The Neolithic Site of Banpo

Something that caught my attention during lecture this week was the site in northern Neolithic China called Banpo. Professor Watrall said that it was one of the best excavated sites in China however we didn’t spend that much time talking about it. I thought it would be interesting to find out more about it and some of its archeologically history.

Banpo was first discovered in the fall of 1953 accidentally during the construction of a new power plant by the Banpo work group (which is also where it got its name from). The site was turned over to the Institute for Archeological Research at the Chinese Academy of Science and was one of the first large scale digs for post-revolutionary China. (Shea) The site was excavated continuously from 1954 until 1957 in a series of five digs. In 1958 the site was opened to the public by means of the Banpo Museum. This museum was “the first museum erected at the prehistoric site, it lies at the base of the Banpo site excavations.” (Zhiyong)

The neolithic site of Banpo and the Banpo museum are located near Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province. During the excavation of Banpo they found that “[the site] was divided into three parts: the living area, the pottery making area and the cemetery area. Among the ruins are 46 dwellings, two domestic animal pens and over 200 storage pits, 174 adult tombs, 73 burial jars for kids, six pottery making kilns and many production and domestic tools.” (Zhou) After excavating a site that was 12-17 acres big they also found that there was a moat around the village (perhaps to protect against invaders, perhaps for irrigation or perhaps for both). Also the houses are all partially subterranean. (Shea)

However the most interesting (to me) find was what led archeologists to believe that Banpo was a matriarchal society. Matriarchal societies show the characteristic feature of males belonging to their mother’s family. Once a male dies it can only be buried with other males of the same family. Therefore no males are ever buried with females. “Among the 174 adult graves found, there were two graves that buried multiple bodies. One of them buried four young female of similar age. The other buried two adult male. All others were buried single. Single burial and homo-sex multi-body burial are typical features of a matriarchal society.” (Bolman)

Shea, Marilyn. “Banpo Neolithic Culture” (http://hua.umf.maine.edu/China/Xian/pages/085_Xian_Banpo_Neolithic.html)

Zhiyong, Wang. “Banpo Neolithic Village Museum” (http://www.china.org.cn/english/travel/224066.htm)

Zhou, Ruru. “Banpo Museum” (http://www.chinahighlights.com/xian/attraction/banpo-museum.htm)

Bolman, Katherine. “An Overview of Banpo’s Neolithic Village” (http://arthistoryworlds.org/banpo-neolithic-village)

1 thought on “The Neolithic Site of Banpo

  1. baile175

    I also looked into this particular site a bit for my own interest. One interesting fact that I found about the housing was that there was evidence of continued remodeling…. They support this claim because they found five superimposed house floors within the Banpo site.

    I found your point on the different burials for men and women really interesting. I didn’t come across information like that in my search, but I found it fascinating and I thought you would enjoy another piece of information that I found on their burial practices. The inhabitants of Banpo were buried two ways. Infants and small children were placed in large redware pottery jars and interred near the houses. A cemetery for adults was located outside the enclosing ditch at the north end of the settlement. Corpses were placed in pits two m (6.5 ft) deep in rows. Typically, each individual was buried individually in an extended position. Ceramic vessels were included with the body in most of the graves. The most elaborate burial was a child, who was placed in a wooden tomb that included a green jade pendant, a string of 63 bone disk beads, four ceramic vessels, and three stone pellets.

    Isn’t it fascinating that they buried their children within pottery jars?! It seems as if theories on this are just based on speculation, but it just highlights some of the unique practices that Banpo had. Pretty fascinating stuff. I enjoyed having a brush up on some information about the site. I would be curious to hear some theories to how that would relate to the theory that the Banpo society was matriarchal.

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