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Chinese Neolithic earthenwares


YANGSHAO CULTURE | China | Storage jar (kuan) Neolithic period, Majiayao phase (3500 3000 BCE) Swelling earthenware shape, narrowing to the base, with narrow neck and two lugs set vertically at the maximum diameter, painted with black pigment in a band of large swirls below a band of circular panels enclosing a star motif reserved on a cross hatched ground | 42.2 x 38cm (diam.) | Gift of Wellington and Virginia Yee through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2004

During China’s Neolithic period, which lasted from approximately 10 000 to 2000 BCE, societies evolved from hunter–gatherer subsistence into more sophisticated agricultural communities, cultivating millet and rice and domesticating animals. These communities appeared along the fertile tributaries of the Huang He (Yellow) River in northern and central China, and the Yangtze in the south and east. To date, more than 7000 Neolithic sites have been discovered, and archaeological evidence suggests that the period was characterised by cultural diversity across the regions.

The shift to a more settled lifestyle brought changes in both social organisation and material culture. It is assumed by some archaeologists that early Neolithic communities were matrilineal, becoming patrilineal over time. The archaeological evidence suggests that, during this period, the basic unit of social, political and economic organisation developed from a single village before spreading to groups of villages: status-based differentiation between villages emerged, as did specialist crafts and technologies such as pottery production.  

Neolithic pottery was fired at low temperatures in kilns dug into the ground. Pottery finds dating from around 4000 BCE indicate more than 30 distinct Neolithic cultures, each with its own unique traditions. There is evidence of cultural and economic exchange between them but the extent of this is not yet fully understood.