Article

Neolithic Cultures in China

Tracey L-D Lu

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0004
Neolithic Cultures in China

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Defined by John Lubbock in 1865, Neolithic initially referred to the period when polished stone tools were used. Later the Australian British archaeologist Gordon Childe defined Neolithic as a period when people began to settle down, cultivate plants and herd animals, and make pottery. But this definition is based on archaeological discoveries in Europe and the Middle East and does not fit well into the prehistoric cultural developments in the landmass now called China. On the basis of archaeological discoveries since the late 19th century, it is now generally agreed that the Neolithic cultures in China are dated to between approximately twelve thousand and four thousand years ago, but the characteristics of these Neolithic cultures vary significantly. Some of the Neolithic cultures were created by sedentary farmers and were characterized by labor division, social segmentation, and fortified settlements, while other Neolithic cultures were created by mobile hunters and gatherers with an egalitarian social structure. Consequently, how to define Neolithic remains an issue under debate in China’s archaeology. While some scholars have argued that sedentism and agriculture should be key elements to distinguish Neolithic from Mesolithic or Paleolithic, others have pointed out the uniqueness of cultural changes in prehistoric China and have proposed to use pottery as an indicator of the Neolithic cultures in China’s context. The majority of Chinese archaeologists follow the latter definition, which is different from that in Europe and western Asia. The discussion on defining Neolithic is not just about how to construct the prehistoric chronology in China but also about whether prehistoric cultural diversity in the world should be recognized and whether the archaeological framework that originated and developed in the West can provide a universal explanation for the development of human cultures in prehistoric eras in other regions.

Article.  8770 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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