The Haimenkou Neolithic site in Jianchuan County, Dali, Yunnan, China and its importance

This post is dedicated to the Haimenkou Neolithic site in Jianchuan County, Dali, Yunnan, China. All information we have managed to gather about the excavation and findings is presented here.


More than 2,000 wooden poles unearthed at a site in Jianchuan county, have been found to be more than 3,000 years old. The poles, still standing, were dug 4.5 m into the ground.

Archaeologists said carbon tests showed the poles were from the Neolithic age, and were probably the foundations for a structure built by a community that existed at the time in southwest China. They said this community may turn out to be the largest Neolithic one of its kind that has ever been discovered in China, or even in the world. It could be older than the Hemudu community in Yuyao, Zhejiang province, birthplace of the Yangtze River civilization.

“I was shocked when I first saw the site. I have never seen such a big and orderly one. This could be only a small fraction of the actual community that existed at the time,” Yan Wenming, history professor at Peking University, said.


Excavation of the site is still going on. A total of 28 excavations have been made so far of an area that covers 1,350 sq m. Min Rui, a researcher at the Yunnan Archaeological Institute who leads the excavation, said the area could eventually cover 4 sq km

Yan said the poles could have been the foundations for a house as these types of structures have been found in Hubei, Guangdong, Zhejiang and other provinces, the most famous being the Hemudu site.

“Right now there is also such a site being excavated in Switzerland. But that site is smaller than the one in Yunnan. The Yunnan one could be the largest in the world,” Yan said.

Archaeologists have also found more than 3,000 artifacts made of stone, as well as pottery, wood, iron and bones. The most eye-catching piece is a red jar, Min said.



The Haimenkou site is located in the west of Haiwei River, Haikou Village, Diannan Town, Jianchuan County, with an area of ​​about 100,000 square meters. It was from the late Neolithic period to the Bronze Age. It is the largest waterfront wood structure in China.

He Yuanhong, one of the principals of the archaeological work and a lecturer at the School of History and Culture of Sichuan University, introduced the latest excavation area of ​​1,050 square meters. The core area is mainly located at the front edge of the first stage platform on the west bank of the Haiwei River, cleaning up 123 ash pits and gray ditch. 24, 5 rooms, 2 tombs, etc., more than 800 pieces of unearthed small pieces, stone tools are mainly made of polished cones, enamel, etc., pottery is mainly composed of fine sand pottery. The No. 4 site is a shallow cave building, which belongs to the late stage of the Neolithic period.


According to reports, the data obtained in the first three excavations of the site were mainly from the Bronze Age and the subsequent period. The excavation indicates that the Neolithic period in this area is very rich, and the early pottery unearthed and the Neolithic Age in other parts of Dali Prefecture. The remains are close, and the ages are roughly similar. Moreover, the cultural accumulation in this region is not thick, but there are many layers and complex phenomena, reflecting that the region is the core area of ​​human activities during this period.



Professor Sun Hua put forward his comments on the importance of the discovery of the prehistoric ruins at Haimenkou in Jianchuan County, Yunnan Province.

First of all, the third excavation conducted at the Haimenkou site yielded precise stratigraphic information about the site. In the previous two excavations conducted at that site, the cultural layers were all lumped together, leading to conflicting interpretations of the findings within the academic community. This latest excavation revealed seven cultural layers dating from three different periods. These findings have helped clear up the ambiguities in the current research.

Second, the excavations conducted at the Haimenkou site and the Yinsuo Island site near Dali have helped, for the first time, established a chronology for the prehistoric cultures in the Cang’er region in western Yunnan, which covers the period from 3000 BCE to the common era. This is a solid foundation for establishing a chronology of all the archaeological cultures which have occupied this region.

Third, the differences between the contemporaneous sites at Haimenkou and Dali’s Yinsuo Island demonstrate the diversity of this region’s prehistoric cultures. Western Yunnan was a cultural crossroads, which formed an intricate web of cultural features. A careful comparison of the differences and similarities of the eras of these two sites must be carried out in order to learn more about the relationships between the various cultures and ethnic groups in that area.


Fourth, while many areas on the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau have similar landforms and environmental conditions, people’s living conditions are quite different, even for places as close by as the Dali and Jianchuan basins. The Jianchuan Haimenkou ruins are located on the banks of a lake and were built as pile-dwelling. Its inhabitants cultivated paddy rice, millet and barnyard grass and the large number of animal skeletons suggest that they also hunted for food. However, Dali’s Yinsuo Island site was constructed by wooden pillars during the early period but became a classic example of a shell mound site in the later period. While geographically close, the two sites are different in nature and may have had different economic models. This research has provided valuable information about the complexity of the socio-cultural, economic pattern and ethnic background of this era.

Fifth, the problems relating to the methods used for conducting archaeological work need to be highlighted. Archaeological work in western Yunnan began quite early using the correct procedures with the aim of establishing cultural chronologies for the region. However, as the work and excavations progressed over the years, new cultures and new patterns emerged but work on establishing an overall cultural pattern of the region along an east-west axis was not carried out. This time, efforts were made to first establish a chronology of the region through solid and methodical initial groundwork. A chronology of western Yunnan’s prehistoric cultures has been established through systematic investigation of each basin in the region. The findings will go a long way in providing a proper understanding of the cultural chronology of the region. In addition, the location of the sites’ tombs and whether constructions other than lakeshore structures existed at that time are topics that need further investigation.

The participants discussed issues such as whether the Haimenkou site was built on the lake itself or on the shores of the lake, the chronology of the site, the relative importance and evolution of agriculture, hunting and fishing within its economy, whether there is any evidence of smelting aside from the stone moulds that have been unearthed, whether there is a connection between burnt earth and smelting, the types of wood used for the wooden foundation piles, and the origins of crop agriculture.



Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos


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