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Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns Of Archaeological Sites In China During The Neolithic And Bronze Age: An Overview

Dominic Hosner, Mayke Wagner, Pavel E Tarasov, Xiaocheng Chen, Christian Leipe

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A total of 51,074 archaeological sites from the early Neolithic to the early Iron Age ( c. 8000–500 BC), with a spatial extent covering most regions of China ( c. 73–131°E and c. 20–53°N), were analysed over space and time in this study. Site maps of 25 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, published in the series ‘Atlas of Chinese Cultural Relics’, were used to extract, digitalise and correlate its archaeological data. The data were, in turn, entered into a database using a self-developed mapping software that makes the data, in a dynamic way, analysable as a contribution to various scientific questions, such as population growth and migrations, spread of agriculture and changes in subsistence strategies. The results clearly show asynchronous patterns of changes between the northern and southern parts of China (i.e. north and south of the Yangtze River, respectively) but also within these macro-regions. In the northern part of China (i.e. along the Yellow River and its tributaries and in the Xiliao River basin), the first noticeable increase in the concentration of Neolithic sites occurred between c. 5000 and 4000 BC; however, highest site concentrations were reached between c. 2000 and 500 BC. Our analysis shows a radical north-eastern shift of high site-density clusters (over 50 sites per 100 × 100 km grid cell) from the Wei and middle/lower Yellow Rivers to the Liao River system sometime between 2350 BC and 1750 BC. This shift is hypothetically discussed in the context of the incorporation of West Asian domesticated animals and plants into the existing northern Chinese agricultural system. In the southern part of China, archaeological sites do not show a noticeable increase in the absolute number of sites until after c. 1500 BC, reaching a maximum around 1000 BC.