The History of the Longshan Period

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The Longshan Culture was a late Neolithic culture in China, situated around the lower area of the Yellow River. The first mention of the Longshan is from the Han Shu, which translates as ‘The History of the Former Han’ written by Ban Biao (3 – 54 CE) but completed by his son Ban Gu, who mentions their walled cities.

The Longshan culture is famous for its distinctive pottery, which is known for its outstanding quality. The pottery, several of different shapes and sizes, dates from 2500 – 2000 BCE.

A brief examination of archaeological data from the Longshan Period suggests that there is more evidence for ‘complex household industry’ than a workshop mode of production. Also, the available data provide no indication of change in mode of production over time. However, relevant published data from Longshan sites are limited (Underhill, p.13). It appears that production took place in a limited number of areas at sites, indicative of specialization rather than household production.

Updraft kilns and four types of tools that may have been used for pottery-making have been found at sites from the Longshan Period: pottery chisel (zao), pottery or stone anvil (paizi), polishing tool (sherds), and mold (muzi) (Underhill, p.18). What is particularly interesting is that the paizi originated in India.

Cemeteries have revealed an abundance of information relating to the Longshan culture. Sites at Taosi (Shanxi Province) and Chengziyai have revealed a few elite graves as well as many for the less affluent. Within the wealthy graves, nearly 200 offerings were found. These included jade rings, axes and two wooden drums, each with a crocodile skin surface. This again is particularly interesting as historic texts refer to drums being associated with royalty. This begs the question; could the person buried here be a member of royalty?

At the site of Chengziyai (Shangdong province) excavations unearthed a set of inscribed oracle bones, dating to between 2500 – 1900 BCE. “This anticipate the Shang practice of making divinations using animal bones by interpreting cracks generated through the application of heat” (Higham, p.555). Here we can see the foundation of later Shang divination techniques. Archaeologists have also found evidence of human sacrifice within the foundations of both walls and houses, again the foundation of later Shang sacrifice.

The end of the Longshan culture began with the growing increase of the population and the increasing social complexity of the people themselves. Further archaeological research at the sites found will continue to reveal the lives and history of one of the most fascinating cultures from ancient China.


Higham, Charles (2005) The Human Past – Complex Socities of East and Southeast Asia, Thames & Hudson, London.

Underhill, Anne P. (1991) Pottery Productions in Chiefdoms: The Longshan Period in Northern China, World Archaeology, Taylor & Francis.


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