Expert Commentary on The Yangguanzhai Neolithic Site in Gaoling County, Shaanxi Province
Expert Commentary By : Chen Xingcan, Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Institute of Archaeology, CASS.
Deputy Director Chen Xingcan made a number of comments on the subject of the important discovery of Neolithic site at Yangguanzhai in Gaoling County, Shaanxi Province.
First of all, hundreds of excavations are conducted every year in China. The majority of these excavations are salvage excavations conducted alongside construction work so one of the problems archaeologists are confronted with is how to set effective research topics and resolve academic dilemmas when conducting archaeological research in these conditions. Since the start of excavation at the Yangguanzhai site in 2004 up to the present day, an area of over 17,000 square metres has been excavated. This already exceeds the 10,000 square meters excavated over a period of four years at the Banpo site and the 17,000 square meters excavated at the Jiangzhai site excavated over the period of eight years. What is especially important is that this means that over 10,000 square meters of excavation have been conducted on the Yangshao culture's Miaodigou phase.This is one of the largest excavations conducted on a Yangshao culture site and one that has yielded substantial results, thus it deserves our close attention. The large-scale excavation conducted at the Yangguanzhai site will give us the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the settlement patterns and social structures of the Yangshao's middle period.
Second, the border regions between the Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan provinces are considered to be the centre of the Yangshao culture's Miaodigou phase, a period generally believed to date from the middle Yangshao period, some 5000-6000 years ago. Settlements dating from the early Yangshao period are known to have been surrounded by moats. These so-called “moat-surrounded settlements” were discovered through excavation work carried out at sites such as Banpo and Jiangzhai. However, information on the settlement patterns of the Miaodigou phase of the middle Yangshao period is limited and it is still not known whether their settlements were enclosed by moats. Surveys and excavations have been carried out at the Beiyangping and Xipo sites in Lingbao City, Henan Province, since 1999. Discoveries show that the Beiyangping site could very well have used moats to separate the settlement from the outside world. Moats can be found at the northern and southern borders of the Xipo site. The excavation conducted at the Yangguanzhai site seems to confirm these facts. It is quite possible that moats, like those dating from the early Yangshao period, were a characteristic feature of medium and large settlements of the Middle Yangshao culture.
In addition, Deputy Director Chen Xingcan put forward his recommendations for future work carried out at this site : excavation should not only be carried out on the internal structures of the settlement but also on the surrounding areas so as to understand the relation between this settlement and other settlements; to search for tombs located beyond the trenches; and to conduct large-scale excavation of the Yangguanzhai site in order to learn more about the settlement patterns, social structures and social organisation of this period. Finally, he expressed his hope for learning from the experiences of conducting archaeological research alongside construction work so that better, in-depth excavations can be conducted at these sites in future.
Participants discussed the characteristics of the foundations of the moat's west gate, whether the moat was terraced, the age of the kiln found at the south of the moat and the type of pottery it was used for, the layers of deposit found inside the entrance and exits of the moats, and the state and number of the blades found in earthenware unearthed at the site.
Translated by Kelly McGuire