News FocusArchaeology in China

Founding Dynasty or Myth?

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Science  21 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5943, pp. 934
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_934

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In the 6th century B.C.E., Confucius referred to the ancient Xia dynasty as China's first, based on documents that were old in his day. For generations of Chinese scholars, the Xia was China's initial great flowering of civilization, inaugurating a history that unfolded in methodical fashion from city-state to empire (see main text). But there was no physical evidence for the dynasty's existence, so in 1959 an archaeological team set out to find its seat. Along a marshy section of the Luo River in the central plains of the Yellow River Valley, they uncovered a 300-hectare site dating to roughly the correct period—and promptly hailed it as the long-lost first capital. But did the Xia, said to have flourished from 2100 B.C.E. to 1600 B.C.E., really exist? New, unpublished dates and excavation data from this modest site challenge its status as the capital of the Xia.