sacrifices to gods or ancestors by setting a fire on the previously piled-up earth blocks, grasses and trees and then spraying shell dusts on the altar. After the sacrificial ceremony, the ashes were swept to a pit. This is a place where the Liangzhu nobles offered sacrifices to their ancestors and natural gods.

 Sacrificial Altar of the Liangzhu Culture

5. The Burying of the Living People Found in Liangzhu Tombs

  Take Tomb No. 139 as example. It is a tomb located in the centre of Fuquanshan, with a large burning sacrificial altar on its top part. In the pit are traces of a coffin consisting of two halves of a block of a scooped tree, and a man skeleton lying straight on his back facing south inside the coffin. It has a piece of agate in his mouth, a jade bracelet on his left arm, pieces of stone placed in two lines on his upper and lower limbs, twelve jade Yue axes, one jade awl-shaped object above the head, many jade tubes and small jade ornaments on his body and 14 pieces of pottery Ding tripods, Dou stem bowls, jars, cups and jade weaving wheels under his feet. At the northeast corner of the pit and coffin is another human skeleton, which has been authenticated as a young woman, whose body was bent, and four limbs bent and parted, as if falling on her knees. There are a jade ring on the top of her head in northwest, one jade ornament beside her cheek and two jade tubes respectively at the side of her neck and lower limb. In addition, there is a ewer for sacrificial use on the northeast. The tomb is of early Liangzhu period, about 5000 years’ ago, nearly 1000 years earlier than the first Chinese dynasty--the Xia dynasty.

Tomb No. 139

6. Site of a Village of the Liangzhu Culture

  Model of a Village of the Liangzhu Culture

  The model was made on the basis of the excavation at the Longnan Site, Wuxian, a place near Shanghai.
  The Liangzhu people lived in thatched houses at riversides, each of which had its floor 30-50 cm lower than the ground level and was furnished with a small round earthwork table and a damp-proof sleeping pit padded by eleven layers of reeds and clay. Outside the house were sacrificial pits where offering pigs were buried, a kitchen pit including a stove and pottery cooking vessels, a storage cellar and a well. In the river through the village are two rows of wooden piles, probably traces of wooden bridges. There were an embankment at the river banks and a round pit, probably a pigpen nearby. It shows a village life in the Liangzhu Culture period.

7. Production Tools of the Liangzhu Culture:


  Production Tools of the Liangzhu Period

8. Daily-life Utensils of the Liangzhu Culture

  Liangzhu potteries are noticed by their characteristic “black coats", which came out of the smoking carburization and final polishing. They are actually grey in body but still called “Liangzhu black pottery” for their black surfaces. With the advanced quick-wheel molding technique, Liangzhu potteries appeared in a regular shape, thin walls and incised decorations of bird-headed snake design, bird design, weaving pattern and geometric pattern.

    Daily-life Utensils of the Liangzhu Period

9. Model of Well—an Important Facility of Liangzhu People’s Life

  During the Liangzhu period, people used a two-half-hollowed big log for a well’s wall to prevent the wall from collapse of loose and soft earth and the water from dirt. This was a great innovation to use solid material for the well wall after Majiabang and Songze earthwork wells. In November 1990, a Liangzhu wooden well was discovered in clearing-up a fish pond at Xiyangding, Zhujiajiao, Qingpu. It is in a cylindrical shape, 0.98 m in diameter and about 2 m in depth, the wall of which consisted of two halves of a hollowed log and the bottom was padded with wooden plates. But the wood has been carbonized and rotten. The objects found from the well are all the common potteries of the Liangzhu Culture, such as black-coated grey pottery Hu pots with tubular ears, high-necked Hu pots, fine red sandy pottery Gui pots with pouched legs and black pottery He pots with solid legs.

 Evolvement of Wells

10. Liangzhu Ritual and Ornamental Jades

  During the Liangzhu Culture period about 4100 to 5300 years ago, jade culture in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River developed very rapidly and even reached the top of prehistoric jades both in China and the world. Jade, known as "the essence of mountain rocks", was regarded as a holy object for its fine and tenacious texture and gentle and glittery quality as early as in the primitive society. So it was taken by the clan chiefs and nobles as a symbol of their power, status and wealth. Liangzhu jades are famous for their large quantity, rich variety and exquisite carving. Out of the materials of tremolite and actinolite, Liangzhu jades were mainly made into Yue axe, Cong, Bi disc, Huang pendant, comb back, awl-shaped object and so on by string cutting, relieving, incising, openwork engraving and polishing. The divine figure with animal mask design is the most characteristic decoration of the Liangzhu jades.

  Among all the jades unearthed from Fuquanshan Site, there is a group of pieces which are rarely well-protected with most original flavors but little erosion. 

Liangzhu Jades

(1)Jade Yue Axe
      Jade Yue axes, only seen in large tombs, are finely processed with no trace of use on blades. A few of them have jade sheaths on both ends of the handle. In terms of function, it was used as a scepter rather than a practical weapon.

Liangzhu Jade Yue Axe

(2)Jade Cong
     Cong is the largest and most exquisitely made object among all the Liangzhu jades. Each piece is decorated with both complicated and simple designs. The major motif is the divine figure with animal mask with extremely sophisticated and skillful carvings.

  Liangzhu Jade Cong

(3)Jade Bi Disc
  Bi disc is one of the major products of Liangzhu jades. There are fine and rough pieces in terms of their workmanship. The fine ones are entirely well-polished but fewer in number, one or a few more pieces were placed on or under the chest of the deceased in the tomb, while the rough ones remain the appearance of just being cut without any finishing but more in number, tens of them were placed behind the feet of the deceased.

 (Liangzhu Jade Bi Disc)

  The earliest jade Bi discs appeared in the Hongshan Culture in west Liaoning province. In the Taihu Lake area, however, it was excavated in a Songze tomb at the Fuquanshan Site, Shanghai. Due to close connections between Shanghai and areas of north China in ancient times, a Dawenkou painted pottery flask was also found in a major Liangzhu tomb at the Fuquanshan Site. Would it be possible that jade Bi was originally a imported object since Fuquanshan was a port at that time?

(4) Jade Awl-shaped Object

  Jade awl-shaped object is the most common and distinctive piece in Liangzhu jades. It was usually found in a few numbers in a tomb, even in some small tombs as well. Most of it are in a cylindrical or a square pillar shape. Part of the surface is in a Cong form and the rest is brightly polished. They were found around the deceased in excavations.      

 (Liangzhu Jade Awl-shaped Object )

(5) Jade Bracelet
  There are quite a large number of jade bracelets unearthed from Liangzhu tombs. They are varied in shapes but basically plain with no decoration, except a few with divine figure design.

   (Liangzhu Jade Bracelet)

11. Exploration of the Whereabouts of the Liangzhu People

  Liangzhu Culture, about 4000 years ago, is a type of highly developed prehistoric culture. However, the sudden disappearance of it as a dazzling star falling from the sky remains a mystery for ages. What are the causes for its declination? A transgression, flood, war or irresistible internal disputes? This window is designed to give you audiences a chance to use you imagination to make a further exploration.



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