Research Resources


Bryan C. Gordon, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec

This project is funded by the National Geographic Society under Scientific Research Grant 6333-98. It is managed by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, with website courtesy of Sociology & Anthropology Department, Carleton University: This 1998-9 field report is under constant revision.

Author’s address 100 Laurier St.
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Ancient rice is being investigated in archaeological sites in China. Domesticated rice is suggested in pre-Neolithic samples from caves in Jiangxi Province and suspected in paddy sites in northwest Hunan Province. The oldest paddy sites, dating 11,290 years ago, underlay 8,000 year old Neolithic levels in Li County beside Dongting Lake and just south of the Three Gorges on the middle Yangtze River. Domesticated rice probably evolved from annual forms of wild rice during the Epi-Palaeolithic (pre-Neolithic) in this area of dense agriculture, but culture, environment and rice speciation remain controversial. Carefully selected samples from levels of the Bashidang and Shiligang sites will be studied. Rice AMS and C14 dating, pollen and phytolith analysis, and insect identification may clarify dating, climate and speciation.



Rice is the world's most important human food cereal, providing four-fifth of calories for more than two billion people, and about one-third of the diet for another half billion. It is the only one of the major food crops that is almost exclusively a human food. It has more calories/unit than any other cereal, providing the greatest calorie intake (20%) and 13% of the protein for the peoples of the world. Per capita consumption varies from 186 kg/year in Burma to 4 kg in USA (IRRI 1988). One hectare supports 5.63 people, compared to 3.67 for wheat (Chang 1985:426, 1988). Worldwide, 124 million hectares are devoted to rice. Rice is grown in 111 countries, mainly the Asian countries where the densest, fastest growing populations consume most of it. In the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s, world rice output increased 40%, 30% & >3.1%, yet population reached 5 billion in those decades. More acreage is given to corn but it feeds people more indirectly through its use primarily as an animal feed.

China is the world’s largest rice producer and consumer. Rice accounts for a third of planted grain crops and half of grain production (Kang 1989). Rice hectarage was 31.7 million in 1986, more than double that since the People’s Republic was created in 1949, while output was 170 million tons, 3.5 times that of 1949. Average yield per hectare surpassed 10,000 lbs., 2.8 times that of 1949. From 1952 to 1986, irrigation grew from a fifth to almost half of total cultivated area, with almost all ricefields irrigated. From 1949-85, double rice cropping began with high population increase, expanding from the 28th-33rd parallels and almost tripling hectarage to 9.7 million. Rice growth from sea level to 2,600 m helped it diversify from its main area of domestication along the middle Yangtze River.

China is an old agricultural country. After the new China was formed in 1949, feudal land ownership was abolished and replaced by agrarian reform. Over the past half century, agricultural production increased in a socialist system of collective ownership, with emphasis on rice production through selective breeding, double cropping along the Yangtze, increased farm machinery, fertilizers and pesticides (He 1980). Nowadays, Chinese rice cultivation is divided into three main areas according to rice type: japonica north of the Yellow River; mixed japonica & indica along the Huai and Yangtze Rivers; and indica along the Pearl and West Rivers (Shen 1980:10). The Huai and Yangtze Rivers in the central rice belt include eight provinces and municipalities, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, central and south Anhui, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, south Shangxi and Honan. One of the world’s most densely populated regions, it has areas of ideal climate, soils and topography for rice cultivation. The cropping season is mid-March to October (220-240 days), with mean monthly temperature higher than 14°C in April and higher than 17°C in October. Annual rainfall is higher than 1000mm, with relative humidity at 80% in the growing season. Normally double-cropped, a third crop of rape, wheat or oil or manuring plant is now grown. Seasonal temperature fall favours indica in the first and japonica in the second or autumn crop. Hunan province, the "land of rice and fish", has 41 million hectares yielding 25 million tons of rice, or 90% of total food production, making it China’s highest rice producer. On average, rice yield is 6.16 ton/hectare or 399 kg per capita. In 1994, 3.64 million tons of quality hybrid rice was harvested (HARN 1994).

Culture evolved from the Old Stone Age to modern civilization, the latter on the 15-20% of arable land in China. Floods from major rivers laid layer after layer of fertile topsoil that was ideal for rice agriculture supporting the world’s longest continuous civilization. Preserved in dry caves such as Xianrendong (MacNeish & Libby 1995) in Jiangxi Province and deep paddy sites in Hunan Province such as Bashidang (Pei 1998), Pengtoushan, Chengtoushan and Shiligang are not only records of evolving culture, but of the change from wild to domesticated rice. More than any other crop, rice enabled the population of modern China to grow to 1.2 billion.


Rice (Oryza) is unique among cereals in being an aquatic crop which can vary between a perennial or annual according to water conditions. The wild Oryza rufipogon has both perennial and annual types. Perennials have lower seed productivity, lower self-pollination, long anther length and greater height. Annuals tend to have high seed productivity, self-pollination, short anther length and lesser stature. Annuals adapt to more heavily disturbed conditions like pond edges and drought conditions (Oka 1983), making them the likely domestic rice ancestor. Before domestication, annual wild rice probably evolved from the perennial type under water stress which caused density-independent mortality like other Asian grasses (Whyte 1972). As intermediate perennial-annual rice seem to carry some cultivated rice genes from introgression, it gradually became domesticated by responding to cultivation pressure or habitat disturbance (seeding & harvesting) using its rich genetic variation (Morishima 1984:19). As the first impact of human activity was grain collection for food, seeding & harvesting was the first step towards domestication because harvesting was an unconscious selection for non-shattering rice (i.e., rice that cannot seed itself). Later, conscious selection may have become learned. The three co-species of cultivated rice, indica, javanica & japonica, include several ecotypes. Through geographical expansion from its hot humid tropical origins, some ecotypes have become adapted to drier and cooler climates, with breeding for drought and cold resistance through genetic engineering a continuing challenge to agriculturists.

As Sato (1996) suggests the shift from perennial rufipogon to annual japonica occurred in annually disturbed habitats at the wetland edges where water-levels were maintained by monsoon wet-dry seasonal shifts, the area around Dongting Lake on the middle Yangtze River is ideal. Moreover, he (1997) notes the presence there of tropical not temperate japonica. Differences of opinion surround Pengtoushan rice, with Pei (1989) maintaining it was cultivated, Ahn (1993) saying it was not, and Maloney (1994) having doubts. Not so, however, with Bashidang rice, which Zhang & Pei (1996), using rice grain measurements, believe has traits of indica, japonica & rufipogon, and call it "Bashidang early rice". The finding of 15,000 husked and whole grains of rice in 100 sq. m of Bashidang river mud and their similarity to Pengtoushan rice suggest both were cultivated. Yet their size, length:width ratio and shared traits suggest an intermediate rice. Until a precise trait like a specific rachis gene is found, it is unproven whether it was fully domesticated. Wild rice may have been cultivated. Zhao’s (1997:1998) phytolith interpretation at Diaotonghuan suggests wild rice was harvested, followed by domesticated rice after 6,300 years ago.

As annuals demonstrate less genetic variability than perennials, they have less flexibility to evolve into new forms. Harvesting as such does not "domesticate" wild rice because enough seed always escapes to maintain the wild form (Harlan 1992:25). Domestication begins when rice is planted and forms a sown generation. At this point mutations for non-shattering, synchronous ripening, dormancy loss and large seeds are selected for by growers. Cultivation enhances rapid change to sativa through the production of uncast seeds, rapid uniform germination and seedling vigour, fixed growth and high seed productivity (Morishima et al. 1992:135-143). Nonetheless, domesticated sativa is limited in its types because it only reproduces through human manipulation.

Intentional selection of cereals from wild species is unnecessary. Hillman & Davies' (1990) theory of unconscious selection for wild cereals in the Middle East may apply to China. Harvesting wild rice by uprooting or cutting stalks with sickles before seed maturation unconsciously selects for domestic mutants. Annual sowing of such mutants in different areas isolates it, allowing its domestication. Domestic rice may thus have evolved in 20 to 200 years, a period invisible in the archaeological record. Over time, the major difference between wild and domesticated rice is several genes governing growth of the rachis or seed dispersal organ. Rather than digging for physical remains, finding these genes in ancient rice may ultimately lead to proof of domestication.

Chinese wild japonica carries specific isozyme alleles and neucleo- and cyto-types at high frequency (Cai et al.1996; Sun et al.1996). Carrying this further, DNA analyst Sato (1997) showed indica & japonica differentiated before domestication. As the main domesticated rice in China is japonica, we are looking for circumstances surrounding its transition from wild rufipogon. This transition can be estimated with multivariate analysis of wild vs. domesticated rice phytoliths pioneered by Zhao (1998), but important environmental data may be found using pollen and insects from the same samples. Currently, the study area environment is poorly known in the 15,000-8,000 year old rice domestication period of the Epi-Palaeolithic.


There are many theories in the literature regarding the rise of agriculture throughout the world, with strongest emphasis on emmer barley and wheat in the Near East. Most theories involve climatic change favouring the right conditions for cultivation, but the wrong conditions for the survival of Ice Age animals relied on by previous hunter-gatherers. Virtually all theorists confine themselves to a dramatic change from hunting-gathering to agriculture occurring over a few centuries or perhaps a millenium. While these approaches are dramatic, they are unrealistic because they trap the same theorists in their own jargon and pigeon-holing. Once confined, they cannot break out of their own rhetoric and in turn trap themselves. Many contemporary farmers still hunt, while some of the few extant hunter-gatherers cultivate and harvest crops. This situation likely prevailed throughout history, and it is likely that late prehistoric hunter-gatherers cultivated wild plants for centuries before being caught up in mainstream agriculture, if they got caught at all. Some remain hunters. But of those who made the change to plant domestication, the transition was so slow it would be imperceptible in the archaeological record. As hunting-gathering yields were probably higher than the first harvests, especially in protein, the transition to cultivation was neither smooth nor rapid. But as the number of kilocalories per unit of cultivated area soon surpasses that from hunting-gathering, it is likely that the transition was slow because population growth of humans and plants was correspondingly slow. At the same time, hunting yields fell with increased human population and decreased prey population from overhunting or natural circumstances. As plant yields slowly grew with cultivation, human numbers grew, with slow but continuous augmentation of plants and humans for many years. So we are dealing in centuries, if not millennia, in our search for the change from Chinese hunter-gatherers to those who first domesticated rice.

Some theorists also impose determinism other than environmental by stating population growth exceeded the land’s carrying capacity and demanded crop cultivation to provide more food. Or that heavy cultivation allowed higher population; i.e., a chicken or egg theory. Neither appears workable or provable. As change was likely incremental, a slow transition dulls this theory but prevents us from neat pigeon-holing or stages so admired by archaeologists. Theorists also suggest that the rise of agriculture throughout the world followed relatively similar stages in somewhat similar environments, such as near seacoasts.

The earliest historical reference to rice occur in China about 5,000 years ago, but it is obvious that rice domestication preceded this date by thousands of years. As wild rice use came before its domestication, yet does not flourish in a cold climate, it is unlikely that the climate was too cold 10,000 years ago. Pei (1998) suggests rice was cultivated at Pengtoushan 8,000-9,000 years ago, based on heavy quantities of rice husks and straw used in pottery temper and the presence of houses, pits and burials. This is confirmed at nearby Bashidang, where 10,000 grains are identified as early domesticated rice on phytoliths and grain size (Zhang & Pei 1997). Xianrendong rice is approximately contemporaneous (MacNeish et. al 1998), as is Pengtoushan rice. As the Epi-Palaeolithic or bottom level at Pengtoushan dated 18,000 years ago on two AMS samples (Gordon 1997), the bottom level at Bashidang should date similarly. Only one rice phytolith was found in the dated samples. At this time at Xianrendong, wild rice phytoliths are found.

As rice insects are as old as rice itself, another potential indication of the change from wild to domestic rice varieties may be the remains of insects specializing on domesticated rice but unable to overcome the natural resistance of wild rice. As almost two-thirds of the world’s 146 million rice hectares is planted with high-yielding types, a reduced genetic variability due to monocultural planting has lead to heavy insect outbreaks. For example, several wild Oryza species highly resist leafhoppers and planthoppers, but some cultivated rices are less resistant. Korean and Japanese records of rice insects date back 2,000 years. In Japan, insect outbreaks occurred in 701 A.D., locust eruptions in Ise District in 875 A.D. and a catastrophic brown planthopper outbreak in 1733 A.D. affected 2.6 million people and starved 12,000 to death (Okutani 1980). Insect outbreaks have become more frequent, plus change in outbreak type due to crop intensification (Loevinsohn 1985). Of over 800 rice insect species, 20 specialize on irrigated rice and are very important in tropical Asia (Grist & Lever 1969). Together, they infest all parts of the rice plant at all growth stages. Asian losses to insects are estimated at one third of the crop (Cramer 1967). The most common rice insects in China are planthoppers, leafhoppers and stemborers. For prehistoric rice insect identification one must identify what insects prefer ancient domesticated rice and look for them in archaeological soil samples. If wild rice resist these insects it is likely that the rice was domesticated.

If recent radiocarbon dates are accurate, the growth of rice and millet agriculture in China and einkorn, emmer wheat and barley agriculture in the Levant occurred about the same time. In China, hunting of wild animals, collecting of nuts, berries and wild grains may have changed in the cold, dry late Pleistocene. Wild pregenitors of millet and rice appear early in the archaeological record. Husks of wild rufipogon are in Yuchan Cave (Jade Toad; Yuan 1996) on the Nanling frontier of south Hunan. Phytoliths of wild rice exist in Xianrendong (Immortal Cave: Zhao in the Qinling Hills of NE Jiangxi province. Neither mountain site shows cultural connections to the Li County sites of Bashidang, Pengtoushan or Shiligang.

Li County supported a denser population than the mountain sites of Xianrendong or Yuchan Cave because of its highly productive plains, lakes and marsh. Ease of communication across the plains enhanced cultural-environmental benefits (Pei 998:885). Rapid, large, complex social growth accompanied the rise of rice cultivation at Bashidang and Pengtoushan.


O. sativa differentiates into indica and japonica subspecies (Kato et al.), what Chinese have called Hsien and Keng for two millennia. They differentiate only as they approach domestication and are separable genetically and by physical and chemical attributes (Morishima et al.1992:171). Late differentiation is important as indica predominates in tropical areas (e.g. SE Asia), while japonica prevails in semi-tropical areas such as S China. A variable shape in rice grains in the 7,000 year-old Hemudu site 120 km south of Shanghai led You (1986) to suggest a mixture of many indica and few japonica types, with japonica increasing to half of the samples 4000-5000 years ago. Last year, geneticist Sato (1998:1) refuted You's suggested mixture by finding japonica differentiation from ancestral wild rice 8,000-12000 years ago. This was on the middle and lower Yangtze River when the climate was warmer and more humid than at present. As japonica is more adaptable than indica to changing climate, most if not all, the earliest Chinese rice was probably japonica. If so, less genetic diversity in japonica (Tang et al.1988) favours standardized analysis in archaeological samples. Surviving indica may have resulted from later japonica-wild rice hybridization (Sato 1998:11).


Two crops of rice in the eight months from spring to autumn and one crop of green vegetables in the winter months are grown in the mid- to northern subtropical monsoon climate of the Liyang plain surrounding Bashidang and Shiligang archaeological sites. Mean annual sunshine is 1770 hours. Precipitation of 1100 to 1300 mm (Pei 1998: 879) is sufficient that extensive river irrigation involving major river diversion is unnecessary.

Climate and environment along the Yangtze in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) differed from the present (Higham & Lu (1998). Geomorphological studies suggest LGM high terraces were formed by river downcutting, with the Xiashu loess horizon accumulating 20,000-13,000 years ago indicating a cold dry climate (Yang 1986). This is also suggested by profiles of 21,000-18,000 year old middle and lower Yangzte pollen. They show mixed deciduous-conferous trees, with oak, pine and fir followed by spruce and elm, drought-resistent herbs and ferns (Xu et al. 1987), with Artemisia and Gramineae as major herbs (Liu 1991). Precipitation was down to 300-600 mm (Wu et al. 1991), 700-1000 mm less now, while mean annual temperature was 4-10 deg. C lower than present (Wang et al. 1995). From 15,000-13,700 years ago, climate became warmer and moister, with oak as the major part of the dramatic tree increase to half of the pollen composition, followed by pine, elm and willow, with 36-39% herbs and some ferns (Xu & Zhu 1984). After 13,700 years ago, the climate returned to cold and dry, with drought resistant herbs suggesting a steppe environment (Xu et al.1987). Sharply increased fir and spruce suggest abrupt climatic deterioration comparable to Younger Dryas (Liu & Chang 1996). The 10,000 year old initial Holocene saw more trees and ferns, with fewer herbs (Gu 1991). While fir significantly declined, other evergreen and broadleafed trees rose, with pollen grains substantially more abundant in early Holocene compared to Pleistocene strata. Climate became warm and moist, possibly a degree lower than present, but like that 8,000 years ago (Liu 1991). Most animals in this period were tropical to semi-tropical, suggesting a slightly warmer and moister climate than now.


Although there is much information regarding the rise of irrigation civilizations in the Near East, the southwest United States and Africa (Downing & Gibson 1974), very little data in English covers Chinese irrigation. A notable exception is a booklet edited by Zhou Kuiyi (1991) with a Forward by Yang Zhenhiai. Yang says the history of irrigation and drainage is traceable over 5,000 years, nearly 3,000 years of which is recorded (Zhou 1991:3). As agriculture was the country’s foundation, Emperor Hanwudi of the West Han Dynasty in 111 B.C. proclaimed that crops never grow well without irrigation. His edict was followed by the construction of complex irrigation systems in the Guangzhong area, which became a model for later emperors in successive dynasties. As social growth followed better irrigation, society changed from slave to feudal in the 5th century B.C. Some canals and reservoirs built then are still in service. Irrigation and canal construction played a role in political struggles, ultimately leading to the unification of the country under the Qin. Before the Tang dynasty, large irrigation works were done by the state as it owned the countryside, but under the Song dynasty more than 90% of the land was owned by individuals, leaving construction of small projects to crews of farmers. Construction smaller than canals, dams, reservours, weirs and aqueducts included bamboo and ceramic siphons (pre-Eastern Han Dynasty); inverted siphon (1100-1600 B.C. Shang Dynasty), water-lifting devices such as the Han Dynasty winch & bucket, cantilevered (Spring & Autumn Period) and 2-person bailing bucket (1,000-2,000 B.C.), the ‘dragon-bone’ conveyor belt powered by people and draft animals (1,700 year-old Qin Dynasty), the tongche or water-wheel driven by animals or water itself (Sui & Tang Dynasties) and a Chin? Dynasty 2 m diameter guache or wooden wheel with bailing boards.

The importance of irrigation to increased crops became administrative and political issues, with states waging war for control of water resources. Laws were made governed irrigation, navigation and flood control, notably the Tang Dynasty’s book Shuibushi rotation of irrigation (found in Dunhuang Caves). For example, the Aishan Canal built in 444 B.C. irrigated a huge area, with ten days needed for each irrigation round, four of which are required for a good harvest. The book Zhouli Qiuguan Yongshi written before the Qin Dynasty forbid "the construction of harmful ditches, canals and pools". Despite massage constructions and laws govering their use, Chinese irrigation offered little theory, quantitative analysis or experiments, and it was not until the Republic was created in 1949 that unprecedented irrigation and drainage construction demanded theory and rules.

Water distribution was managed in the Tang dynasty by individuals, while in the Ming and Qing dynasties it was administered by a group. One of the earliest written Mandarin characters depicts farmland with a canal, while the 2,000 year-old Zhouli document records canal size servicing different areas, portraying ponds, embankments and canals used in paddy rice production (Zhou 1991:4). The earliest historically recorded reservoir was used to irrigate a paddy rice field near Xian. Later, the famous Shaobei Reservoir was built in 613-591 B.C. on the middle Huai River, the Twelve Canals diverting the Zhang River was dug in 422 B.C., the Dujiang Weir was built in 256 B.C., and the Zhengguoqu Canal was dug in 246 B.C., each irrigating an area of 67,000 hectares. Except for the Twelve Canals, all are in service today (Zhou 1991:2).

In Hunan, the Guitang Reservoir was built in its capital of Changsha in 265-316 A.D., its irrigated area 67,000 hectares by the Five Dynasties. Closer to the study area of County, Changde City had several ponds irrigating 36,000 hectares in the Tang Dynasty. Before 1940, Dongting Lake was the biggest lake in China, a flood retarding basin for the Yangtze River north of it, with infeeders of the Xiang, Zi, Yuan and Li (near the sites) Rivers. Over time, large Yangtze silt accumulation and the construction of yuantian or circular paddy field embankments weakened Dongting’s flood retarding effects, with more than half of the lake reclaimed by the Ming Dynasty. Frequent flooding finally lead to laws forbidding new yuantian, but bribed officials allowed it, with devastating consequences. Before the Ming Dynasty, a flood occurred every 83 years; from late Ming to 1911 it was 20 years; and from then to 1950 it was 5 years.

In the study area, hills surround the flat Liyang plain on north, west and south sides, with overall gentle drainage southwest to Dongting Lake. Flatness and abundant rainfall encourage the creation and use of small and large ditches and holding ponds rather than major river diversions which are mainly concerned with flood control. Ponds and streams dot the plain, with abundant water in all seasons used not only for irrigation but also for aquaculture involving fish farms and the growth of lotus and water caltrop. For adequate and lasting farm irrigation, community consensus was based on time-proven methods, as water flow via sluice gates in the larger ditches from high to low ground ensures judicious use. As land flatness has not changed since the earliest rice cultivation, and as 7,000 year old irrigation ditches and foot bridges are still visible in deep sites such as Chengtoushan (pers. observations, 1997), small-scale water control based upon consensus likely operated in the Neolithic.


Soil samples for pollen, phytoliths, insects and AMS were taken from the excavated Bashidang site because it and Pengtoushan are the oldest dated rice paddy sites in Hunan. Samples were also taken from the recently discovered older site of Shiligang as it has a thicker Epi-Palaeolithic level with the potential of having the earliest cultivated rice, plus three thick bottom levels which extend Bashidang’s sequence into the Palaeolithic (Map 1).

When humans domesticate wild plants and animals they improve or enlarge production, but domestication may weaken natural resistance to disease and pests. Such is the case for rice. The fact that wild rice survives in widespread regions of the world is proof of its natural resistance. Some resistance is lost on cultivation and domestication, resulting in intolerance to a larger spectrum of disease and pests. Insects attack rice from the seedling stage to maturity and feed on all parts of the plant - roots, stem, leaves and grain. One such pest are mites, very tiny arachnids (Order Acarina) that leave their remains in the soil at death. Specific mite remains in ancient soils may be a sure sign of rice domestication. Attempts will be made for insect identification, including mites.

Bashidang’s eight 2 m high levels, from top down, are a thick medium-brown historic plow zone level of the Qin, Qing & Warring States Dynasties, a very thick vertically mottled-beige & light brown level of floodwater silt (shelf in Fig. 1), two darker brown less vertically mottled Neolithic levels of Late & Middle Pengtoushan culture with the oldest rice dates, a thin poorly dated transitional light brown Epi-Palaeolithic level with few artifacts, and two thick dark brown Palaeolithic levels. Nine olive-grey very heavy wet clay samples were collected for analysis (Table 1).

Layer Sample No. Sample depth (cm) Type of analysis
1 Dynasties 1 plow zone pollen
2 flood silt 2 50-60 pollen
3 Late Neolithic 3 75-85 rice & pollen
4 Middle Neolithic 4 90-100 rice & pollen
5 Epi-Palaeolthic 5 106-112 rice & pollen
6 Upper Palaeolthic A 6 & 7 120-130 & 130-140 AMS, rice & pollen
7 Upper Palaeolthic B 8 160-170 AMS, rice & pollen
8 Palaeolthic 9 180-190 pollen

Table 1. Provenience of AMS, pollen and rice samples in the Bashidang site

Shiligang’s seven 2 m high levels, from top down, are lighter in colour than those of Bashidang because they are leached and dry. They are a thin historic buff level, two Dynasty levels of light brown Qin & Ming and Shang, two Epi-Palaeolithic levels producing 200 mainly black flint & quartzite flakes and core fragments, and two Upper Palaeolithic levels (Fig. 2). No Neolithic levels occur. The upper Epi-Palaeolithic level A is darker brown of medium thickness, while level B is brown-streaked and very thick. The Epi-Palaeolithic levels at Bashidang and thicker one at Shiligang are important because they may hold the source of the transition from wild to domesticated rice. The underlying Palaeolithic levels are important because they may have pollen for describing the environment leading towards rice domestication. Two-fist size samples (1-2 lbs. each) were collected (Table 2.). Sample from both sites weigh about 40 lbs.

Layer Sample No. Sample depth (cm) Type of analysis
1 Historic 1 plow zone pollen
2 Qin & Ming Dynasties 2   pollen
3 Shang Dynasty 3   pollen
4 Epi-Palaeolithic A 4   pollen
5 Epi-Palaeolithic B 5   pollen & AMS
6 Upper Palaeolithic A 6   pollen
7 Upper Palaeolithic B 7   pollen

Table 2. Provenience of AMS, pollen and rice samples in the Shiligang site

The earliest form of rice cultivation was likely receding flood agriculture around the many "reservoir" lakes of the Yangtze River (van Liere 1985, Glover & Higham 1993). If so, Bashidang on the saucer-shaped Liyang plain, 32-45 m AMSL, between 111° 22’30 & 111° 51’30" E long. and 29° 35’31" & 29° 47’30" N lat. is ideal (Map.1). Bashidang’s 30,000 sq. m area is on easily flooded almost flat (2-3° ) terrain close to streams flowing into the nearby Li River. This tributary flows east to Dongting Lake, a "reservoir" or flood holding basin on the Yangtze River immediately below the Three Gorges. While Anping Pei (pers.comm., 1998) feels Dongting Lake is not ancient, K. C. Chang (1986:71-72) said that after 10,000 years ago, middle Yangtze climate was warmer and wetter, and Dongting Lake was larger than present, while Huang et. al 1965:396-426) also said Dongting Lake was larger during post-glacial marine transgressions. Shiligang is on the same plain 11 km southwest of Bashidang and only 6 km north of Lixian city. The central part of Shiligang has been removed down to 3-4 m by a bulldozer crushing and collecting the red clay for brick-making for the adjacent factory and kiln. A small western strip and a wide northwest portion remain for sample collecting and excavation.

Bashidang is an ancient large stratified rice paddy site below the top of the groundwater table of an existing paddy 16 km northeast of Lixian city in Li County, west Hunan. Its protective ditch enclosed pile, surface and semisubterranean dwellings, over 100 burials, rice husk or straw tempered pottery and polished stone tools, many wild and domesticated animal bones (deer, ox, muntjac, pig and chicken, plus 20 plant genera; Pei 1998). Bashidang’s C14 determination of 7,540-7,100 years ago belongs to the later period of Pengtoushan culture. Ceramics are mainly charcoal, red brown, with a few gray or dark brown having a granulated sugarlike texture. Vessel shape is irregular, with mouths rugged and uneven, and exteriors markedly peeling. Decorative design is through cordmarking using nail and stamp seal grain. Shape is similar with a few tripods. Pots have deep midsections and high collars. Ceramic traits resemble those of Pengtoushan, namely thick walls, cordmarking and conservative design, with many ring bottoms and short necks. Both are primitive, and doubtless Early Neolithic. Also, similar ground axes, house remains, pits and burials occur contemporaneously at Pengtoushan, 20 km WSW and 6 km NE of Lixian (IA, Hunan Province and Lixian Museum 1990).

Pengtoushan’s four occupations with pile, surface and semisubterranean dwellings, tools, hearths and 19 burials are on a 10,000 sq. m, 3-4 m high mound (Pei 1989). Comparable 7500-8000 year old tools occur downstream on the Yangtze River at Fenshanbao (Archaeology Team of Yueyang City and CPAM of Qianlianghu Farm 1994). By 6000-7000 years ago, a warmer moister climate saw the dispersal of rice down to the Yangtze Delta at the famous Hemudu site south of Shanghai. Here, polished stone, bone and wood tools, pottery, burials, pile dwellings, animal bones and considerable domesticated rice occur (Liu & Yao 1993). Like Bashidang and Pengtoushan, Hemudu inhabitants also hunted, gathered and fished.


Only digging sticks and stone hoes were needed for cultivation and stone knives for harvesting. Some Late Pleistocene stone tools resemble those of the Middle period, namely choppers and chopping tools, but Late period artifacts such as the Epi-Palaeolithic also include perforated pebbles, discoid choppers, small black chert and quartzite flakes, pottery (perhaps used for cooking wild rice), bone/antler arrowheads and harpoons (Lu 1998; MacNeish & Libby 1995). Many bone, bamboo and wooden pestles, spades and diggers at Bashidang (Pei 1998) may have been used in rice processing and cultivation (Higham & Lu 1998:870). The author found small black chert and quartzite flakes in the Epi-Palaeolithic level of Shiligang, while discoid chopper pieces are in Palaeolithic levels below. Small flakes also occur at Bashidang and Xianrendong (Pei 1998; MacNeish & Libby 1995). In Europe the Epi-Palaeolithic is the Mesolithic transition from Palaeolithic to Neolithic, but this term is undergoing scrutiny in China at this time, as microlith technology defining the Mesolithic occurs from the Palaeolithic through Neolithic.


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