The Rise of Civilization in East Asia, the Archaeology of China, Korea and Japan

Gina L. Barnes, Thames and Hudson, London, 1999 (1992)

This is a very interesting book treating the region, rather than a specific country. It begins by ensuring the reader is aware of terms and chronology. There is then a consideration of the development of archaeology in the region. Sung Neo-Confucianism:

Encouraged empericism in the cataloging of bronzes and jades dating from the Shang to Han Dynasties lodged in imperial and private collections. Surprisingly modernistic techniques of observation and representation were deployed in measuring the artifacts, drawing their profiles, describing their decoration, and copying any inscriptions. p. 28 ... The great contribution of modern archaeology was not the introduction of methods of observation, description and excavation, which as noted above were all variously present in the antiquarianism of the region. It was the introduction of the possibility of a past -- the very idea of 'pre-history' -- that resided external to written history and was accessible through excavation. p. 29

Next the book mentions personalities connected with archaeology in the region since 1877, the growth of archaeological organizations and the involvement of the state, as well as such concepts as not viewing a distinction between private and public land

In Japan, all buried objects are decreed to be the property of their original owners (however many centuries in the past!); and if they or their descendants cannot be located, the state takes custody of them. p. 36

and using, "Upper," in the sense of "Oldest," opposite to Western archaeological usage. p. 39

Chapter Three, "The Earliest Inhabitants", begins by looking at human colonization of East Asia. It mentions one Chinese opinion that Homo erectus developed locally, noting that Ramapithecus lived in Southwestern China, and a vast geographical area outside of China eight or more million years ago. Also, even those who accept the dominant evolutionary view of immigration of humans from Africa are divided as to when this happened and the dating of Homo erectus fossils. This leads to a discussion of the site at Choukoutien containing, "The largest number of Homo erectus fossils in the world." p. 44

The author proceeds to consider Palaeolithic sites in Japan and Korea and then the debate as to whether Homo sapiens sapiens arrived from Africa or emerged locally. The prevailing Western view, "Requiring the evolution of species to occur only within small, reproductively isolated groups," p. 52 is not so widely held by East Asian archaeologists. And,

Several fossils identified as transitional between the two species and labelled Homo sapiens have been discovered at the Chinese sites of Dingcun, Maba, Changyang, Dali, Jinniushan, and Quyuanhekou. p. 53

Chapter Four, "Innovations of Modern Humans", begins by mentioning the widely fluctuating coast line as global temperatures rose and fell.

During cold phases 70,000, 50,000 and 37,000 years ago and then again during the last glacial maximum at 18,000 years ago, the Yellow Plain and the Seto Plain were exposed by lower sea levels, and the Japan Sea became merely a large lake which drained through the present Korea Strait. These increased land areas facilitated the movement of humans and animals among and between parts of East Asia that are now separated by large expanses of water. p. 55

The chapter considers various stone technologies, the mobile nature of the hunting lifestyle, some settlements such as Sokchangni in Korea, the locating of settlements near stone resources, and Palaeolithic art.

The advent of Homo sapiens sapiens was not just a biological phenomenon; it was also a psychological revolution, accompanied by the development of self-consciousness and aesthetic appreciation. The suddenly felt need to bury the dead, the use of body ornaments, and the creation of cave and portable art followed from these changes and have been cited as the major attributes of human modernity. In East Asia, these changes manifested themselves in the Late Palaeolithic. p. 62

This includes ceramics, the earliest examples of which in the world have been dated at c. 12,000 years ago and come from sites in Japan. The chapter continues with reference to changes in forest types because of changing climatic conditions and to the appearance of, "Dug-out canoes and huts built with posts." p. 68

Chapter Five, "Littoral Foragers", begins by mentioning Chulmun and Jomon fishing and shellfish collecting, underlining the presence of pottery, unusual in non-agricultural societies. It mentions that, "The dog was the only domesticated animal in the Japanese Islands throughout the Jomon period." p. 77 It mentions the theory of an exchange network among three different ceramic cultures. It concludes by referring to evidence for agriculture during the Jomon period.

Chapter Six, "Agricultural Beginnings", looks at early agriculture on the mainland, millet cultivation in the north (with domestication of dogs, pigs and chickens) and rice in the south. Among the remains of the southern site of Hemudu are bone flutes dated to c. 5,000 BCE. Also from that site:

Both ceramics and bone materials were vehicles for sophisticated artistic renditions of plant, animal and human designs during the site's thousand years of existence. Favoured representations seem to have been of birds, petals and leaves; pigs occur both as drawings and as figurines. p. 94

The chapter continues with a look at domestication of plants and animals and a consideration of different Neolithic cultures. Beside the north-south millet-rice divide is an east-west split in pottery traditions. It also mentions the hypothesis of periodic abandonment of settlements in swidden ("slash-and-burn") agriculture.

Chapter Seven, "The Emergence of Neolithic Elites", begins by looking at cultures (Hong-shan, Ta-wen-kou, Liang-chou):

Noted for their amazing jade artifacts. Trends towards status differentiation, craft specialization and public architecture are evident in these societies. p. 108

It continues by looking at Lung-shan cultures whose, "Walled settlements, and a sudden proliferation of projectile points," p. 113 are among the factors indicating increased violence. Human sacrifice and, "The custom of heat-cracking animal scapulae for divination purposes" p. 116 also appear. Such divination was, "Already in use in the Fuhe culture of the eastern Mongolian Plateau in 3700 BC," and, "Was adopted by all the Longshan cultures and also Qijia in the far northwest during the 3rd millennium BC." p. 116

Chapter Eight, "The Mainland Bronze Age", mentions the obscurity of the origins of bronze in China and the view of Chinese archaeologists that it was a local innovation, not a technique imported from Western Asia. The Shang used bronze for ritual vessels and weapons. The author observes that, "In the northern Zhou states of the succeeding period, possession of such ritual vessels (the 'Nine Bronze Tripods') was the tangible evidence of the right to rule." p. 125 There follows consideration of Shang sites, especially An Yang which includes, "A royal Shang cemetery, a palace and temple complex, many housing areas for aristocrats and commoners, and craft workshops." p. 127 There is then the, "Contemporaneous" "Alleged predynastic 'capital' of the Zhou," wherein appear, "Two very important aspects of subsequent elite architecture in East Asia: the use of ceramic tiles and stone." p. 129

Chapter Nine, "Early Mainland Sites", begins by mentioning the oracle bone inscriptions with the information they provide on Shang territory and organization. The chapter proceeds to consider the Chou and the importance of warfare and sacrifice for their aristocrats. It mentions the prevalence of chariots. The earliest East Asian chariots uncovered were at An Yang and date from c. 1300 BCE.

The burial of splendidly fitted-out chariots, complete with horses in harness, in pits at the mouths of the shaft tombs at Anyang suggest that they also functioned as royal prestige items. Chariots continued to be an important component in Zhou-period burials." p. 145

The use of infantry (6th C BCE) and cavalry (5th C BCE) reduced the role of chariots in warfare. Defensively, long-walls, forerunners of the Great Wall, begin, "As early as the 7th Century BC." p. 146

Next comes a look at Chou coinage, spade-shaped, knife-shaped and the stamp-plate coins of Ch'u. This is followed by a mention of the use of iron in the Chou period.

Chapter Ten, "The Northern Frontier", considers the remains of the peoples of the North. It mentions the development of nomadism.

It has been argued that the crucial element in the development of nomadic pastoralism was the invention of transportation -- carts and horses that could carry groups and their possessions in the constant searching out of sufficient pasturage for large herds. p. 154

The chapter mentions the appearance of the domesticated horse in the area in early Chou times. It cautions against ethnic identification of archaeological cultures. It looks at the Bronze Age on the Korean Peninsula, including the dolmens.

Chapter Eleven, "The Spread of Rice Agriculture", considers the spread of wet-rice technology from the Shanghai Delta to the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Islands.

The current best estimate is that rice technology was introduced into the Korean Peninsula in the late 2nd millennium BC. p. 170

It mentions the formation of Yayoi in Japan and the complexity and variety of that culture or cultures.

Chapter Twelve, "The Making and Breaking of Empire", mentions the Ch'in and then the Han Dynasties, the arrangement of the capitals of Ch'ang An and Lo-yang, Han kingdoms and commanderies, Han expansion to the south and northwest, the giving of seals and inscribed mirrors to foreign envoys, and the Ma-wang-tui tombs.

Included were many kinds of silk, hundreds of lacquerware vessels and vanity boxes (one of which contained a cosmetic mirror along with other toilet articles), ceramics, musical instruments, game boards, bronzes with gilt surfaces and jade inlay, weapons inlaid with gold, bronze and silver belt hooks, beads, maps and paintings on silk, bamboo and wooden script texts (including an important astronomical treatise), plus a multitude of food offerings with exotic spices. It is significant that only ceramic replicas of coins -- not the real thing -- were deposited in this tomb: indeed real coins were rarely included in Early Han tombs. p. 202

The chapter proceeds by mentioning the state monopolies on iron, salt and the minting of coins. It continues with a reference to the Silk Road and the Central Asian products that came into China. And, it discusses the arrival of Buddhism, and its success in the confused times during and following the collapse of the Han Dynasty. There is reference to the spectacular Buddhist cave temples at such sites as Tun-huang.

Chapter Thirteen, "The Yellow Sea Interaction Sphere", notes, "The distribution of knife coins as far south as Okinawa," p. 208 and Chou influence on the Korean Peninsula. It mentions Chosen attacked by the Han and the commanderies established in 108 BCE and later in the area. It looks at the political entities on the Peninsula south of these commanderies. It examines Japanese contacts with the Peninsula and with Han China. This includes the reference in Chinese history to Queen Himiko, "Who apparently employed shamanistic skills in her reign." p. 219

Chapter Fourteen, "The Mounded Tomb Cultures", looks at Koguryo, Paekche, Shilla and Yamato, at the impressive mounded tombs prepared for their royal burials, at the influence of Confucianism in Koguryo, at the arrival of Buddhism, at the, "Patterned shifts in alliances and hostilities," p. 243 at the impact of Sui and T'ang China on the Korean Peninsula and at the protective Buddhist monument at Sokkuram, Shilla.

Chapter Fifteen, "East Asian Civilization", looks at T'ang influence on Japan and Korea with the reforms bringing T'ang administrative law to Japan, with the adoption of the gridded city in Korea and Japan, with the replication of T'ang cremation urns and Buddhist pagodas. The chapter also mentions the increased contact T'an China had with places to the west and how artifacts from those western lands (for example, Persia) have been found at sites in Korea and Japan.

Chapter Sixteen, "Epilogue", mentions that

With the emulation of T'ang Dynasty (618-906) government and culture by societies surrounding China during the 7th and 8th centuries, for the first time East Asia becomes a coherent regional entity based on common aesthetic values and philosophy, literary tradition and state structure. p. 261

It then looks at subsequent history, porcelain production, underwater archaeology, the excavation of nearly a hundred elite Ming tombs, urban archaeology and future prospects for East Asian archaeology.

Each of the fifteen main chapters contains a boxed section, focusing in a page or so on a specific point such as: Confucianism, Neolithic ceramics, iron technology and Han tombs. These are interesting additions to the material contained in the text proper. The book is also very richly illustrated.

This is a quite fascinating volume, presenting a good look at East Asian archaeology and its similarities to and its differences from archaeology elsewhere. It is highly recommended.

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