The History of Hemudu
The history of the Hemudu culture is extremely important to the study of early Neolithic cultures and the origins of rice cultivation.
The Hemudu culture has been dated to around 5000 BCE - 4500 BCE, with later phases dating to 3000 BCE. It emerged in the southern side of the Hangzhou River estuary in Zhejiang province in China and was one of two distinct, separated cultures that arose at the time (the other being the Majiabang culture further north).
The city site of Hemudu was discovered in the 1970's, and until the discovery of Pengtoushan, it was the oldest known site with clear evidence for the cultivation of rice. Although rice was the main food staple, the people also ate "bottle gourds, acorns, water-caltrop, and possibly fox nut. Leaf remains show that the climate at the time was still subtropical. Animal remains include monkeys, deer, elaphure, muntjiak, water deer, rhinoceros, elephant, tiger, bear, smaller mam-mals, and many kinds of fowl and birds. There are remains of alligator, turtle, and tortoise and, also, of fresh-water, estuarial, and marine fishes, most commonly the fresh-water carp. Animal bones included those of dog and pig, probably domesticated".
Foundations of houses have been found; one house measured 75ft long and 23ft deep and had a veranda. The houses were constructed on piles with plank floors, and the frame construction involved sophisticated mortise-and-tenon joinery. Scholars have theorized that if these houses were distributed across the rest of the site, Hemudu would have had a population possibly running into the thousands.
Hemudu pottery is unique. The handmade ware is black, tempered with charcoal powder. The exterior of the vessels was polished but was also generally decorated with cord impressions and notches. The most ordinary type was the cooking pot, sometimes with a waist ring. Other styles were urns, bowls, shallow plates, basins, vessel lids, and pot supports. Flat and round bottoms were common, and there were only a few tripods. Other items found at the site of Hemudu were shoulder blades of oxen which were converted into spades.
The Neolithic culture of Hemudu is important to the study, not just of Chinese cultures during the Neolithic, but to Chinese history as a whole. For it were these cultures that gave birth to the fascinating and distinctive history of China.