Chen Baozhang

Institute of Regional Development, Xuzhou Teachers College, Xuzhou 221009

Wang Xiangkun

Agronomy Department, Beijing Agricultural University, Beijing 100094

Zhang Juzhong

Cultural Relics Institute of Henan Province, Zhengzhou 450004

(Chinese Journal of Rice Science 1995,9(3):129-134. Translated by Leping Zhang, edited by B.Gordon)



Many carbonized rice caryopses were found by diffusing-sieving samples from the Neolithic Jiahu site, Wuyang County, Henan Province (33°37’N, 133°40’E). Morphological study indicated most ancient rice was cultivated keng (japonica) or almost (L/W=1.88-2.48), with less cultivated hsien (indica) or almost (L/W is 2.50-3.00). Calibrated C14 dates range 8942-7868 BP. Jiahu carbonized rice caryopses was not only the earliest cultivated rice evidence on the Yellow-Huai Rivers, but one of the world’s earliest and doubtless significant for studying rice origin in China and abroad. Using cultural ecology and agriculture, the authors discuss why Jiahu people planted rice earlier than elsewhere, deducing the Huai River may a center of Chinese cultivated rice because it had marginal effects of ancient climate and cultural transition.

Key words: carbonized rice; origin of rice cultivation; morphological study; Neolithic; site

I. Introduction

Rice has a signicant relationship with the development of human civilization, its origin taken seriously by local and foreign academics.[1-5] The origin of rice in China and abroad is a very important problem facing Chinese agricultural archaeology.


Jiahu, Wuyang, in middle Henan Province (central China), is an important Neolithic site, with rich cultural significance and features. Since spring, 1983, its six excavations [6] have yielded stone and bone tools, etc. Their analyses suggest inhabitants were mainly agriculturalists, but with some hunting, animal husbandry and gathering.[8] We couldn’t find crop remains using various archaeological techniques, but found some rice data in red oxidized soil blocks after sorting excavated material after spring, 1991. To study Jiahu’s meaning, economic importance, paddy location and estimated cultivation area, we studied phytoliths qualitatively and quantitatively, as recommended by Mr. Zhou Kunshu in spring, 1993.

II. General site description and sample collection

Jiahu site is northwest of Yellow-Huai Plain and east of Funiu Mountain, its coordinates 33°37’N, 113°40’E. The upper Huai tributaries of Sha, Beiru and Li Rivers flow by this site.

According to Zhang Juzhong’s excavation and study, Jiahu is circular, its total area 55,000m2 and cultural level between 20-30cm and 2m thick, divided into 4 levels. Using excavated artifacts we classified levels 4, 3C & 3B material into three stages. They 14C date 7960±150, 7920±150 and 7561±125 BP, respectively (with likeliest tree ring correction range for level 4 of 8942-8338 BP), level 3C of 7137±128 and 7105±122 BP (correction range 7919-7907 BP); and level 3B of 7017±131 BP (correction of 7868 BP). These dates are roughly consistant with cultural features.[6] Stages 2 and 3 were ca. contemporaneous with Peiligang culture, while stage 1 resembled Pengtoushan culture in Hunan. We selected 9 samples of three types from 8 artifact units of three cultural stages, respectively. These samples were chosen from T104, T103 and T9 (Table 1).


Cultural stage







Red oxidized soil in house

Orange-brick red, fine sandy clay, porous, with traces of leaves, stems and rice hull




Soil inside pottery

Taupe clayey sand-fine clay, hard, kettle-like red oxidized soil




Filling soil inside pottery

Fine crystalline clayey sand, with grains of hard soil




Gray pit soil

Dark gray ash level, with bits of charcoal and fruit shell




Gray pit soil

Fine crystalline sandy clay




Soil people walking on

Fine crystalline clayey sand, with grains of hard soil and small bone bits




Soil inside kettle in level

Mix of dark gray ash and fine crystalline sandy clay, with bits of charcoal and kernel, with ¼ grain of carbonized peanut(?)




Gray pit soil

Fine black sandy clay, with many bits of charcoal




Gray pit soil

Fine dark grey sand [block of black ash and fine crystalline clayey sand mix

Table 1 Sampling position in cultural sediments and lithological description of samples

Note: Jh1, Jh2, Jh6 and Jh7 are from the same stratum, despite being successively younger from samples Jh1 to Jh9.

II. Carbonized rice finds and their morphologyI

We found many rice phytoliths in 9 samples. Their morphology (fan-shape and glume kernel silica) indicate Jiahu rice was mainly cultivated japonica or keng.[12] According to phytolith and rice hull research, we can ask ourselves: “Is there carbonized rice in this site?”

Carefully observing the samples analysed, we found rice hull traces in red oxidized soil of Jh9. For verification, we took 9 samples of 1 kg, put them into 1 liter beakers, filled with distilled water and some NaHCO3 (muddy liquid pH<8 control), stirred, settled 36-48 hours, and screened with #30-sieve. We also screened carbonized rice from gray pits Jh2, Jh3 and Jh6 (Jh6 in particular), and about 200 fragmented ancient rice grains (Fig. 1A, B, C) and 50 relatively complete grains.

                                                                          click to enlarge

Careful observation of 43 relatively complete grains showed 1-2 obvious ridges (vascular bundle) on the surface, with mean L/W ratio=2.38; range (1.88-3.53). Most are cultivated, except one (Fig.1-D) whose L/W coincided with wild rice. 32 grains were japonica or almost (L/W=1.88-2.48) or 74.4%; 10 grains were indica or almost (L/W=2.50-3.00) or 23.3%, basically coinciding with phytolith analysis.[12]

A: Carbonized rice of Jh2; B: Carbonized rice of Jh3; C: Carbonized rice of Jh6

D: Carbonized wild rice of Jh6 (?); Enlarged photograph of carbonized rice (Jh6);

F: Modern japonica, two grains (central); Carbonized rice of Jh6 (left); Modern indica (right).

Jiahu ancient rice was obviously smaller than modern rice, and range within the rice population not so large (variation coefficient of 43 grains in the three cultural stages of Jh2, Jh3 and Jh6 is 13.13%, and that of samples within the same cultural stage is <10%). It seems Jiahu ancient rice was more primitive.

On the surface of some grains are fissures and burnmarks, but no rice with hull (inner and outer shell) has been found. Some grain surfaces have fallen hull marks (Fig.1-E). SEM observation showed some stripes (Fig.2-A, C) or net-shaped pit traces likely left by the phytolith from the fallen glume cell of siliconized rice (Fig. 2-D).

                                                                            click to rnlarge

                                   Fig.2. Photographs of carbonized rice in Jh6 by SEM observation

                                                           (A:×100; B:×1000; C:×300; D:×500)


IV. Discussion

Neolithic rice remains are important in the study of origin. Presently, there are >100 Neolithic rice sites in China. 80% are of early origin, plus Hemudu of Zhejiang (7 ka BP),[7] Luojiajiao (7 ka BP) and Pengtoushan of Hunan (7.5-9 ka BP)[9-11], and all in the Yangtze Valley.

Uuntil now, Jiahu was the earliest rice site in the Yellow-Huai River plain, and the earliest carbonized rice in China (we found some rice hull traces in Pengtoushan of the same period or a little earlier). Jiahu is ca. 1000 years earlier than Hemudu, undoubtedly of great importance for the study of rice origin in China and abroad. Moreover, it is on the Yellow-Huai Rivers mainly centred on dry farming. It has also great importance for the study of the origin of early cultivation and agriculture in China. For cultivated rice origin the “Assam-Yunnan,[4,13] South China[1], lower Yangtze”[2, 3], etc.; hypotheses are all inadequate. In our opinion, investigating rice or other crop origin should fully consider environmental change, cultural ecology and agricultural origin. Meanwhile, we should also scrutinize archaeological data, for they are the strongest evidence. Although archaeological finds have good possibilities, they are restricted by preservation and research progress, but remain the major tool to identify early rice remains.

Phytolith and sporopollen analysis show the Huai River had a warm rainy north subtropical climate fully meeting water, warmth and sunshine needed for rice [Chen Baozhang & Zhang Juzhong: Neolithic Sites in Jiahu of Henan Province (8,000 years BP) and Ancient Cultural Ecology]. The Hui, Sha and Beiru Rivers joining near Jiahu help make cultural levels with many aquatic and heliophyte silica and sporopollen, inferring many marshes and lakes provided a particularly favorable rice enviroment. Perennial common wild rice (Oryza rufipogon Griff.), now mainly south of 28°N, had spread from north of Huai River (33°N) during Jiahu occupation. From an ecological perspective, the natural envionment was very beneficial to rice culture.

Like other grains, rice domestication hoped to solve the problem of food storage between harvests. Aquatic and land plant resources in Yellow-Huai Rivers were much less than those in South China and Yangtze River 8,800-7,800 years ago, where inhabitants obtained enough food year round. While Yellow-Hui River climate resembled the north warm rainy subtropics, it was cold and dry in winter; i.e., inadequate winter food. As people could not live on gathering, fishing and hunting due to preservation problems, they cultivated and reproduced wild rice intentionally as soon as they found it edible and preservable.

The above analysis suggests Huai River with its ancient marginal climate was a major component in the origin of Chinese rice culture. As China is vast with diverse natural environments, its rice origin should certainly be multi- and polycentric, just as prehistoric culture was polycentric. Whether using cultural ecology or archaeology, the Huai River with its obvious transition, must be one rice origin center.

In sum, the origin of Chinese rice is a significant and complex issue related to many disciplines like archaeology, biology, palaeoclimatology, palaeoenvionmental study, anthropology, ethnology and historical geography, etc. Thus, it needs close multidisciplinary cooperation and more archaeological breakthroughs.



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