The Tanshishan culture offers us great insight into the lives of China’s pre-history. The culture emerged in the Fujian province and one site, Xitou, has been given a date of around 2300 BCE or 1300 BCE. Radiocarbon dating has suggested that an expansion of farmers occurred here around 3500 BCE (Higham, p.248). Although a culture of its own, Tanshishan is known as the earliest Longshanoid culture (Chang & Ward, p.47).
The Tanshishan culture appears to be the ancestor of the Zhishanyan Culture in Taiwan, as well as the source of the Fengbitou Culture of southern Taiwan.
The site of Xitou in northern Taiwan is an important site for understanding the Tanshishan culture. Here, “early Tanshishan materials appear to overly or mingle with corded-ware deposits, has been dated to c. 2300 BCE. A portion of the pottery of this period is wheel made. There is also evidence that the practice of tooth extraction was associated with the Tanshishan Culture” (Chang & Ward, p.47-48).
The geometric pottery found, for the most part, was made on a wheel and is quite hard to the touch. It was decorated with “checked, meander, cross-hatched, leaf-vein, circlet, chevron, spiral, ‘S’ shaped and ‘cloud thunder’ designs” (Chang & Ward, p.48).
Tanshishan has also been divided into two distinct cultural phases, the xia and zhong belong to the first and shang to the second. The first level belongs to the Neolithic and can be compared to the Liangzhu culture with the second level as Bronze Age. All tools and weapons were fabricated out of stone and are comparable to southern cultural types from Jiangxi, Guangdong, and the Taihu Valley of Bronze Age date. The exception cited amidst these tools and weapons, however, is the blade with sharp edge called ge from Meili in Zhangpu. The shape of this blade is generically comparable to the bronze version of zhang with rounded blade head from Erlitou (Childs-Johnson, p.81).
More research into this fascinating culture will help us understand the lives and culture of Neolithic China.
Chang, Kwang-Chih & Ward, H. Goodenough (1996) Archaeology of Southeastern Coastal China and Its Bearing on the Austroneasian Homeland, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, American Philosophical Society.
Childs-Johnson, Elizabeth (1995) Symbolic Jades of the Erlitou Period: A Xia Royal tradition, Archives of Asian Art, University of Hawai’i Press for the Asia Society.
Higham, Charles (2005) The Human Past – East Asian Agriculture and Its Impact, Thames & Hudson, London.
Pearson, Richard & Underhill, Anne (1987) The Chinese Neolithic: Recent Trends on Research, American Anthropologist, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Society.