The Neolithic of Southern China – Lingman-Fujian region

Contrary to the development of intensive agriculture in the middle and lower Yangtze basins, subsistence strategies in Lingnan-Fujian and southwest China after the early Neolithic continued with a heavy emphasis on fishing and hunting. The first direct evidence for farming appeared only in the late phase of the late Neolithic, after 3500 B. C., apparently as a result of farming dispersal from the Yangtze basin. As with the Yangtze basin, we also divide the Neolithic cultures of the Lingnan-Fujian region and southwest China into four phases.


The Middle Neolithic (8000-5000 B.C.)

Although some caves continued to be occupied during this phase, for instance Xianrendong, Zengpiyan, and Liyuzui, open settlements now appeared on riverine terraces. Examples include sites of the Dingsishan (Baozitou) culture (Guangxi Team et al. 1998) along the Zuo, You, and Yong rivers in Guangxi. A related cultural assemblage also occurred in northern Viet Nam, here called the Da But culture by Vietnamese archaeologists (Viet 2005). This was followed slightly later by the Gaomiao culture of the middle Yuan basin in Hunan (G. He 2006; Institute of Archaeology, Hunan Province 2000); the Chengbeixi culture (Chen and Yang 1989); as well as the lower layer of the Yuxi site in western Hubei and eastern Chongqing (Zou 2003; Fig. 2). Although settlement locations appear similar to those of the contemporaneous Pengtoushan-Zaoshi and Kuahuqiao cultures of the middle and lower Yangtze, the subsistence patterns of the Lingnan-Fujian region and southwest China remained quite different. There is a virtual absence of direct palaeobotanical evidence for agricultural production, in favor of continuing fishing and hunting. At Dingsishan, no evidence for rice agriculture prior to Dingsishan phase IV has been found so far (Z. Zhao et al. 2005). Although a few rice husks were found at Gaomiao and Chengbeixi, it is still uncertain whether these were local in origin or acquired by exchange.

Aquatic resources in the form of shell middens occur in sites of the Dingsishan and Gaomiao cultures, and many fish and wild animal bones were found in the sites of the Chengbeixi culture and the lower layer of Yuxi. Burial in a crouched or flexed position is also characteristic of these sites. Unlike sites of this period associated with the Yangtze plain cultures, there is no evidence for any textile industry.

Both the Gaomiao and Chengbeixi cultures emerged to the north of the Nanling mountain range, and show strong connections with the Pengtoushan-Zaoshi culture of the Dongting Lake alluvial plain. But the origins of these cultures are still uncertain. In Lingnan, south of the Nanling Mountains, only sites of the Dingsishan culture are reported. In the Yun-Gui region of Yunnan, late Palaeolithic occupations continued in Maludong Cave, Mengzi, and Tangzigou, Baoshan County (X. Y. Zhang 1991 : 109-111). Open sites with hunter-gatherer subsistence have also been found in the Xia-Jiang region of the Three Gorges and western Hubei.

The Early Phase of the Late Neolithic (5000-3500 B.C.)

This period of maximum postglacial temperature, which provided the background for the development and spread of agriculture in the middle and lower Yangtze basins, also witnessed the spread of a hunter-gatherer economy in the Lingnan-Fujian region and southwest China. Most of the shell middens in the Yuan River basin date from this time. Settlement numbers increased in the Xia-Jiang region of the Three Gorges and western Hubei, forming a backdrop for the eventual development of a non-agricultural facies of the Daxi culture in western Hubei (or the so-called Exi facies of the Daxi culture) and the Yuxiping culture of Sichuan. Sites of both these cultures produce large quantities of fish remains.

In the Xia-Jiang region, several lithic workshops were discovered from this phase, such as Yangjiawan in Yichang (B. Lin 1994), Guandukou in Badong (R. Wang 1997), and Honghuatao (Yan 1989a). Large numbers of stone axes, adzes, and chisels were produced by these workshops (c. Zhang 2003: 124-125). Very large lithic workshops also occur at Gexinqiao in Baise (Archaeological Team of the Guangxi Zhuang Municipality 2003) and in the first phase at Beidaling in Duan (Q. Lin et al. 2005), both in Guangxi, and at Shilaodun in Yingde, Guangdong (Yingde City Museum 1999; Fig. 2). The shellfishing economy expanded into Lingnan, with shell middens such as Fangcheng in Guangxi (Guangdong Provincial Museum 1961) and Shiweishan and Chenqiaocun in Guangdong (Cultural Relics Committee of Guangdong Province 1961). Some sand dune sites, with pottery but without dense shell midden, such as Xiantouling (Dawan culture) in the estuary of the Zhu (Pearl) River, also appear at this time (Shenzhen City Museum and Department of Archaeology, Zhongshan University 1990), as do early shell midden sites on Hainan Island (Hao and Wang 2003), on several islands off the Fujian coastline (Keqiutou culture) (Chang 1986: 231; Fujian Provincial Museum 1991; C. Lin 1973), in the Penghu archipelago, and on Taiwan (early Dabenkeng culture; see Huang 1974). These shell midden and sand dune sites represent the earliest pottery-using cultures of coastal southern China.

The Late Phase of the Late Neolithic (3500-2500 B.C.)

The late phase of the late Neolithic is marked by the first identified farming dispersal from the middle and lower Yangtze into Lingnan-Fujian. The number of shell middens declined in the Yuan River and Xia-Jiang regions, and the lack of continuity (Meng 1997) into later cultures suggests a possible migration from the Qujialing culture of the middle Yangtze. Shell midden and sand dune sites also declined in the Zhu delta of Guangdong and the Min delta of Fujian (Nishitani 1997).

At this time, the Shixia culture (Guangdong Provincial Museum 1978) arose in northern Guangdong, as did the Wusaoling culture (G. He 1997) in western Guangdong and the Xi basin of eastern Guangxi. Shixia and Wusaoling share similarities and both resemble the Fanchengdui culture of the Gan-Bo region (Jiangxi Team of Cultural Relics et al. 1989; Qingjiang Museum 1981) and the Daiziping culture of the Xiang basin. The Tanshishan culture of the lower Min River, the first rice farming complex in Fujian Province, shows strong relations with the Liangzhu culture of southwestern Zhejiang (Institute of Archaeology, Zhejiang Province, and Cultural Relics Committee of Suichang County 2001).

Clear evidence suggests that these agricultural societies (Yan 1989b; Yang 1978), such as Shixia, Wusaoling, and Tanshishan, were not indigenous to the Lingnan-Fujian region but spread from the Yangtze. All of these communities have similar settlement patterns, with a large number of house foundations, pits, cemeteries, and craft-specialized workshops. They all grew rice, as in Taiwan (here with foxtail millet) by this time (Tsang et al. 2004). In southwestern China, a Majiayao site in Yingpanshan, Maoxian, northwest Sichuan (Institute of Archaeology, Chengdu City 2002), also supports a hypothesis of southward migration from northwest China (Chen and Yu 2005).

The Terminal Neolithic (2500-2000 B.C.)

In this phase, the number of settlements dramatically increased in the Lingnan-Fujian region (H. Zhao 1999) and southwest China. Locally, this was the full blossoming of the Neolithic in this area, at a time when regional populations are estimated to have exceeded in size those of the middle and lower Yangtze. Most Shixia (phase III) river terrace sites in Guangdong are typically agricultural, and the distribution of this culture spread northward to the Doupengpo culture of the upper Yuan and Zi basins (G. He 1997). In Taiwan, during the local middle Neolithic, the number of sites multiplied considerably. Agriculture was well developed and lithic and jade artifacts were exchanged extensively in Taiwan during this phase (Hung 2004, 2005a).

In Guangxi, many new settlements were founded in this phase, which belong to the “Large Shovel (Da Shi Chan) Culture” oflocal Lingnan archaeologists. Significant quantities of rice have been recovered from Dingsishan phase IV in southern Guangxi (Zhao et al. 2005) and Xiaojin phase II in northern Guangxi (Archaeological Team of the Guangxi Zhuang Municipality and Cultural Relics Committee of Ziyuan County 2004). In southwest China, we see the appearance of numerous large settlements, some defended by hangtu walls, with the emergence of the Baoduncun culture in the Chengdu plain (Z. Jiang et al. 2002).

So far, the earliest rice remains in Yunnan are from Baiyangcun, where husks and straw are dated c. 2500-2000 B.C. This suggests that the earliest Neolithic assemblages in Yunnan were associated with rice farming, probably as a result of cultural dispersal from outside.

(Source: “The Neolithic of Southern China- Origin, Development, and Dispersal”, Zhang Chi, Hsiao-Chun Hung)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: