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Sites of Hongshan Culture: The Niuheliang Archaeological Site, the Hongshanhou Archaeological Site, and Weijiawopu Archaeological Site

Date of Submission: 29/01/2013
Criteria: (i)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Chaoyang City, Liaoning Province; Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China
Ref.: 5804
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Description

The Niuheliang Archaeological Site: N 41°16′15″ , E 119°27′9″

The Hongshanhou Archaeological Site: N 42° 19′ 19″ , E 118° 59 ′29″

The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site: N 42 °08′ 24.6″ , E 118° 57′ 41.3″

The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, which could date back to 6,000 – 5,000 years ago, are important representative sites of the Hongshan culture. The Niuheliang Archaeological Site dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago was a burial and sacrificial center in the late Hongshan period. Compared with other late Hongshan sites so far known, it boasts the greatest scale, the best preservation, the richest varieties of remains, and the largest number of unearthed cultural relics. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, dating back to 6,000-5,500 years ago, were both residential settlements. While the Weijiawopu is a site with the largest number of discovered residential structures, the Hongshanhou Site is the place after which the Hongshan culture was named. In spite of different functions and types of the three sites, they have internal and reciprocal relationships, with which people’s production, lifestyle, burial and sacrificial activities of the Hongshan  culture period  are  explicitly  represented.  These  characteristics  of  the  Hongshan  culture  also  provide  the  basis  for  the exploration of the Chinese civilization.

 I The Niuheliang Archaeological Site

The Niuheliang Archaeological site is located at the border of Lingyuan City, Jianping County, and Harqin Left Wing Mongol Autonomous County under the jurisdiction of Chaoyang City, Liaoning Province. As an area with foothills located between the Mongolian Plateau and the offshore zone of the North China Plain, the site is naturally composed of a number of mountain valleys with a northeast-southwest direction, ridges between the valleys, and a natural setting formed by the Nuluerhu Mountains, an extension of the Great Khingan Range. The altitude of Niuheliang ranges between 550 meters and 680 meters, and the archaeological spots are mainly distributed on the hilltop of the mountain ridges.  In  1981,  Liaoning  Province  started  the  second  cultural  relics  survey,  and  16 Archaeological spots were discovered and numbered. Between 1983 and 2003, the Liaoning Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology undertook a series of large excavations at Spots No. 2, 3, 5, and 16, and the sites of Hongshan culture within Niuheliang Archaeological Site were divided into the following six categories: the Goddess Temple, the platform, the stone mound, the sacrificial altar, the building foundation, and the cellar. Within an area of 50 square kilometers at Niuheliang Site, no residential settlements have been discovered so far, which indicates that the sacrificial center had been separated from the residential zones then, and the site served as a separate place particularly   reserved   for   constructions   of   temples,   graves   and   cemeteries.   In   this   sense,   the   Niuheliang Archaeological Site is an outstanding example of “holy sacrificial land” of the early period of human civilization so far discovered in Northeast Asia, and boasts the largest scale, the highest rank, and the most prominent expression of beliefs.

The Goddess Temple comprises the temple ruins and its northern platform, surrounded by several sacrificial pits. The temple ruins are semi-subterranean earth-wood structures, composed of a set of interconnected chambers and a single chamber in the south. It measures 25 meters long from north to south, 2 to 9 meters wide from east to west, and covers an area of 75 square meters. Parts of six individual clay figures were unearthed during preliminary excavations, including one life-size statue of human head. All the statues are exquisitely made with female features, being regarded as statues of female ancestors who were worshiped. In addition, animal-shaped sculptures and sacrificial potteries were unearthed at the Goddess Temple. In general, the Goddess Temple reflects an embryonic form of the ancestral temple, and it is hitherto one of the earliest sacrificial temples discovered in the whole region of Northeast Asia.

There are 14 stone mounds ever discovered on the hilltops within Niuheliang Site. Each hill may have a single grave, double graves, or multiple graves. Given the scale, structural form, type and quantity of burial objects, the graves fall into four categories. First, a large grave is located at the center, dominating the other graves. This central grave, spaciously constructed, is deeply anchored into its rock foundation. A stone coffin, whose inner wall is neatly constructed, contains a variety of jade articles without other burial objects such as potteries and stone objects. The second-level graves are large-scale stone coffins, deeply anchored in rock foundation. Some coffins have steps at one side of the grave wall. The coffin is spacious and neatly constructed, with jade articles buried inside only. The third- level graves are constituted by regular stone coffins, constructed with slates or stone blocks, along with a few jade articles buried inside. Lastly, the small-scale stone graves have no burial artifacts inside. In this way, the Niuheliang Archeological Site is a large cluster of prehistoric burial sites, featuring a clear internal hierarchical order and system. Jade artifacts were made in shapes of dragon, phoenix, tortoise, and human beings, and most graves had only jade artifacts inside, which indicates a distinctive prehistoric convention - “buried exclusively with jade articles” and marks the first heyday in development of jade culture during the prehistoric period of China. The emergence of the central grave manifests social differentiation featuring “the supreme power of one person” in the late period of Hongshan culture, and fully reflects the privileged status of the owner of the central grave. In both scale and magnificence, the central grave is equivalent of emperors’ mausoleums of the following periods.

Altars are located next to the stone mounds. Until now, two altars have been discovered, namely, a round altar at Spot No. 2 and a square altar at Spot No. 5. The former is symbolically significant in terms of its plan arrangement, composition, and construction materials. To be specific, it has a nearly circular plan, comprising a three-layered Altar Border and a set of piled stones at its center. The Altar Border is constructed with standing stones arranged in order, which form three concentric circles. Gradually higher from outside to inside, they establish the foundation and make the outline of the altar. Besides, rows of canister-shaped potteries are placed right next to the standing stones. In the center of the inner circle of the altar, there are piled stones. In addition to this unique formation, the piled stones are distinctive  for  they  are smaller  than  those  of other  stone  mounds  and  they  are  of complex  varieties  of rocks. Resembling the sacrificial altars in later times that are used to worship Heaven and Earth, the architectural form of altars at Niuheliang is widely believed to be a significant exemplar of embryonic altars in China and even Northeast Asia.

 II The Hongshanhou Archaeological Site

The Hongshan Mountain is located on the bank of the Yingjin River, northeast of Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The mountain covers an area of 10 square kilometers; and it comprises 9 peaks, among which the main peak is 746 meters above sea level. The Hongshanhou settlement site lies on the southeast slope of the secondary peak, and covers an area of roughly 20,000 square meters. The site was firstly excavated by Japanese in 1935, during which semi-subterranean house ruins and ash pits were discovered, with a large number of cultural relics including potteries, stone artifacts, and bone-made artifacts. The excavation of the Hongshanhou Site for the first time revealed the state of prehistoric human production and lifestyle in the West Liao River Basin 6,000 – 5,500 years ago. Furthermore, the Hongshan culture is named after the Hongshanhou Archaeological Site, and it laid one of the foundations for the Chinese civilization, revealed by series of major archaeological discoveries in later times.

III The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site

The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site is located south of Hongshan District, Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 20 kilometers away from downtown Chifeng City. The site is located on a relatively flat platform, and covers an area of 93,000 square meters in total. In May 2008, based on pottery samples collected on surface of the site, archaeologists confirmed that the site used to be a large settlement cluster during the Hongshan culture period. Between 2009 and 2011, a joint archaeology  team consisting of the Inner Mongolia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Frontier Archaeology Center of Jilin University officially carried out archaeological  excavations  at  this  site,  and  discovered  103  semi-subterranean  house  remains,  201  cellars  and sacrificial pits, as well as well-preserved trenches. Dating back to 6,000 – 5,500 years ago, the Weijiawopu site is a large-scale settlement cluster that is best preserved and contains the richest varieties and the largest number of unearthed cultural relics, including residential ruins, cellars, sacrificial pits, and trenches.

The discovery and excavations of the Weijiawopu site have supplied rich materials for the study of settlement forms of the Hongshan culture period. The materials are also academically invaluable for the research of the population, society, lifestyle, and human-nature relation during the period. The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site is a relatively high-level residential ensemble with a large size and a great number of well-arranged residential houses. Being settled down, inhabitants of the Hongshan culture developed an advanced agriculture, revealed by the large number of tools for the production. Foods were also provided by hunting, gathering, and fishing. Family became the primarily social unit. In addition, handicraft became increasingly professionalized. In particular, pottery-making was highly developed. Painted pottery characteristic of the Central Plains of China was introduced and widely used. Openness and fusion were the major factor that stimulated the rapid development of Hongshan culture.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Centered at the Goddess Temple, surrounded by altars and stone mounds, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site is a magnificent prehistoric burial and ceremonial area, separated from residential settlements. Dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago, it was a sanctuary where ancestors of the Hongshan people were buried and sacrifices were offered to ancestors, Heaven and Earth. As a reflection of a primitive state combined both theocratic and royal powers, the Niuheliang Site bears a witness to the origin of the civilization of Northeast China and even Northeast Asia. The abundant physical remains and cultural information contained in the site are of outstanding value for the study of prehistory, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, and aesthetics.

The Hongshanhou Site, where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived 6,000-5,500 years ago, nestles in the Hongshan Mountain, where prehistoric villages and natural landscapes are well integrated. It boasts rich cultural connotation and bears two different cultural elements of the Neolithic Age from the Central Plains and north China, thus becoming the origin after which the Hongshan culture was named and occupying an important status in Chinese archaeological history.

The Weijiawopu Site is a large-scale settlement ensemble distributed around the Hongshan Mountain. The semi- subterranean houses were constructed with standing wood columns. This kind of structure was being employed for a great period of time in Northeast China because of a neat advantage - warm in winter and cool in summer. Moreover, the well-ordered and trenched houses represent a sophisticate system of social organization and management. The site featured a diversified economic structure, dominated by farming which was complemented by fishing, hunting, and gathering. For farming, the most primary unit for grain production is the family; for hunting, however, families had to maintain close cooperation between each other.

The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites represent the settlements of Hongshan culture with different functions and scales. They jointly reveal prehistoric production, lifestyle, burying, and sacrifices in the West Liao River Basin 6000-5000 years back. The Hongshan people, capable of establishing harmonious relationship with nature, organizing and managing the society, and dealing with social relations inside and outside the community, made splendid material and cultural accomplishments. Moreover, compared with previous societies, the Hongshan culture witnessed remarkable social transformations. For example, its population significantly increased; a social class in charge of sacrificial activities appeared; the techniques of architecture and jade-making developed then reached the heyday in China 6,000-5,000 years ago. Furthermore, the Hongshan inhabitants created an integral and unique sacrificial system, involving ancestor worship, dragon-prioritized animal worship, and Heaven and Earth worship, all of which were practiced with jade artifacts that served as media between human and divine worlds. The material and cultural accomplishments made by Hongshan people were significantly contributory to the formation of the Chinese civilization, which is demonstrated by the dragon-centered worship still popular today. Simply put, the Niuheliang, Hongshanhou, and Weijiawopu sites have provided important messages for our understanding of a prehistory 5,000 years ago. They are essential for the exploration of the origin of the Chinese civilization, and are constitutive of an irreplaceable part of ancient East Asian civilization.

Criterion (i): The overall plan and the layout features of Niuheliang Site, the construction of various sacrificial structures including the Goddness Temple, the stone mound and the altar, the carving and adoption of dragon, phoenix and human-shaped jade artifacts fully represent the creative genius of primitive ancestors 5,500-5000 years ago, and provide an important evidence of the civilized society. Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites, where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived 6,000-5,000 years ago, also represent people’s spirits and wisdom through the building and design of villages and houses.

Criterion (iii): Dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site bears a unique testimony to the burial and sacrificial traditions in West Liao River Basin. It is an outstanding representative of the cultural remains related to the early Chinese civilization; it bears witness to the unique spiritual life of Hongshan people and to the formation of the primitive state. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, as places where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived, bear an evident testimony to the cultural traditions in lifestyle, types  of  production,  familial  and  social  patterns,  aesthetic  conventions,  as  well  as  external  relations. The two settlement sites, complementary to the Niuheliang Site, bear an exceptional testimony to a disappeared prehistoric civilization in West Liao River

Criterion (iv): The Niuheliang Archaeological Site was a grand-scale sacrificial center during late Hongshan culture period. Various types of funerary and sacrificial structures, such as the Goddess Temple, stone mounds, and altars, were built on the top of mountain ridges or hills, whereby the cultural and natural landscapes were brilliantly integrated. With the Goddess Temple and its platform as the center, the sacrificial structures in various types distributed at 16 spots formed a cluster of sacrificial sites of the highest rank and became an outstanding example of sacrificial and burial sites in the early stage of human civilization in East Asian cultural zone. In addition, the holistic plan and layout of the Niuheliang site, the architectural and decorative patterns of the Goddess Temple, and the mason technique of altars and graves are all outstanding examples that illustrate the advancement of a prehistoric technology in this region. The Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites are outstanding examples of village architecture in prehistoric East Asia with the orderly arranged semi-subterranean houses, the well preserved remains of trenches and cellars.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity

Located  among  pinewoods,  the  Niuheliang  Site  enjoys  a  favorable  natural  environment  that  has  preserved underground relics in complete forms and helped maintain some exposed relics above ground. Few of the cultural relics were disturbed, so that the authenticity of the archaeological site could be maintained. Through a series of archaeological excavations, scholars have acquired information of the site’s time, scale, layout, heritage types and features of the ruins, as well as the preservation condition of the site. A great amount of jade artifacts, potteries, and stone articles were unearthed accordingly. Moreover, most of the archaeological spots are protected by back-filling; and spots No.1 and No.2 are covered with a protective structure, by which the landscape of the site is authentically maintained.  In addition, the unearthed cultural relics and their relevant documents are all under strict custody, whereby the authenticity of the relics is ensured. Except for the modern villages in the low areas alongside the river, there is no high construction or other modern facilities in this area, which helps maintain the authentic archaeological environment and its general arrangement, and manifests the harmonious co-existence of natural landscape and human activities. The Niuheliang Site also provides authentic sources for the understanding of prehistoric sacrificial and burial traditions.

Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites have maintained their authenticity to a large extent. Archaeological excavations at these sites resulted in discoveries of residential ruins, cellar caves, sacrificial pits, trenches, and a large amount of preserved artifacts. Based on a carbon-fourteen dating analysis of the relics, as well as scientific examinations on the unearthed animal bones and plant remains, the sites could be dated back to 6,000-55,00 years ago. The complete set of archival records, including photos, diagrams, textual and film documents, provides a convincingly authentic source for the understanding of prehistoric life.

Integrity

The Niuheliang Site, including the altars, the Goddess Temple, and stone mound, is well organized in terms of layout and arrangement. Within this arrangement, the integrity of the heritage site’s elements, including the grand-scale sacrificial center and the burial sites, is well maintained and explicitly manifested. Cultural accumulations are purely preserved in geological layers thanks to very few adverse effects in later periods. Thus, the integrity of the cultural accumulations is maintained. Also, the wholeness of the site’s schematic patterns is largely preserved, thanks to the completely preserved underground relics and many restorable on-ground relics components. Moreover, the integrity of the Niuheliang Site is also constituted by the clear linkage between unearthed artifacts in their original forms, and by the thorough and systematic relevant sources. Because very few constructions were carried out in later periods in this area, the geographical landscape and the visible network between the spots are all completely conserved. Accordingly, the convention of ancestral worship, as well as the sacrifice to the heaven and earth, has been inherited and advanced to be a substantial element of the Chinese cultural tradition.

The Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites are integrally maintained, along with a set of well-preserved residential ruins, caller caves, sacrificial pits, and trenches. Village arrangement is clearly visible, and tools are placed on the surface of the residential houses, showing the scenes of the Hongshan people’s daily life thousands of years ago. Additionally, the houses’ orderly organization in rows and the semi-subterranean construction style have influences upon modern village arrangement and house construction in northeast China.

Comparison with other similar properties

I. Comparison between the Niuheliang Archaeological Site and the Yaoshan Cemetery of Liangzhu Culture

In terms of similarity, the Yaoshan Hill Cemetery and the stone mounds at Niuheliang Site both buried the dead with special status and had many jade articles; also, they both had sacrificial functions. However, the two sites were different in the design of the graves, and in types, forms, decorations, and use of funerary jade articles, which manifested the differences of cultural traditions between the north and the south.

II. Comparison between the Niuheliang Archaeological Site and the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites

The Niuheliang site is the relatively early and largest stone remains in Northeast China and Northeast Asia. In the aspects of functions, it acted as a place for burial and sacrificial practices, similar to the Stonehenge. Also, the three- tier concentric stone mound at Niuheliang’s spot No.2 may resemble the Stonehenge as a site for astronomical observation, which is still being explored. Overall, both the Niuheliang Site and the Stonehenge, as outstanding examples of prehistoric sanctuaries in the East and the West, bear remarkable testimonies to the development and evolution of early human civilizations.

III. Comparison between the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites and the Hemudu Archaeological site

During the prehistoric ages, structural patterns and village arrangements vary in different places, depending on natural, ecological, and economic contexts. In comparison, while both the Hemudu Site and the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites are representatives of stable settlements, they vary in architectural patterns and cultural relics due to the contrasting natural settings and production types between the south and the north.

IV. Comparative Analysis between the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites and Choirokoitia

The village of Choirokoitia was suddenly abandoned for reasons unknown in around the middle of 6th century BC. It is believed that the island remained uninhabited for about 1, 500 years. The site is known as one of the most important and best preserved prehistoric sites of the eastern Mediterranean. Also, it provides scientific data of great importance relating to the spread of civilization from Asia to the Mediterranean world.

The Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites bear a unique testimony to a prehistoric civilization in western Liao River basins in northeast China in terms of their subterranean buildings, orderly village layout, the dry agriculture (mainly growing millet), and the economic form combined fishing, hunting and gathering.