In the center of the exhibition hall of the National Museum “Rice·Source·Enlightenment-Zhejiang Shangshan Cultural Archaeology Special Exhibition”, there is a charred rice on display. Under a magnifying glass and light, its surface showed a mottled scorched yellow. This is the earliest domesticated rice discovered in China so far, and it is also the earliest rice in the world, nearly 10,000 years ago.
Ten thousand years ago, plants such as rice and wheat were cultivated and domesticated by humans one after another. They allowed humans to finally store food without having to chase water and grass. Food brought an agricultural revolution, gave birth to a settled society, opened the Neolithic Age, and was a key step in the origin of human civilization. The earliest surviving rice farming remains in the world are located in the Shangshan site group in Zhejiang Province.
In June last year, “Father of Hybrid Rice” Yuan Longping wrote eight words on a piece of A4 paper: “Ten thousand years on the mountain, the source of Chinese rice.” These eight characters were inscribed for the Shangshan site in Zhejiang. The archaeologist Yan Wenming called the Shangshan site “the first village in ancient China” because of the earliest settlement relics discovered in China.
According to the analysis of stratigraphy and typology, combined with carbon 14 dating, the Shangshan culture characterized by the origin of rice cultivation is divided into three phases: early, middle and late. The early period is around 10,000, the middle period is around 9,000, and the late period is around 8,500. . The earliest Yongkang Miaoshan site and Pujiang Shangshan site both reached 11,000 years ago.
”We found rice in the’village’, but have not yet found the’paddy field’. This is the biggest unsolved mystery of the Shangshan culture.” Jiang Leping, a discoverer at the Shangshan site and an archaeological leader and researcher at the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, told ” China News Weekly, the archaeological excavation of Shangshan culture is far from enough. Archaeologists hope to find farming areas in the future, so as to restore the complete chain of evidence for the ancestors on the mountain to cultivate rice.
The first plume of smoke in East Asia
In September 2000, an archaeological team from Zhejiang Province discovered a tomb of Liangzhu Culture in Pujiang County. At that time, the archaeological community in Zhejiang still disputed whether the distribution of Liangzhu Culture crossed the Qiantang River. If the cemetery of Liangzhu Culture is found here, it means that Liangzhu Culture has entered the south of Qiantang River and the dispute can be ended. The archaeological team was extremely excited and eager to expand the scope of exploration.
This is the moment when the small place name “Shangshan” entered the history of archaeology. The archaeologists quickly discovered that there are strange relics that are far earlier than the Liangzhu Culture buried here. In the second year, they cleared an 11-meter-long, 6-meter-wide building foundation with a relatively complete structure composed of three columns of column holes. Then, huge stones and pottery pottery were unearthed one after another. There are still some rice husks left.
Later studies proved that the pottery of Shangshan Culture was the earliest painted pottery in China and the world. The bases of these buildings were the earliest villages in China. The scattered rice, rice husks and other relics are the earliest evidence of the cultivation and domestication of rice in the world.
In the remains of rice unearthed at the Shangshan site, archaeologists analyzed the remains of small cobs. Small cobs are the basis for judging cultivated rice and wild rice. These small cobs have both cultivated and wild characteristics, which can be seen in the early stage of rice domestication. The ground soil of pottery is mixed with rice husks, rice leaves, rice ears and plant stems, so it is also called charcoal pottery. In the early days of the mountain, most of the charcoal pottery was mixed with densely packed rice husks-this is the earliest husk in the world, that is, the broken husks after threshing and taking rice. After people consciously eat rice, they mix the leftovers of the rice in clay to make pottery.
Since 2000, Zhejiang has discovered 20 remains of Shangshan culture, and more unseen relics have surfaced on the surface.
In the exhibition hall of the National Expo, a complete human bone is lying in the restored tomb. The owner of the tomb is lying on his side, and a red clay pot is buried in front of his abdomen, as if he is sleeping with the pot in his arms. In 2019, two tombs from the late Shangshan culture were discovered at the Qiaotou site in Yiwu. The two unearthed human bones are called “the earliest Zhejiang people.”
In a clay pot not far from this Zhejiang ancestor, the researchers detected a gelatinized starch produced by heating, which is consistent with the characteristics of low-temperature fermentation, which is the basic principle of winemaking. In other words, this may be the earliest evidence of winemaking in China.
Liu Li, a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University, noticed the small bulging pot unearthed from Shangshan Culture. She said that the small-mouthed bulging pot is an ancient vessel found in northern and southern China, and these are the earliest in the Shangshan culture. At least five small-mouthed bulging pots from early Neolithic sites in the Yellow River Basin have been scientifically tested and confirmed that they are all brewing vessels.
”The shape of this vessel is obviously directly related to wine making.” Liu Li said that mold and yeast were also found in the pottery at the Qiaotou site. Some special molds are specially used for wine making and are very important microorganisms in koji making. “So we can see that the method of using music to make wine also started in Shangshan culture.”
“This marks the true beginning of an era”
Barley and wheat from West Asia, corn from Central and South America and rice from East Asia are the world’s three major agricultural origins, and rice now feeds more than half of the world’s population. From a global point of view, the origins of agriculture have almost gone hand in hand. The domestication time of the world’s main cultivated crops mostly started around 10,000 years ago-this is directly related to the global climate change from the end of the Pleistocene to the beginning of the Holocene.
The Holocene period lasted from 11,700 years ago to the present day. In the previous Pleistocene period, there was an alternation between the glacial period and the warmer interglacial period. Humans evolved and traveled all over the world, living in small groups as hunters and gatherers. In the Holocene, a leap forward took place in several parts of the world: humans began to grow plants, produce more food and store them throughout the year, which saved them from migrating everywhere, thus entering the era of settlement, and the emergence of agricultural society.
According to Dorian Q Fuller, a professor at the School of Archaeology at University College London and an internationally renowned plant archaeologist, archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of planting plants in about 20 regions around the world. Including Central and South America, the Mississippi River Basin in North America, the African grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa, the southwest Asian grasslands around the upper valleys of the Mesopotamia, the Indian savanna, and at least two vast areas in China-the northern grasslands of the Loess Plateau and the lower Yangtze River Forests and wetlands in the middle. The Shangshan culture near the southern edge of the Yangtze River Delta is one of them.
In China, there are currently four places where rice remains from ten thousand years ago have been discovered: the Xianrendong and Diaotonghuan sites in Wannian County, Jiangxi, the Yuchanyan site in Dao County, Hunan, and the Shangshan site in Pujiang County, Zhejiang Province. Xianrendong, Diaotonghuan and Yuchanyan are all cave sites, and the food is wild rice; while the Shangshan site is an open-air site, indicating that the Shangshan ancestors have walked out of the cave, entered a seasonal semi-settled state, and began to cultivate and domesticate rice.
To confirm human farming behavior, a series of evidence is needed. Zhao Zhijun, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that there is a sufficient chain of evidence in the Shangshan culture. For example, a set of agricultural production tools: stone sickles that are suspected to be harvesting tools, stone millstones, stone grind sticks, stone axes, and stone adzes for processing rice may be related to slash and burn; pottery means that humans have begun to cook rice, and even make wine, and so on. “At present, the source of China’s rice farming can only be traced back to the Shangshan culture. Only the Shangshan culture provides us with sufficient archaeological evidence of human farming behavior.”
”The uphill rice cultivation includes a series of evidences of cultivation, harvesting, processing, and milling. A brand-new farming behavior system has been initially formed.” The real beginning of the era.
However, the area cultivated by the Shangshan people has not been found. Jiang Leping speculated that since the Shangshan cultural sites are all on the terraces of three to five meters, and the rice fields are likely to be in the lower and gentle areas outside the site, finding the farming area at that time is the biggest unsolved mystery. The farming area will make the evidence chain of farming behavior more perfect, and it will also give people a deeper understanding of the content of farming at that time.
Regarding the origin of rice farming, Chen Xingcan, director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, suggested that there may be an earlier source, but it has not yet been discovered. At present, most of the 20 sites of Shangshan Culture are distributed in the Jinqu Basin, covering an area of about 3,000 square kilometers. After more archaeological work, more ruins may be found both inside and outside the Jinqu Basin. “I believe that the origin of agriculture may not be a single point, perhaps a larger area. But for now, our most certain and the most abundant archaeological evidence is of course this area: the Shangshan site and the settlements around the Shangshan site. There is no doubt about it. , It is the earliest settled society we know at present.” Chen Xingcan said.
From “Southern Rice and North Millet” to “Southern Rice and North Wheat”
From the origin of ten thousand years ago to about 8,000 years ago, this is the key stage of the origin of agriculture. Zhao Zhijun, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that at this stage, permanent settlement villages appeared, and real farming and livestock raising began. Most of the early archaeological sites discovered in China with obvious characteristics of rice farming belong to this period, such as the Pengtou Mountain and Bashidang sites in Li County, Hunan, the Kuahuqiao site in Xiaoshan, Zhejiang, and the Xiaohuangshan site in Shengzhou, Wuyang, Henan. Jiahu site and Dengzhou Baligang site, etc.
The long process of the origin of rice farming was finally declared complete, during the Liangzhu Culture period between 5200 and 4300 years ago. The Liangzhu cultural relics are distributed in the area around the Taihu Lake. During this period, the population increased significantly, and the magnificent Liangzhu ancient city and large-scale water conservancy projects were built. Archaeological experts believe that this is directly related to the rapid development of rice farming.
”A regional ancient social group 5,000 years ago, unexpectedly had such a strong social organization ability, and transferred a large number of laborers to engage in labor unrelated to the production of basic means of subsistence, reflecting that the rice farming production at that time had developed to a very high level. Zhao Zhijun said that due to the increase in rice output per unit area, only a portion of the members of the society need to be invested in agricultural production to provide sufficient food for the whole society.
In northern China, the Donghulin site in Mentougou, Beijing almost coincides with the Shangshan culture. People in Donghulin do not eat rice, but millet, which is millet. A small amount of charred millet was unearthed at the Donghulin site, and it is likely that millet has already been cultivated.
This means that the Chinese agricultural pattern of “southern rice and north millet” was formed 10,000 years ago. Zhao Zhijun said that after 5000 years ago, both the North and the South entered the stage of agricultural society, and the production characteristics of rice as the main crop have not changed so far.
However, the northern dry farming industry has undergone a major change in the development process. About 4000 years ago, wheat originating in West Asia was introduced to China. With its excellent high-quality products, wheat has had an impact on China’s native millet and millet, and has gradually replaced millet as the main crop of dry farming in the north. Since then, China’s agricultural production pattern of “southern rice and north wheat” has been established for thousands of years, and it has continued to this day.
Agriculture not only feeds people, but also shapes human society. The exploration of the origin of agriculture is far beyond agriculture. Director Xiangming Ming of the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology told China News Weekly that the origin of agriculture is closely related to social development. Taking millet farming and rice farming as examples, rice is more complex than millet in terms of irrigation, water conservancy, and water management. Therefore, rice farming is more dependent on nature and has higher requirements for the complexity of social organization. Different forms of agriculture will also affect ancient religious beliefs, concepts, and even fine arts. In this regard, there is still a lot of research work to be done in the future.