Expert commentary on the Prehistoric Ruins at Haimenkou in Jianchuan County, Yunnan Province
From：Chinese Archaeology Writer： Date：2009-02-20
Expert commentary by : Sun Hua, Professor and Deputy Director of the Peking University's School of Archaeology and Museology.
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.
Translated by Kelly McGuire