Neolithic Tomb at Dawenkou


Diagram of Tomb 10 at Dawenkou        

SOURCE:  Zhonguo zhongda kaogu faxian (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990), p. 53.

The first tomb we examine dates to the Neolithic period, which began in China about 10,000 BC.  As in other parts of the world, the Neolithic period was marked by the development of agriculture, including both the cultivation of plants and the domestication of livestock, as well as the development of pottery and textiles.  Permanent settlements became possible, paving the way for more complex societies. 

Traditionally it was believed that Chinese civilization arose in the Yellow River valley and spread out from this center.  Recent archaeological discoveries, however, reveal a far more complex picture of Neolithic China, with a number of distinct and independent cultures in various regions interacting with and influencing each other.  The best known of these is the Yangshao culture (5000-3000 BC) of the middle Yellow River valley, known for its painted pottery, and the later Longshan culture (2500-2000 BC) of the east, distinguished for its black pottery.  Other major Neolithic cultures were the Hongshan culture in northeastern China, the Liangzhu culture in the lower Yangzi River delta, and the Shijiahe culture in the middle Yangzi River basin, among many others.   

The Dawenkou culture (4300-2500 BC) based in present-day Shandong province (review map) overlapped in time with Yangshao culture, and can be considered one of the precursors of the Longshan.  Over 100 tombs have been excavated at Dawenkou.  The tombs have many features in common; all are rectangular pit-graves, most are oriented with the dead persons' heads toward the east, and most of the bodies had deer teeth in their hands.  Some tombs had one or two items in them, but most tombs had ten or twenty items.  

Tomb 10 was for a woman about 50 to 55 years old and 1.6 m tall.  The tomb pit was 4.2 m in length, 3.2 m in width, and 0.36 m in depth.  Inside the pit was a wooden chamber which contained the coffin.  The woman wore a stone necklace, a jade ring, and a stone jewel on her chest.  An ivory comb was by her head, a jade ax by her right thigh, a bone tube by her right knee, and a stone hammer near her left shoulder.  Most of the burial items were placed on a second-level ledge outside the burial chamber.  

Altogether tomb 10 contained:

94 pottery containers and lids

3 jade objects

7 stone objects

6 ivory objects

1 bone tube

2 deer teeth

2 pig heads

15 pig bones

84 alligator bones

Look at the diagram of the tomb above and consider the list of items.  

How would you describe the status of the woman in Tomb 10?

MORE:  When compared with earlier sites, late Dawenkou culture shows more differentiation.  Although most tombs had between ten and twenty objects, some had only one or two, and the richest burials had fifty, sixty, or even more than 180 pieces.  In the larger tombs the coffins were placed inside wooden chambers lining the grave pit for additional protection.  The larger graves with more burial items were also separated from those with fewer items.  Because the gradation between tombs seems gradual, it is thought that differences may reflect differences in age or achievement, rather than hereditary rank.

Jade was already widely used in the Neolithic period (note the two other jade objects in Tomb 10).  To the left is a jade ax from Tomb 10.

How difficult do you think it was to make this?  

What might be the function of the hole?

Jade ax                                                      Length: 18cm 

SOURCE:  Zhongguo gudai cankao tulu v. 1 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 1989), 5th page of illustrations.

ANSWER:  The hole, probably bored by pecking or tubular-boring, was for tying a handle onto the ax.  Because jade was so costly, it is unlikely this was a utilitarian tool.  Its use was probably more symbolic or ritual.  The thin, sharp blade shows no sign of wear.  The presence of such jade objects indicate a high level of skill in fine crafts.  Due to its hardness, jade cannot be carved with metal blades but must be ground with abrasive sand in a slow, labor-intensive process.  A high level of skill is also evident in the finely carved ivory and bone fishhooks, combs, and hairpins found at Dawenkou.

Go on to view some of the objects from this tomb: