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HomeNewsNew discoveries
Shell mound site found in Xingyi, Yunnan Province
From:Chinese Archaeology  Writer:  Date:2017-05-02
The Xingyi site is located in Tonghai County, Yuxi City, Yunan Province. It is a massive archaeological shell midden deposit and covers an area of 52,000 square meters. From September 2015 to October 2016, the Yunnan Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics conducted the excavation, which cleared up 2 excavation units and 190 square meters in total.


The section which showed the east wall of No.2 excavation unit 

Archaeological discoveries

During this excavation, there were 37 cultural layers, 47 living surfaces, 18 house foundations, 20 tombs, 4 urn burials, 6 ash pits, 10 ash accumulations, 4 roads, 2 ditches, 1 wall remain and over 1460 artifacts including potteries, lithic tools, bone tools and bronze wares. The archaeological sequence there is recognized by three cultural types: the Haidong type, Xingyi type and Dian culture.


Haidong Type flexed burial in tomb M13
 
Haidong Type culture

The Haidong type culture featured the early stage at the site, roughly dating to 4000 BP. During this period, there were 12 tombs, 3 ash pits and several postholes found. The featured pottery types of this period include jar with round bottom and wide opening, jar with ring-foot and long neck and jar with pointed bottom. Pottery fragments was decorated with cord pattern or polished. In addition, there were discoveries of polished bone tools, stone arrowheads, stone rings and agate items.


Haidong Type pottery
 
Among the 12 tombs uncovered, human remains in 7 of them were preserved. They were buried in flexed position. To find out whether the special position was related to local cultural tradition, both their morphology and DNA composition will be studied. A large number of agate pieces with chopped marks were found deposited in cultural layers along with remains from Chinese river deer (Hydropotes inermis) and elephants. It seems hunting was one important subsistence strategy.
 

Xingyi Type culture

The Xinyi type culture, later than the Haidong type, was dated to the middle period of the site. In total, there were 18 house foundations, 8 tombs, 4 urn burials, 2 pits, 4 roads, 10 ash accumulations and 2 ditches recovered in this period. The major pottery types include fu caldron with round bottom and dish-like opening, jar with dish-like opening, jar with spout, dou dish, bowl with nipple-like patter, ceramic standing, stone ring, stone axe with shoulder, net weight, stone-made spindle whorl and bone awl.

There were multiple types of dwelling remains: semi-subterranean house, ground house, stilt house and pavilion house. Most semi-subterranean houses were round in their plan, in which hearths were installed. Ground house was the most numerous types. They were square in the plan. None of them were installed with hearths. Two stilt houses were discovered and no living surface was found. House F15 seemed a pavilion. Traces of living surfaces can be clearly seen around the postholes.


 Xingyi Type pottery


The stilts that held the houses can be seen, together with collapsed house remain

All tombs found during this period were infant burials. 3 of the 8 tombs were buried with lower limbs flexed and the remaining skeletons were in extended supine position. Funeral goods were deposited around the heads of the skeletons, including small jar with spout, dou dish, bowl, and small jar with dish-like opening. In 4 urn burials, large fu caldrons with dish-like opening were used as funerary utensils.

Around the houses, there were discoveries of living surfaces, road and pit. Living surfaces were deliberately built. On the top of the shells midden deposit there laid a layer of smashed shell fragments. It was further covered by another layer of grey soil, upon which finished with a layer of black ash or ceramic fragments. All the roads were built with grey soil and shell fragments.

There were several featured pottery types in this period including items with dish-like opening or spout, bowl, dou dish, washing basin and standing support. Major lithic tools include axe with shoulder, net weight, spindle whorl and ring. A small number of polished stones, arrowheads were also unearthed. The discoveries of axes, spindles whorls and net weights indicate a subsistence heavily relying upon hunting and fishing. The appearance of this type of stone ring is evident of the influence from the Shang culture in Central China. As for the bone tools, awls, arrowhead and scraper were found. 

During this period, there were several discoveries of malachite, residue from smelting, stone moulds and bronze vessels, which provide important data for the study of metallurgy in southwest China during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties.

Dian Type culture

The Dian culture was a dominant culture type during the late period of the site. A large collection of archaeological assemblages was excavated including copper ore, bronze vessels, malachite and pottery beads. This type of culture can be divided into three phases (early, middle, late) according to the potteries.

Contribution
At the Xingyi site, the shell mound has the deepest accumulation so far among the same type of archaeological site. The rich assemblage found there is evident to illustrate the cultural and economic life around the plateau lake. As a special archaeological feature, shell mound is helpful to demonstrate the relationship between human activities and site formation process. To understand this process, stratigraphy and taphonomy are two important research tools.

The stratigraphical evidence at the site demonstrates the cultural sequence from the Haidong, Xingyi to Dian cultural types, which clarifies the chronology at the Qilu Lake area in central Yunan Province between 4000 and 2000 BP. This period is salient to our understanding of the regional transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

The first discovered Xingyi culture type is, especially, of importance to study the cultural change occurring in southwest China during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties and the origin of the regional Dian culture.     (Translator: Dong Ningning)
 

 
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