News FocusArchaeology in China

Beyond the Yellow River: How China Became China

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Science  21 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5943, pp. 930-935
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_930

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Archaeologists have long thought that Chinese civilization was born along the central plains of the Yellow River. But dramatic discoveries across China in the past 2 decades are challenging long-held views. From Manchuria in the north, to the Chengdu plain to the west, and to the coastal cities of the south, excavations are revealing a host of complex and distinct ancient cultures, each with its own artifacts and traditions. Striking carved faces found in Liangzhu are one example; other cultures developed enormous bronze statues, large stone ceremonial complexes, and a golden, whirling sun motif. Yellow River sites like Erlitou, believed since its discovery in 1959 to have been the long-lost first capital of China (see sidebar), remain key to understanding the first true urban centers in China. But other, far-flung cultures also contain the seeds of Chinese traditions.