. 3
( 15)


Archaeology of Eurasia (Spring 1996): 70.
For these comparisons see Louisa Fitzgerald-Huber, “Qijia and Erlitou, the Ques-
tion of Contacts with Distant Cultures,” Early China 20 (1995): 40“52.

The Ch™i-chia people shared cultural traits with other cultures of the
northwestern regions, in Kansu, Ning-hsia, and Ch™ing-hai, which coincided
with or are slightly later than the last phase of Ch™i-chia. The most
important of these cultures are those of No-mu-hung in Ch™ing-hai, and
Huo-shao-kou (which includes the Ssu-pa culture), Hsin-tien, and Ssu-wa
in Kansu. Throughout these areas pastoral activities became gradually
predominant, even though in the mixed agro-pastoral economy, farming
(primarily millet), pig raising, and stock breeding (especially sheep) were
closely integrated. The transition to a more clearly demarcated pastoralism
did not occur everywhere in the same way: western Ch™ing-hai moved
more rapidly in that direction than did Kansu or eastern Ch™ing-hai. Never-
theless the seeds were planted for the development of a relationship between
people and their environment that would lead this region toward a non-
urban, non-centralized way of life antithetical to the social evolution of
China. Debaine-Francfort attributes this movement to a “choice” that led
to an economic rupture with the earlier tradition embodied by the Ch™i-chia
culture. We cannot seek the causes of this rupture in an interruption of con-
tacts with the Chinese core regions, but must look for them in closer
contacts between the Ch™i-chia and the peoples to the north and west of
Nearly contemporary with the Ch™i-chia culture was the Chu-k™ai-kou
culture, a Bronze Age cultural nucleus that developed in the north-central
zone with characteristics distinct from the Central Plain civilization.14 The
importance of the Chu-k™ai-kou culture lies in its role as a possible prede-
cessor of the so-called Northern Zone bronze culture. This culture possibly
existed from the mid-third to the mid-second millennium b.c.; its territory
extended out to northern and central Inner Mongolia, northern Shensi, and
northern Shansi, with the Ordos region at its center.15 The people of Chu-
k™ai-kou were agriculturalists. Their main staple was millet, and they also
raised sheep, pigs, and cattle. Around the end of the third millennium b.c.
certain motifs appeared in their pottery decoration. They included a snake
pattern and the ¬‚ower-shaped edge of the li vessel, which archaeologists
regard as characteristic of the area™s later nomadic peoples.16 Moreover,

Debaine-Francfort, Du N©olithique à l™Age du Bronze en Chine du Nord-Ouest,
pp. 340“41, 347“48.
Kathryn Linduff, “Zhukaigou, Steppe Culture and the Rise of Chinese Civiliza-
tion,” Antiquity 69 (1995): 133“45.
K™ao-ku 1988.3: 301“332; Wu En, “Chu-k™ai-kou wen-hua te fa-hsien chi ch™i yi-
yi,” in Chung-kuo k™ao-ku-hsüeh lun-ts™ung (Pei-ching: K™o-hsüeh, 1995),
pp. 256“66.
T™ien Kuan-chin and Kuo Su-hsin, “O-erh-to-ssu shih ch™ing-t™ung ch™i te yüan-
yüan,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1988.3: 257“75; Li Shui-ch™eng, “Chung-kuo pei-fang
ti-tai te she-wen-ch™i yen-chiu,” Wen-wu 1992.1: 50“57.


oracle bone divination (a ritual activity that came to be closely associated
with Shang culture and statecraft) was already practiced in the area of the
Chu-k™ai-kou culture in the ¬rst half of the second millennium.
The culture™s most signi¬cant bronze objects to have been found thus
far date to its last phase, Chu-k™ai-kou V, which was roughly contem-
porary with the early Shang (c. 1500 b.c.). These reveal an indigenous
metallurgical tradition that included Shang objects, represented by ko
(dagger-axes); Northern Zone items, such as a bronze dagger (the earliest
of the kind); and even an integrally cast knife with terminal ring and
upward-turned point that shows both Shang and northern features. Shang
ritual vessels, such as ting and chüeh, and Shang weapons (ko), appear here
in the Erh-li-t™ou and Erh-li-kang periods; this suggests that around the mid-
second millennium b.c., there was a northward movement of Shang culture
or that contacts between the local people and the Shang increased at this
Another early Bronze Age culture, in the northeast, is known as the
Lower Hsia-chia-tien (c. 2000“1300 b.c.). Chronologically, it overlaps with
the last phases of the Chu-k™ai-kou culture and with the Upper Erh-li-kang
period of the Shang; geographically, it extends across southeastern Inner
Mongolia, Liao-ning, and northern Hopei. The southern limit of the culture
was located in Hopei, Yi-hsien, and Lai-shui counties, and the whole Peking
region formed a large belt where the Lower Hsia-chia-tien and Shang cul-
tures met. The Lower Hsia-chia-tien culture emerged at the initial phase in
the transition to metalworking and produced a limited number of small
objects such as rings, knives, and handles.17 People lived in settlements and
the economy was primarily agricultural, their main crop being millet. To
supplement their food supply, people raised stock and hunted deer. Finally,
they were able to manufacture highly polished stone and bone tools.

The Northern Zone Bronze Complex

From these three early progenitors, whose mutual relationships are far from
clear, a more coherent Bronze Age cultural complex “ unquestionably dis-
tinct from that of Central Plain “ emerged in the Northern Zone during the
Shang period. Whereas the limits of Shang political power and cultural
reach can be de¬ned more or less, the northern cultural complex is amor-
phous, and its boundaries cannot be clearly established.18 The term

Li Ching-han, “Shih-lun Hsia-chia-tien hsia-ts™eng wen-hua te fen-ch™i he lei-
hsing,” in Chung-kuo k™ao-ku hsüeh-hui ti-yi-ts™u nien-hui lun-wen-chi 1979
(Peking: Wen-wu, 1980), pp. 163“70.
On the Shang geographical and political extension, see David Keightley, “The
Late Shang State: When, Where, and What?”, in The Origins of Chinese


“Northern Zone,” therefore, should not suggest a homogeneous culture,
but a broad area in which different peoples shared a common metallurgi-
cal tradition, one that typi¬ed the north and marked a cultural boundary
between the north and the civilization of the Central Plain.
Most characteristic of the Northern Zone complex are bronze tools and
weapons, possibly indicating that the development of metallurgy was linked
to the rise of military elites and to increased warfare resulting from com-
petition for economic resources. The standard typology of the Northern
Zone™s complex metal inventory, provided by Lin Yun, includes daggers,
knives, axes with short sockets, axes with tubular sockets, mirrors, and
“bow-shaped” objects.19
Daggers, or short swords, are generally distinguished by their integral
casting of hilt and double-edged blade and relatively narrow and straight
hand guard. The early types, dated to the middle and late Shang dynasty,
display a characteristic curved hilt, often decorated with geometric designs
and featuring a terminal in the shape of an animal™s head (horse, ram, eagle,
or ibex). Other early daggers have perforated hilts or have straight hilts
with grooves ending in a rattle.
Northern bronze knives, similar to knives found in Siberia and Mongo-
lia, are also immediately recognizable. Whereas Shang knives normally have
a short stem inserted into a handle of a different material, all northern-type
bronze knives of this period have an integrally cast hilt. Pommels come in
many shapes; the most common are the mushroom, an animal head, and
various rings and loops. Geometric motifs similar to those on daggers dec-
orate knife handles.
Clearly different from the fan-shaped ax of the Shang, the northern-type
ax is typically long and thick, with a relatively narrow cutting edge. Besides
the more common axes with simple sockets, its most distinctive character-
istic is the type with a tubular socket set perpendicular to the blade. In early
axes, the socket can be longer than the width of the body, a hafting system
that is different from the predominant Shang method of attaching the
handle to a protruding ¬‚at tang.20

Civilizations, ed. David Keightley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983),
pp. 532“48. See also David Keightley, “The Shang: China™s First Historical
Dynasty,” in The Cambridge History of Ancient China, pp. 275“77.
Lin Yun, “A Reexamination,” pp. 263“66.
Tubular axes have been found in Hopei (Ch™ao-tao-kou and Ch™ing-lung county),
in Shan-hsi, (Kao-hung, Liu-lin county, and Ch™u-chia-yü, in Shih-lou county),
and at various Shang sites, such as Ta-ssu-k™ung. See K™ao-ku 1962.12: 644“5;
Wu Chen-lu, “Pao-te hsien hsin fa-hsien te Yin-tai ch™ing-t™ung ch™i,” Wen-wu
1972.4: 62“66; Yang Shao-shun, “Shan-hsi Liu-lin hsien Kao-hung fa-hsien
Shang-tai t™ung-ch™i,” K™ao ku 1981.3: 211“12; Yang Shao-shun, “Shan-hsi Shih-
lou Ch™u-chia-yü Ts™ao-chia-yüan fa-hsien Shang-tai t™ung-ch™i,” Wen-wu 1981.8:


Round bronze disks, usually de¬ned as “mirrors,” are also part of the
northern heritage. Typically they have a smooth surface on one side; on
the other, which may carry surface decoration, they have a central knob
handle. A Ch™ing-hai mirror decorated on its back with a star-shaped design
suggests a solar cult, possibly of Central Asian origin. Mirrors found in
An-yang tombs, such as those in the tomb of Lady Fu Hao, the consort of
King Wu Ting (c. 1200 b.c.), have decorative motifs that are not conso-
nant with the artistic vocabulary of the Shang.21 Other mirrors, found
together with a ting vessel, curved knives, and gold earrings in Shang burials
in central Shensi suggest contact with non-Chinese cultures.22 Finally, a
mirror has been found in another burial, together with two bronze chüeh
vessels with the character Ch™iang inscribed on them.23 This evidence
connects the mirror to a distinctive northern culture, and possibly to the
Ch™iang people.
Other objects regarded as characteristic of this culture include distinc-
tive spoons and helmets. The spoons have rings on the handle with attached
pendants. The helmets are undecorated; their sides come down to cover the
ears, and they have a ring on the top and holes to the right and the left on
the bottom.24 One curious item is the so-called bow-shaped object, com-
prised of a slightly bent decorated central bar and curved lateral sections;
various hypotheses have been proposed concerning its use.25 Found in the

49“53; Wen-wu 1981.8: 46“48; Ma Te-chih et al., “Yi-chiu-wu-san-nien An-yang
Ta-ssu-k™ung fa-chüeh pao-kao,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1955.9: 25“90.
Diane M. O™Donoghue, “Re¬‚ection and Reception: The Origins of the Mirror in
Bronze Age China,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 62 (1990):
Yao Sheng-min, “Shaan-hsi Ch™ün-hua hsien ch™u-t™u te Shang Chou Ch™ing-t™ung
ch™i,” K™ao-ku yü wen-wu 1986.5: 12“22. Note that only in the mid-seventh
century did the bronze mirror become part of the Chinese native tradition.
Wen-wu 1986.11: 7, ¬g. 11.5.
A. Kovalev, “ ˜Karasuk-dolche,™ Hirschsteine und die Nomaden der chinesischen
Annalen im Alterum,” in Maoqinggou: Ein eisenzeitliches Gr¤berfeld in der
Ordos-Region (Innere Mongolei), ed. Thomas Höllman and Georg W. Kossack
(Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern), pp. 60“61.
Bernhard Karlgren was probably wrong in considering it a kind of yoke but right
in rejecting the old hypothesis that it was a “banner bell” (“Some Weapons and
Tools of the Yin Dynasty,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities,
17 [1945]: 112). Max Loehr relates it to bows and quivers; see his “Weapons and
Tools from Anyang,” p. 138. However, the “bow-shaped” object appears com-
monly on so-called deer stones “ anthropomorphic steles with carvings repre-
senting stylized deer “ as a sort of pendant attached to the belt. On this basis,
Lin Yun, “A Reexamination,” p. 263, suggests that it was used as a “reins holder.”
Yet the iconography of the deer stones does not show it in combination with char-
iots or horses. See also Ch™in Chien-ming, “Shang Chou ˜kung-hsing-ch™i™ wei
˜ch™i-ling™ shuo,” K™ao-ku 1995.3: 256“58.


Yin-hsü culture, whose specimens are adorned with rattles and horse heads
at the ends, and in the Minusinsk region with a much simpler knob deco-
ration, it was probably invented in the Northern Zone and thereafter trans-
mitted to China and South Siberia.
Besides the bronze typology, the northern complex tradition also bears
a typical decorative inventory, which is regarded as the telltale mark for all
the art associated with non-Chinese northern peoples: the “animal style.”
In this artistic tradition, shared across the Northern Zone from the thir-
teenth century onward and common to both the Karasuk culture of South
Siberia (1200“800 b.c.) and the early nomadic cultures of Central Asia,
animals are variously represented on bronze vessels, weapons, and tools. In
the Northern Zone, at this early stage, the style was expressed mainly by
ornamental animal heads rendered in the round and attached to the ends
of knife handles and dagger hilts.26
In terms of distribution, the Northern Zone complex has been associ-
ated with the type sites of Li“chia-ya (Ch™ing-chien county, Shensi
province)27 and Ch™ao-tao-kou (Ch™ing-lung county, Hopei),28 and covers
the broad area between the bend of the Yellow River and the Liao River
drainage basin, extending across northern Hopei, Shansi, and Shensi. We
know this cultural area mostly through funerary sites, which have yielded
identical or closely related bronze objects, particularly daggers, knives, and
axes.29 The bronzes found at Ch™ao-tao-kou “ a dagger with a decorated
handle and a ram-head pommel, an ax with a tubular socket, and four
knives with arched backs decorated with pommels in the form of a rattle
or a ram-head knob “ and at analogous sites, such as Lin-che-yü (Pao-te
county, Shensi),30 have contributed greatly to de¬ning the Northern Zone
as a distinct cultural complex.

On the animal style the following works may be consulted: Karl Jettmar, Art of
the Steppes (New York: Crown Publishers, 1967); and Anatoly Martinov, The
Ancient Art of Northern Asia, trans. and ed. Demitri B. Shimkin and Edith M.
Shimkin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991). On the origin and earliest
occurrences of the animal style, see Yakov A. Sher, “On the Sources of the Scythic
Animal Style,” Arctic Anthropology 25.2 (1988): 47“60.
See Katheryn Linduff et al., “An Archaeological Overview,” in Ancient Bronzes
of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes, ed. Emma Bunker (New York: Arthur Sackler
Foundation, 1997), pp. 22“25.
For the de¬nition of Ch™ao-tao-kou as an archaeological culture, see Kovalev,
“ ˜Karasuk-dolche,™ Hirschsteine und die Nomaden der chinesischen Annalen im
Alterum,” pp. 48“62.
K™ao-ku 1962.12: 644“5.
The burial ground yielded these bronze objects: a dagger with a grooved hilt and
a rattle pommel, plaques with spiral designs, small rattles, small bells, a horse
harness, two axes with tubular sockets, and ritual vessels. Wu Chen-lu, “Pao-te
hsien hsin fa-hsien te Yin-tai ch™ing-t™ung ch™i,” Wen-wu 1972.4: 62“66.

Evidence of interchanges between these sites and the more southern core
areas of China is by no means rare, and excavated sites may need to be
reassigned to one or the other cultural area based on a re-evaluation of the
artifacts and the general composition of the burials. Thus, burials from Pai-
fu, north of Peking, have been convincingly reclassi¬ed as a Northern Zone
site.31 Here too, as already noted for the Ch™i-chia culture, we can argue
for the progressive divergence between Northern Zone and Central Plain
cultures that would culminate, in the north, in the formation of a nomadic
confederation at the end of the ¬rst millennium b.c. But the causes for this
divergence are still not explained.32 In fact, here we see again how a rela-
tively small portion of a much bigger “puzzle” is magni¬ed to give a full
picture of events (in this instance, events that trace the economic, political,
and social maturation of pastoral nomads). At the present stage of research,
however, these events cannot be represented as a continuous evolutionary
process; it is more likely that they occurred as a composite process, with
multiple sources of development and interaction, to which the people of
Pai-fu contributed. The most interesting aspect of this site is that Chinese
ke blades and bronze helmets that may have belonged to charioteers have
been found there.33 The site bespeaks close commercial contacts and tech-
nology exchanges, con¬rming the vitality of the northern frontier through-
out the Bronze Age.
Bronze weapons similar in style to the Northern Zone bronzes, and
dated to the Shang and early Western Chou periods, have been found also
to the east, especially in western Liao-ning.34 Further east, however, we
encounter a more varied picture, as the types of bronzes that predominate
in eastern Liao-ning are quite different and mark a separate but related cul-
tural zone. Only one type of northern-style dagger has been found in this
area, together with socketed daggers not found in the rest of the Northern
Zone complex. Yet the battle axes with long, narrow sockets and straight
blades are similar to those found at Ch™ao-tao-kou. Unusual items, which
nevertheless seem to belong to the same northern tradition, are a dagger

Mrea Csorba, “The Chinese Northern Frontier: Reassessment of the Bronze Age
Burials from Baifu,” Antiquity 70 (1996): 564“87. Although I agree with this
article™s contention that Pai-fu belongs to the Northern Zone, the material it pre-
sents concerning the Caucasian faces of the people who used these burials does
not convince me as to their racial identity, and does not constitute per se evidence
of cultural af¬liation.
Csorba, “The Chinese Northern Frontier,” pp. 576, 586.
Wu En, “Yin chih Chou ch™u te pei-fang ch™ing-t™ung ch™I,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao
1985.2: 135“56.
Hsü Yü-lin, “Liao-ning Shang Chou shih-ch™i te ch™ing-t™ung wen-hua,” in K™ao-
ku-hsüeh wen-hua lun-wen-chi, ed. Su Ping-ch™i (Peking: Wen-wu, 1993), 3:
311“34; Chai Te-fang, “Chung-kuo pei-fang ti-ch™ü ch™ing-t™ung tuan-chien fen-
ch™ün yen-chiu,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1988.3: 277“99.

hilt that terminates in the shape of a human head, vessel lids, and chariot
The considerable variety of assemblages, types of bronzes, and stylistic
components suggest that several metallurgical foci existed within a broad
complex. These centers interacted and in¬‚uenced each other but did not
fuse into a single unit. Instead, they retained their local ¬‚avor as indepen-
dent and culturally distinct communities.

Early Contacts between China and the Northern Zone

Compelling evidence of contact between the Shang and the Northern Zone
comes from the discovery of non-Chinese bronzes in Shang tombs exca-
vated in the An-yang area: a bronze knife with animal-head pommel found
at Hou-chia-chuang; a knife with a ring head and a Shang pickax found at
Hsiao-t™un; and a pickax with a short tubular socket, unearthed with a clay
tripod and a piece of jade, found at Ta-ssu-k™ung in 1953.35 The funerary
inventory from the already mentioned tomb of Fu Hao, excavated in 1976,
attests to the relevance of imports from the north, as it contained a
northern-style knife with an ibex head, bronze mirrors, and a bronze
hairpin that had no equivalent in the Central Plain. Also, a large number
of the jades found in the tomb are reported to have come from nephrite
quarries in Sinkiang.36
Although it is generally assumed, as we have seen in the previous chapter,
that the Shang chariot is a borrowing from the Andronovo people, few
chariot remains have been found in the Northern Zone.37 The presence of
chariots in this region cannot be doubted, however, given their extensive
documentation in the petroglyphs of the Altai region, the T™ien-shan moun-
tains in Sinkiang, and the Yin-shan mountains in Inner Mongolia. For
instance, a rock carving from the Yin-shan mountains illustrates a scene in

Li Chi, “Chi Hsiao-t™un ch™u-t™u-te ch™ing-t™ung ch™i,” Chung-kuo k™ao-ku hsüeh-
pao 4 (1949): 1“70. These were found in tomb M164. Kovalev, “ ˜Karasuk-
dolche,™ Hirschsteine und die Nomaden der chinesischen Annalen im Alterum,”
p. 54.
Wang Ping-hua, “Hsi Han yi-ch™ien Hsin-chiang he Chung-yüan ti-ch™ü li-shih
kuan-hsi k™ao-su,” in Wang Ping-hua, Ssu-chou chih lu k™ao-ku yen-chiu (Urumqi:
Hsin-chiang Jen-min, 1993), p. 167.
For instance, the remains of wooden wheels found in No-mu-hung (Tu-lan county,
Ch™ing-hai) and tentatively dated to the mid-second millennium b.c. (K™ao-ku
hsüeh-pao 1963.1, pl. 3); see also Jenny F. So and Emma C. Bunker, Traders and
Raiders on China™s Northern Frontier (Seattle and London: Arthur Sackler
Gallery and University of Washington Press, 1996), p. 26.


which a hunter shoots game after having dismounted from a chariot that
has eight-spoked wheels and is pulled by two horses.38 The petroglyphs, as
well as the actual chariots found in the Sintashta burials, show the north-
ern complex chariot as having essentially the same design and technical
characteristics as the Chinese chariot.39
Yet the nature of the relationship between the Northern Zone and the
bronze cultures of South Siberia remains problematic.40 Northern Chinese
cultures, like the Karasuk culture of Siberia, seem to have had mixed
economies based on livestock but also relying on agriculture and other sup-
porting activities. The bones of antelope and deer that have been found
point to extensive hunting, whereas cattle and horse remains show the
Karasuk people™s devotion to animal husbandry. The Karasuk™s metal inven-
tory contains a variety of objects similar to the Northern Zone bronzes. We
¬nd knives with hunched backs and daggers with short guards that are
similar to the Northern Zone style. Pickaxes have tubular sockets for
hafting such as those of the Northern Zone, though the blade has a pointed
cutting edge that may have been derived from a Shang prototype. Arrow-
heads also resemble those found in An-yang. Chernykh has argued for a
possible symbiosis between Central Asian metallurgy and “true Chinese
examples of high-quality casting,” especially with respect to weapons and
ritual objects. Only later did typical artifacts of this broad “Central Asian”

Kai Shan-lin, “Ts™ung Nei Meng Yin-shan yen-hua k™an ku-tai pei-fang yu-mu
min-tsu te li-shih kung-hsien,” in Ssu-chou chih lu yen-hua yi-shu, ed. Chou Chin-
pao (Urumchi: Hsin-chiang Jen-min, 1993). For other examples of chariot
petroglyphs, see Edward L. Shaughnessy, “Historical Perspectives on the Intro-
duction of the Chariot into China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 48.1
(1988): 202“203.
See also Piggott, “Chinese Chariotry: An Outsider™s View,” in Arts of the Eurasian
Steppelands, ed. Philip Denwood, Colloquies on Art and Archaeology in Asia no.
7 (London: Percival David Foundation, 1978), pp. 32“51. For an argument
against the exogenous origin of the chariot in China, see Lu Liancheng, “Chariot
and Horse Burials in Ancient China,” Antiquity 67 (1993): 824“38.
From the viewpoint of the development of metallurgy, the eastern zone of the
steppe, with one of its most dynamic centers located in the Sayano-Altai region,
embraced also Mongolia and Transbaikalia. This is what Chernykh de¬nes as the
Central Asian Metallurgical Province. The development of metallurgy and its dif-
fusion throughout the region should probably be seen in connection with the
development of nomadism, as the more technologically advanced communities
may have advanced more quickly along the road of pastoral specialization, and
their increased mobility may in turn have facilitated the diffusion of their tech-
nology. For the metallurgical development of this region and its extension in the
Bronze Age, see E. N. Chernykh, Ancient Metallurgy in the USSR (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 270“71.


zone gradually penetrate the west, thus attesting to an eastern chronologi-
cal primacy.41

Identi¬cation of Early Nomads in the Northern Zone

A relative dearth of analysis, together with much unprocessed archaeolog-
ical data, makes outlining the origins and evolution of early pastoral
nomadic cultures in northern China dif¬cult. While the Bronze and Iron
Age “Scythian” cultures of the western part of Central Eurasia are fairly
well established, this is not the case for the eastern part of the area. Cited
among the possible causes for the transition to pastoral nomadism in north-
ern China is the change to a more arid climate, which led to greater reliance
on animal husbandry and the abandonment of a sedentary life based on
farming and livestock breeding.42 Alternatively or concurrently, researchers
do not exclude the arrival from either the north or the west of migrating
pastoralists who may have acted as a stimulus for the passage from agro-
pastoralism to more specialized forms of pastoral nomadism. The extent of
migrations cannot be determined based on the present state of research, but
at least two originating points are possible, one in the northeast, identi¬ed
with the Upper Hsia-chia-tien culture,43 and the other in the northwest,
identi¬ed with the nomadic peoples of the Sayano-Altai region and present-
day Sinkiang.
It may be more productive, however, instead of looking for the origins
of the appearance of Scythian-type nomads in northern China, to focus on
those diagnostic elements that are characteristic of the martial pastoral
nomads of the Eurasian steppe. By identifying the foci of regional nomadic
cultures, and the diverse forms of technological advancement and social
structure prevailing in each of them, we can construct a preliminary map
of new cultural formations, whose appearance need not always depend on
undocumented migrations. Only by refocusing on localized processes (but
ones open to external in¬‚uences) can we determine the context in which
these changes occurred.
In this respect, archaeologists have assessed diachronic developments in
the Northern Zone complex according to criteria that are commonly

Chernykh, Ancient Metallurgy in the USSR, pp. 269“73. The similarity between
the Ordos-Karasuk and the Seima-Turbino artifacts is also recognized in Karl
Jettmar, “The Karasuk Culture and Its South-Eastern Af¬nities,” Bulletin of the
Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 22 (1950), p. 119.
Ch™iao Hsiao-ch™in, “Kuan-yü pei-fang yu-mu wen-hua ch™i-yüan te t™an-t™ao,”
Nei Meng-ku wen-wu k™ao-ku 1992.1“2: 21“25.
Liu Te-cheng and Hsü Chün-chü, “Kan-su Ch™in-yang Ch™ün-ch™iu Chan-kuo mu-
tsang te ch™ing-li,” K™ao-ku 1988.5: 413“24.


assumed to be indicative of nomads, such as the relative absence of settle-
ments, the predominance of animal bones, the remains of many sacri¬ced
animals, and the appearance of the so-called Scythian triad “ weapons,
animal-style decoration, and horse harness “ in grave inventories. Archae-
ologists also take account of the trajectory of iron use, stratigraphical evi-
dence, and typological analysis when establishing a sequence for the
development of a culture. The local characteristics of a particular culture
that researchers most notice are its decorative repertoire, the shape and con-
struction of its burials, its economy, its adaptation to the natural environ-
ment, its people™s physical features, and the interaction of its inhabitants
with neighboring peoples.


Periodization of early nomadic cultures in northern China is very dif¬cult.44
Whereas textual evidence for the presence of mounted pastoral nomads is
attested in Chinese sources at the earliest from the mid-¬fth, and more
clearly from the late fourth, century b.c., the archaeological record indi-
cates an earlier arrival of pastoral people and slow expansion in the con-
tacts between these cultures and China. Given the absence of stable
chronologies, dates for the cultural evolution occurring in some of the most
important early nomadic areas, such as the Ordos, must be approximate.
Nevertheless, based on signi¬cant changes in the funerary assemblages,
typological characteristics of speci¬c items, and radiocarbon datings, three
stages of evolution can be identi¬ed.45
The ¬rst stage, from the ninth to the seventh century b.c., is character-
ized by a greater number of horse ¬ttings and weapons included among
the burial goods found at funerary sites and by an economy increasingly
dominated by animal husbandry (though agriculture continued to play an
important role). During this phase, the northeastern part of the Northern
Zone appears to have been especially advanced, while the central and north-
western areas do not show comparable signs of development.
The second stage, from the sixth through the fourth century b.c., begins
with clear signs of the emergence of a classic nomadic steppe culture “ the
appearance of the “Scythian-triad” assemblage: weapons, horse gear, and

For examples of periodization, see Wu En, “Wo kuo pei-fang ku-tai tung-wu wen-
shih,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1990.4: 409“437; and Emma Bunker, “Ancient Ordos
Bronzes,” in Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes, ed. Jessica Rawson and Emma
Bunker (Hong Kong: Museum of Art, 1990), pp. 291“307. See also Di Cosmo,
“The Northern Frontier in Pre-Imperial China,” pp. 888“93.
T™ien Kuan-chin and Kuo Su-hsin, eds., O-erh-to-ssu ch™ing-t™ung ch™i (Peking:
Wen-wu, 1986).

objects decorated in animal style. Daggers, abundant horse ¬ttings, and
animal-style plaques are found in particular in two areas of distribution:
one, the north-northeastern, which encompasses the Ordos region and the
intermediate zone between Inner Mongolia and Liao-ning, to the east of the
T™ai-hang Mountains; and the second, the territory that spans parts of
Ch™ing-hai, Kansu, and Ning-hsia.46 Another distinctive feature of this
period is the spreading of the use of iron metallurgy. Although bronze
remained the dominant metal, the presence of iron tools and bimetallic
weapons (especially swords with bronze hilts and iron blades) in sites where
there was no previous trace of iron, suggest a later dating. Although the
appearance of iron metallurgy per se does not seem to have had a crucial
impact on either the technological or the social development of these com-
munities, these cultures have a more pronounced “Scythian” character,
noticeable especially in the abundance of horse trappings. It was also during
this stage that the nomadic aristocracy may have risen to a position of polit-
ical and military superiority over local and neighboring farmers.
The third stage is represented especially by Ordos sites, attributed to
the early Hsiung-nu culture, which were in use between the third and

Watson, in Cultural Frontiers in Ancient East Asia, posited the intriguing notion
that the T™ai-hang mountain range constituted a boundary between the Jung and
the Western Ti, and that this boundary corresponded, in the archaeological
record, to two different cultural spheres, one more oriented toward the steppe
culture of the nomads of Mongolia and the Altai, the other part of the mixed
forest-grassland-agricultural environment of the northeast. This division is con-
sistent with the position of the T™ai-hang Range, running along the western
boundary of the Hopei province, as a watershed between the forested, maritime
Manchurian zone and the continental parts of northern China. This notion is
¬nding further support in more recent archaeological and art historical analyses
of local artifacts (e.g., Bunker, Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes,
p. 159 and passim). This notion, however, is not emphasized, or even mentioned,
in much Chinese archaeological literature, where the “master paradigm” is that
of the Northern Zone complex, which is then broken down into local cultures
often dominated by a regionalist approach. The subset of the “macroregions” to
the east and to the west of the T™ai-hang Mountains is then lost, or at least over-
looked. One reason for this blind spot in Chinese archaeology may be what
Lothar von Falkenhausen has called the “regionalist paradigm.” The archaeo-
logical “identity” of Shansi in the Chou period is closely tied to the culture of
Chin, and this may have effectively excluded the cultures of northern Shansi, west
of the T™ai-hang Range (which Watson relates to the Ti peoples), from the picture
of the Shansi cultural past, preferring to link them to a more distant and vague
“Northern Zone” or with very localized (and therefore non-regional) phenom-
ena (see Lothar von Falkenhausen, “The Regionalist Paradigm in Chinese
Archaeology,” in Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology, ed. Philip
L. Kohl and Clare Fawcett [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995],
pp. 208“10).

¬rst century b.c. At these sites we observe a complete change in the
funerary assemblage whereby the symbols of martiality have been replaced
with luxurious accouterments representing a new-found wealth, possibly
commercial in origin. Precious objects and ornaments seem more relevant
to this culture, in terms of both sheer quantity and intrinsic value. We
also ¬nd gold objects in greater numbers, gold having long been associated
with the nomadic cultures, particularly with those of the western steppe,
where plaques and ornaments of gold were often placed in Scythian
These three stages in the evolutionary sequence of the centers of
certain northern China nomadic cultures that are assumed to be culturally
related to the people who formed the Hsiung-nu empire in the late
third century b.c. I am not suggesting, however, that there was a single
line of evolution. Each regional focus represented a separate process
and must be looked at as such. On the other hand, the high degree of sim-
ilarity in the metallurgical production of all of the cultural foci in question,
as well as in other aspects of these cultures, also presents a picture of
exchange, borrowing, and cultural miscegenation that militates against the
notion of the emergence of nomadic cultures through a series of isolated
The evidence suggests that separate nomadic pastoral centers formed in
the north and then came to dominate the area militarily and politically. The
whirlpool of displacements, migrations, and conquests thus generated
cannot be reconstructed in the absence of historical documents but cannot
be doubted either, given the level of “interconnectivity” documented archae-
ologically. At this point several agro-pastoral peoples either disappeared
altogether, converted to full-scale nomadism, or (as probably happened in
the majority of cases) were forced into positions of subordination and servi-
tude. The North remained politically agitated, but it is likely that the
nomads sought to expand the political power of their groups (tribes?) over
the steppe zone and, under successful clans and leaders, to forge even larger
political units. These tribes were possibly those later identi¬ed in Chinese
sources as both political and ethnic groups such as the Hsiung-nu, Lin Hu,
Tung Hu, and Lou-fan.

First Phase: Late Western Chou and Early Spring and
Autumn Period (c. Ninth“Seventh Century B.C.)

Early Nomadic Sites in the Northeast

In the Northern Zone burial sites dating from the late Western Chou and
early Spring and Autumn periods contain an increasing number of animal
bones “ many from domesticated animals “ that suggest the expansion of
Archaeological Sites
of the Northern Zone
of China

1. Erh-k™e-ch™ien
2. San-chia-tzu
3. P™ing-yang
4. Han-shu
5. Ch™ao-yang (Shih-erh-t™ai-ying-tzu)
6. Ao-han (Chou-chia-ti)
7. Ch™ing-lung (Ch™ao-tao-kou)
8. Ning-ch™eng (Nan-shan-ken)
9. Ongnud (Ta-p™ao-tzu)
10. Ch™ih-feng (Hsia-chia-tien)
11. P™ing-ch™üan (Tung-nan-kou)
12. Lin-hsi (Ta-ching)
13. Ch™ang-p™ing
14. Chün-tu-shan
15. Yen-ch™ing
16. Pei-hsin-pao
17. Liang-ch™eng (Kuo-hsien-yao-tzu)
18. Mao-ch™ing-kou
19. Ho-lin-ke-erh (Fan-chia-yao-tzu)
20. Hsi-kou-p™an
21. Su-chi-kou
22. Chu-k™ai-kou
23. Ch™ing-chien (Li-chia-ya)
24. Pao-t™ou N
25. Na-lin-kao-t™u
26. A-lu-ch™ai-teng 17
24 19
27. Hu-lu-ssu-t™ai
28. T™ao-hung-pa-la 18
29. Tao-tun-tzu 20
30. Yang-lang 28 22
31. P™eng-p™u (Yü-chia-chuang)
32. Ku-yüan 33
33. Sha-ching


34. San-chiao-ch™eng Ri
35. Yü-shu-kou
36. A-ha-t™e-la 23

37. K™a-yüeh

Fen R

38. Shang-sun 36

Wei R
ive r

e r


0 300 mi
0 300 km

Map 2



G 4
12 Sira Mören
9 r

16 8
13 7

Gulf of

Ye l l o w



pastoral economies.47 Horseback riding, the most signi¬cant activity of a
mature pastoral nomadic culture in Eurasia, is also in evidence at an early
stage in the northeastern sector, in connection with a new culture, known
as the Upper Hsia-chia-tien, that appeared at the end of the second mil-
lennium b.c. and lasted for several centuries. The Upper Hsia-chia-tien geo-
graphical range extended north to the Sira Mören River Basin, up to the
eastern side of the Great Khingan Mountains; its southern boundary was
formed by the Luan River, Yen Mountains, and Ch™i-lao-t™u Mountains.
Spanning the three provinces of Inner Mongolia, Liao-ning, and Hopei, its
eastern boundary was the basin of the Liao River, and its western bound-
ary was the area of Chao-wu-ta-meng in Inner Mongolia. Chronologies of
this culture have been based on radiocarbon dates and typological analy-
sis.48 The general consensus today is that it lasted approximately eight cen-
turies, from the eleventh to the fourth century b.c.; this is a long period of
time that is itself subject to internal periodization, which nevertheless is at
least in part certainly related to the evolution of early nomads.49
The most ancient sites are identi¬ed in the northern reaches of the
Upper Hsia-chia-tien distribution area and seem to indicate a transitional
stage, one in which this culture appears as a new, intrusive element little
resembling the earlier local cultures. The horse remains in Upper Hsia-
chia-tien sites are among the earliest found in northeastern China, where
bronze metallurgy was extremely well developed, because of the area™s
abundant copper ore and the inhabitants™ sophisticated metallurgical
One of the earliest sites identi¬ed with this culture is the mining site of
Ta-ching in Lin-hsi county, Inner Mongolia.50 Radiocarbon analyses have
yielded consistent datings that place the site in the tenth century b.c., thus
making it one of the earliest of this culture.51 Stone and clay molds have
been found at this site, as have smelting furnaces; most of the mining tools

Ts™ui Hsüan, “Nei Meng-ku hsien Ch™in shih-ch™i hsü-mu yi-ts™un shu-lun,” Nei
Meng-ku she-hui k™e-hsüeh 1988.1: 69“74.
The latter has been based either on datable sites such as Nan-shan-ken, where
the presence of Western Chou artifacts provide a fairly secure chronological basis,
or on the stylistic evolution of distinctive cultural elements, such as the daggers
with curved blades. See Chin Feng-yi, “Lun Chung-kuo tung-pei ti-ch™ü han ch™ü-
jen ch™ing-t™ung tuan-chien te wen-hua yi-ts™un,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1982.4:
387“426 (part I), and 1983.1: 39“5 (part II).
The ¬rst excavation that identi¬ed the Upper Hsia-chia-tien as a separate culture
took place at Ch™ih-feng, in Inner Mongolia, where distinctive features that dif-
ferentiated it from the contemporary bronze culture of the Ordos region were
documented. See K™ao-ku 1961.2: 77“81; K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1974.1: 111“44.
Wen-wu tzu-liao ts™ung-k™an 7 (1983): 138“46.
Chin Feng-yi, “Hsia-chia-tien shang-ts™eng wen-hua chi ch™i tsu-shu wen-t™i,”
K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1987.2: 177“208.


that have been found here are made of stone, with a very few small bronze
objects (among them a drill and an arrowhead). The cemetery at Ta-p™ao-
tzu in the Onggut Banner (Weng-niu-t™e-ch™i, Inner Mongolia) also belongs
to the earlier phase.52 The pottery found here seems to indicate a close con-
nection with the north, in particular with the site of Pai-chin-pao, in Hei-
lung-chiang. The earlier dates attributed to these northern sites, and the
connection between the Ta-p™ao-tzu and the Pai-chin-pao pottery, suggest
a southward movement of peoples associated with an economy based on
hoe agriculture and hunting.
Modern-day Hei-lung-chiang, an area rich in large navigable rivers, may
have been especially important as a route of communication between the
northeastern region of China and Transbaikalia and Mongolia.53 Thanks
to the variety of economic activities that the Manchurian environment
favored, we ¬nd evidence in the northeast of advanced metallurgical cul-
tures with mixed economies. Farmers, ¬shermen, hunters, and pastoralists
interacted in ways that cannot be clearly documented, but that show a ten-
dency toward the creation of a wide and stable network of contacts through
which both artistic motifs and technical innovations could travel rapidly.
The development of the area, from the initial spread of bronze production
in the Upper Hsia-chia-tien culture to the advent of iron metallurgy, seems
to have pro¬ted from a continuous input of cultural elements from the north
and the east.
Population movement may also have brought different people into
contact with each other and may help explain the variety of burial prac-
tices found in Upper Hsia-chia-tien sites. Sometimes graves are simple earth-
ern pits, and sometimes they are pits lined with stone slabs. At Chou-chia-ti
cemetery, in Inner Mongolia, a funerary custom rather different from other
Upper Hsia-chia-tien sites, consisting of covering the head of the deceased
with sack cloth decorated with turquoise beads and bronze buttons, may
indicate ethnic differences within this culture.54 Of course, we should not

Chin Feng-yi, “Hsia-chia-tien shang-ts™eng wen-hua chi ch™i tsu-shu wen-t™i”; Chu
Yung-kang, “Hsia-chia-tien shang-ts™eng wen-hua te ch™u-pu yen-chiu,” in K™ao-
ku-hsüeh wen-hua lun-chi, ed. Su Ping-ch™i (Peking: Wen-wu, 1993), 1: 99“128.
On the archaeology of Hei-lung-chiang, see Tan Ying-jie et al., “The Bronze Age
in the Song Nen Plain,” in The Archaeology of Northeast China: Beyond the
Great Wall, ed. Sarah Milledge Nelson (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 225“50;
T™an Ying-chieh and Chao Shan-tung, “Sung Nen p™ing-yüan ch™ing-t™ung wen-
hua ch™u-yi,” in Chung-kuo k™ao-ku hsüeh-hui ti-ssu-tz™u nien-hui lun-wen chi
1983 (Peking: Wen-wu, 1985), pp. 196“202; Yang Hu et al., “Hei-lung-chiang
ku-tai wen-hua ch™u-lun,” in Chung-kuo k™ao-ku hsüeh-hui ti-ssu-tz™u nien-hui
lun-wen chi 1979 (Peking: Wen-wu, 1980), pp. 80“96; Li Ch™en-ch™i, “Sung Nen
p™ing-yüan ch™ing-t™ung yü ch™u-hsing tsao-ch™i t™ieh-ch™i shih-tai wen-hua lei-
hsing te yen-chiu,” Pei-fang wen-wu 1994.1: 2“9.
K™ao-ku 1984.5: 417“26.

attribute all differences in burial practices to either ethnic or cultural dif-
ferentiation: at Tung-nan-kou, in Hopei, the marked variations in the type
and amount of burial goods have been interpreted as a sign of social strat-
i¬cation.55 In any case, animal sacri¬ce was integral to the burial practices
of this culture, with the prominent role of dogs in this context characteris-
tic of northeastern cultures in general.
A further element that points to the existence of a northern Manchurian
in¬‚uence on the Upper Hsia-chia-tien complex is the diffusion of iron
metallurgy, which seems to have developed ¬rst in the north and to have
¬ltered south only later. In Hei-lung-chiang, a region rich in forests, arable
land, and waterways, iron metallurgy can be dated to the eighth century
b.c. or even earlier, appearing at the same time as the full blossoming
of bronze production. In contrast, we ¬nd that in the Upper Hsia-chia-tien
site of Shih-erh-t™ai-ying-tzu (Ch™ao-yang county, Liao-ning), a cemetery in
use since the Western Chou, whose upper layer is dated to the early and
middle Warring States period (c. 500“350 b.c.), the metal inventory is
entirely of bronze.56 Similarly, at T™ieh-chiang-kou, located in the eastern
part of Inner Mongolia and within the area of distribution of the Upper
Hsia-chia-tien culture, we ¬nd relatively poor burials with few bronze
The bronze production of Upper Hsia-chia-tien sites that have been exca-
vated includes weapons, ornaments, and horse trappings. The style is often
distinctive, and characteristic items such as the curved-blade sword indicate
the culture™s vitality and autonomy. At the same time, several graves and
caches also contain Western Chou ritual bronzes and items in the typical
Ordos style, suggesting close contact between the Upper Hsia-chia-tien
people and neighboring cultures.
Within the metal inventory of the Upper Hsia-chia-tien culture we ¬nd
clear signs of its association with pastoral nomadism. At Nan-shan-ken, in
Ning-ch™eng county, Inner Mongolia “ one of the most representative and
best-known sites of this culture “ archaeologists have unearthed the ¬rst
iconographic evidence of horse riding in northern China, consisting of a
stirrup-shaped bronze ring adorned with the ¬gures of two hunters on
horseback in the act of pursuing a hare.58 The importance accorded horse

K™ao-ku 1977. 1: 51“55.
Chu Kuei, “Liao-ning Ch™ao-yang Shih-erh-t™ai-ying-tzu ch™ing-t™ung tuan-chien-
mu,” K™ao-ku hsueh-pao 1960.1: 63“71.
Shao Kuo-t™ien, “Ao-han ch™i T™ieh-chiang-kuo Chan-kuo mu-ti tiao-ch™a chien-
pao,” Nei Meng-ku wen-wu k™ao-ku 1992.1“2: 84“90.
On the Nan-shan-ken site, see Li Yi-yu, “Nei Meng Chao-wu-ta-meng ch™u-t™u-
te t™ung-ch™i tiao-ch™a,” K™ao-ku 1959.6: 276“277; and K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao
1973.2: 27“39. For the illustration of the ring with the horse-rider ¬gurine, see
K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1975.1: 117“140.


riding at this site is con¬rmed by the varied and sophisticated inventory of
horse and chariot technology objects that have been found: harnesses with
cheek pieces, two types of bits, tinkling bells, luan bells, and head orna-
ments and masks. Furthermore, an incised-bone plaque also recovered from
Nan-shan-ken shows a hunting scene depicting chariots pulled by horses.59
With the exceptions of the cheek pieces, which were sometimes made of
bone or wood, all other horse-related items were made of bronze, suggest-
ing that at least one of the earliest foci of the development of horseback
riding on China™s frontiers was located in the northeast, beginning around
the eighth century b.c.
In addition, a characteristic Scythian-type assemblage has been
unearthed, which also includes bronze weapons and the bones of cattle,
sheep, and horses. Overall, the large increase in the quantity of remains
of herbivorous animals indicates the growing importance of pastoral
nomadism in the area.60 Within this rich environment, the large number of
bronze daggers, knives, axes, spearheads, arrowheads, shields, and helmets
found in burials suggests that at this time a military aristocracy established
itself as the dominant class over a mixed population. The military prowess
and expansionism of these martial people favored the broad distribution of
the Upper Hsia-chia-tien culture. The spread of nomadic pastoralism in the
Northern Zone, then, should at least be partly attributed to the rise of cul-
tural centers where nomads were dominated by a military aristocracy that
later expanded its political power (and cultural in¬‚uence) beyond the ethnic
or economic boundaries of the original community.
At this stage mounted pastoralism was only one of the activities of
these people. The Upper Hsia-chia-tien remained a predominantly seden-
tary society; its excavated settlements provide evidence of a farming and
pig-raising economy. The houses are round and semi-subterranean, not dif-
ferent from those of the earlier Lower Hsia-chia-tien. This may also indi-
cate that the earlier inhabitants continued to co-exist with the pastoral
peoples. The presence of the bones of wild animals such as deer in exca-
vated sites indicates that hunting was widely practiced. In sum, the varied
ecology of the northeast, with its forests, with the fertile river valleys of
southern Manchuria, and with the grassland pastures of southeastern Mon-
golia, allowed for different kinds of economic adaptation, of which pas-
toral nomadism was at ¬rst one among many. Two questions arise: what
are the relationships among these various kinds of production, and what
are the possible avenues that led to the development of nomadism in this

K™ao-ku 1981.4: 304“308.
Wu En, “New Chinese Archaeological Discoveries Regarding the Ancient North-
ern Tribes,” Paper presented at the workshop “Chinese and Their Northern
Neighbors,” University of Pittsburgh, April 5“7, 1991.


In connection with these questions we need to consider Gideon Shelach™s
theory regarding chiefdom formation in the northeast during the second mil-
lennium b.c. and the transition from the Lower to the Upper Hsia-chia-tien
culture. Shelach posits the appearance of small-scale chiefdoms in the area
of distribution of the Lower Hsia-chia-tien culture and, in particular, in the
areas of Ao-han and Ch™ih-feng. These chiefdoms compare in their social
and political organization to the “chiefdoms” that appear in the Central
Plain area, beginning with the Erh-li-t™ou culture (c. 1800“1600 b.c.). The
difference between the Chinese and the northern chiefdoms was one of
population and territorial size, rather than one of social organization, a dif-
ference also stemming from the greater ability of the Central Plain people
to develop intensive agriculture. Attempting to explain a perceived gap
between the collapse of the region™s Lower Hsia-chia-tien culture in the mid-
second millenium b.c. and the appearance, about ¬ve hundred years later,
of Upper Hsia-chia-tien cultural remains,61 Shelach rejects the expansion of
Chinese in¬‚uence, either direct or indirect, as the cause of radical regional
transformations. He also rejects the notion that such transformations were
caused by environmental changes. Instead, he proposes that the causes for
the end of the chiefdoms be sought in “the social and economic environ-
ment that stimulated the development of specialized pastoralism.”62 His
explanation of the emergence of pastoral nomadism in the region, while
correct in its assumption that an agricultural base is needed for specialized
nomadism to develop, is less convincing in its fuller formulation. In essence,
Shelach argues that the intensive agriculture practiced in the northern plains
of China stimulated the development of pastoral nomadism in marginal
areas, where this type of farming could not have been practiced. This con-
tention, however, runs directly counter to the statement, also reported by
Shelach, that both Lower and Upper Hsia-chia-tien cultures were essentially
sedentary societies depending on subsistence economies, creating the
obstacle of having to explain the relationship, insuf¬ciently developed in
Shelach™s argument, between Hsia-chia-tien™s farming and Shang and Chou
agricultural production. It seems counterintuitive to surmise the existence
of exchanges in basic necessities at considerable distances when farming
products were produced and could be obtained locally.63 Still, Shelach™s

The notion that there was no habitation between the two cultures is apparently
not correct. See Kuo Ta-shun, “Shih-lun wei-ying-tzu lei-hsing,” in K™ao-ku-hsüeh
wen-hua lun-chi, pp. 79“98.
Gideon Shelach, “Social Complexity in North China during the Early Bronze Age:
A Comparative Study of the Erlitou and Lower Xiajiadian Cultures,” Asian Per-
spectives 33.2 (1994): 282.
On p. 286 Shelach argues for a diffusion of Shang and Chou intensive agricul-
ture to the northern plains, where peasants exchanged foodstuffs for pastoral
products with the nomads, but he is ambiguous as to whether these exchanges

theory is important and has the undeniable merit of steering away from per-
nicious mechanical explanations based on climate or on notions of Chinese
in¬‚uence that disregard local developments.
It may be useful here to discuss the aforementioned transition, in the
northwestern sector, from a predominantly agricultural to a predominantly
pastoral economy, in the context of the post-Ch™i-chia cultures. Debaine-
Francfort rightly suggests that economic developments in the northwest
may have been in¬‚uenced by contacts with areas further to the north and
west, that is, Central Asia and South Siberia. The deep transformations that
a people™s transition to pastoral nomadism entails cannot be fully appreci-
ated, I believe, without looking at all the areas with which the culture in
question may have had contact. For the Upper Hsia-chia-tien culture, it
seems to me that the appearance of pastoral nomadism, which also requires
the acquisition of expert knowledge in animal husbandry and the mass pro-
duction of equestrian equipment, was unlikely to have occurred in isola-
tion. Although the transition from the Lower to the Upper Hsia-chia-tien
cultures cannot yet be explained, it is possible that cultural changes, and in
particular the rise in importance of pastoralism, may have been caused
by more advanced pastoral or hunting-pastoral communities in¬ltrating,
through a century-long process, from the north. This process need not be
a “migration” model, but a more comprehensive model that looks to the
north as well as to the south, takes into account the mobility of people over
time, and recognizes the need to explain the similarities between Upper
Hsia-chia-tien metallurgy and northern metallurgy. Therefore, in my view,
a picture of the transition from the Lower to the Upper Hsia-chia-tien is
destined to remain incomplete until the link between Upper Hsian-chia-tien
and the Mongolian and Transbaikalian regions to the north is fully
Concerning the social and economic development of the eastern region
of the Northern Zone, we should consider the likelihood that Upper Hsia-
chia-tien society was a hierarchy in which an elite, possibly of nomadic war-
riors, ruled “classes” of miners, agricultural producers, and other people
who were their subordinates, bondsmen, or tributaries. The robust

were through direct contacts between the Shang-Chou and the Hsia-chia-tien
peoples, or were through “northern plains” intermediaries. In either case, the
presence of settlements and farming in Hsia-chia-tien sites makes the notion of a
Shang-Chou economic “spread” northward immaterial to the economic develop-
ment of the area, unless it can be shown that at this time speci¬c techniques were
imported into Manchuria from China.
Debaine-Francfort, Du N©olithique à l™Age du Bronze en Chine du Nord-Ouest,
pp. 340“48. William Watson highlighted these northern connections by pointing
out the similarities in the stone-lined burials (slab graves), pottery types, and other
features that link Manchuria to Mongolia and Transbaikalia; see Cultural Fron-
tiers in Ancient East Asia, pp. 124“41.


metallurgical production of the Upper Hsia-chia-tien (including the Ao-han
area)65 led to contact and exchanges between that culture and China and
other neighboring communities. The emergence of pastoral nomadism and
of an elite equestrian culture, the cultural connections with the north
and west, the widespread metallurgical production, and the presence of
“aristocratic” burial sites rich in bronze objects, as well as the continua-
tion of a predominantly sedentary and agricultural lifestyle and contacts
and exchanges with China, seem to indicate the presence of a much more
complex social organization than is generally thought, one in which differ-
ent areas constituted discrete social, economic, and political bodies that
included a variety of producers and “cultures.”

The Northwestern Complex

In the northwestern region, around the turn of the second to the ¬rst mil-
lennium b.c., the transition to pastoral nomadism appears to have contin-
ued as the mixed economy in which pastoral production predominated
evolved into one of actual pastoral nomadism. A pattern of incipient
nomadism can be detected in the evolution of the K™a-yüeh culture, dis-
tributed in Kansu and Ch™ing-hai. As in other Northern Zone areas, this
long-lived culture, in existence between around 1500 b.c. and the Han
dynasty, gradually evolved from a mixed farming and pastoral culture with
a settled way of life to a predominantly nomadic culture. This transition is
re¬‚ected in both an increased number of animal bones and sacri¬ces and
in the composition of the animal stock. In sites of the early period, such as
Shang-sun, the usual sacri¬cial offering was a pig, but in the middle period
(A-ha-t™e-la type), pigs were replaced by cattle and horses.66
Partly overlapping with the K™a-yüeh culture in the Ho-hsi Corridor (an
arid region in northern Kansu between the Yellow River and the steppe
region of the eastern T™ien-shan) the sites of the Sha-ching culture date from
the Spring and Autumn to the Warring States period.67 The Sha-ching
Stone molds for knives and ornaments were found at Shan-wan-tzu, in the Ao-
han Banner; see Shao Kuo-t™ien, “Nei Meng-ku Ao-han-ch™i fa-hsien te ch™ing-
t™ung-ch™i chi yu-kuan yi-wu,” Pei-fang wen-wu 1993.1: 18“25.
Kao Tung-lu, “Lüeh lun Ka-yüeh wen-hua,” K™ao-ku-hsüeh wen-hua lun-chi,
3: 153“65.
Its type site is Sha-ching-ts™un (Min-ch™in county), excavated in 1923“24 by
Andersson; see J. C. Andersson, “Researches into the Prehistory of the Chinese,”
Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 15 (1943): 197“215. The dis-
tribution of this culture extends over Minqin, Yung-ch™ang, Ku-liang, and Yung-
teng counties. See K. C. Chang, The Archaeology of Ancient China, 3rd ed. (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 407“408; K™ao-ku yü wen-wu 1981.4:


people were sedentary and lived in forti¬ed settlements surrounded by
earthen walls. The type site of the culture, Sha-ching-ts™un, consists of one
such forti¬ed dwelling site; a similar settlement has been found at San-
chiao-cheng (Yung-ch™ang county).68 The walls may have been erected
because the Sha-ching people had con¬‚icts with their neighbors. Almost cer-
tainly the Sha-ching people had contacts with nomads. We have evidence
for these contacts in the ¬ndings characteristic of the Ordos-type early
nomadic culture “ sacri¬ces of horses, sheep, and cattle; bronze ornaments
in the animal style (eagle, deer, and dog); and a chariot axle end “ unearthed
at Yü-shu-kou, a site whose af¬liation with the Sha-ching culture has been
based on the presence of typical Sha-ching pottery.
The metallurgy of the Sha-ching people does not seem to have been espe-
cially well developed since artifacts found at excavated sites have typically
been limited to small bronze items such as spearheads, arrowheads, knives,
and ornaments. However, sites dated to a later period have yielded iron
tools: a hoe has been found at San-chiao-cheng, and various objects at Yü-
shu-kou. Some decorative features, such as the whirlwind design on an
openwork ornament found both at Yü-shu-kou and in the state of Chung-
shan, and the spiral design on a three-lobed object found both at Sha-ching-
ts™un and in a Warring States tomb in Hopei, connect this culture to that
of the Central Plain.69 This may indicate that some of the peripheral Sha-
ching sites (Yü-shu-kou marks the southern limit of its distribution) had
more contacts with other cultural areas than did the Sha-ching core sites.70
The relationship between the different cultures found in Kansu during
the ¬rst half of the ¬rst millennium b.c. is not yet fully clear, but the forti-
¬ed settlements may point to a situation of enhanced warfare, in which the
sedentary people were defending themselves from aggressors, possibly pas-
toral peoples.71 The Sha-ching people practiced animal husbandry, as indi-
cated by the remains of animal sacri¬ces, and close contact with pastoral
communities may also have in¬‚uenced their customs. Trade contacts with
Northern Zone sites in the Ordos region and Hopei, possibly along routes
already in use during the Ch™i-chia culture, is suggested by ¬ndings of
imported ornaments, such as cowrie shells and turquoise beads.72 However,
excavated settlements and farming tools leave no doubt that the basis of
the Sha-ching people™s life remained agricultural.

K™ao-ku 1984.7: 598“601. 69 Chang, Archaeology of Ancient China, p. 407.
K™ao-ku yü wen-wu 1981.4: 34“36.
Following Lamberg-Karlovsky™s insightful suggestion, some of the earlier forti¬ed
settlements may have been erected as residences of an elite of nomadic origin.
Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky, “The Bronze Age Khanates of Central Asia,” Antiquity
68 (1994): 398“405.
On the broader issue of contacts between the Ch™i-chia culture and the Central
Plain, see Fitzgerald-Huber, “Qijia and Erlitou,” pp. 29“39.

Second Phase: Late Spring and Autumn to Early Warring
States (c. Sixth“Fourth Century B.C.)

Beginning in the seventh“sixth century b.c., an increasing number of horse
¬ttings and ornaments seem to have been in use by peoples throughout the
Northern Zone. The amount and variety of horse gear, together with evi-
dence of horse sacri¬ce within funerary assemblages, betoken the growing
value of the horse in both the economic and the symbolic spheres of these
cultures at this time.73 Notions of wealth, military mobility, herding tech-
niques, and ritual observances are some of many disparate aspects of life
that were transformed by the broader distribution of the horse. Yet the
spread of horseback riding and the increasing social and military impor-
tance of the horse proceeded unevenly, with certain areas apparently more
advanced than others.
For instance, throughout the geographic distribution of the Upper Hsia-
chia-tien culture “ eastern Inner Mongolia, western Liao-ning, Hopei, and
the Peking area “ horse ¬ttings were prominently featured in Spring and
Autumn period funerary assemblages. However, speci¬c evidence of horse
riding is not documented in some areas until the sixth century b.c., which
is the date assigned to special riding bits found in Yen-ch™ing, Peking.74 For
the Central Plain we ¬nd no unequivocal evidence that horses were ridden
before the fourth century b.c., when cavalry was adopted by King Wu-ling
of the state of Chao.75 In this instance, both the historical and the archae-
ological evidence point to a progressive “closing in” between horse-riding
nomadic communities and Chinese states, partly because of the expansion-
ist policy pursued by the northern Chou states, and partly because of the
spread of pastoral nomadism in the North.
Another element of change, whose social and economic impact is more
dif¬cult to gauge on account of its limited use, is the appearance of iron.
Initially, as in other parts of the Eurasian steppes, Northern Zone people

Roel Sterckx, “An Ancient Chinese Horse Ritual,” Early China 21 (1996):
Emma C. Bunker, “Unprovenanced Artefacts Belonging to the Pastoral Tribes of
Inner Mongolia and North China during the Eighth“First Century b.c.,” in The
International Academic Conference of Archaeological Cultures of the Northern
Chinese Ancient Nations (Collected Papers), ed. Chung-kuo k™ao-ku wen-wu yen-
chiu-so (Huhhot, 11“18 August 1992); see also So and Bunker, Traders and
Raiders on China™s Northern Frontier, p. 29.
H. G. Creel, “The Role of the Horse in Chinese History,” The American Histor-
ical Review 70.3 (1965): 649. See also C. S. Goodrich, “Riding Astride and the
Saddle in Ancient China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 44.2 (1984):
279“306; Edouard Erkes, “Das Pferd im Alten China,” T™oung Pao 36 (1942):


used iron metallurgy to make tools rather than weapons and status objects,
and accorded iron a position inferior to bronze and precious metals in the
composition of funerary assemblages. Nevertheless, the ability to make iron
tools and weapons meant an objective increase in the productive capabili-
ties of nomadic communities. The emergence of iron metallurgy also points
to the contacts between the Northern Zone and a broader cultural horizon,
in particular, the far northwest (Sinkiang) and the far northeast (Hei-lung-
chiang and perhaps Transbaikalia).
Present-day Sinkiang has yielded the earliest evidence of iron metallurgy
within the current borders of China. This evidence includes objects such as
those found at the cemetery site of Ch™a-wu-hu-kou.76 Based on radiocar-
bon datings, this site, consisting of stone mounds with multiple burials
encircled by a ring of stones, has been attributed to a period from the tenth
to the seventh century b.c. The funerary assemblage excavated here includes
objects of gold, bronze, and iron; among the bronze objects are a spear-
head, horse bits, and knives with ring heads, while a bone cheek piece in
the shape of a ram-head represents an early animal style. Iron objects are
few and small, such as an awl and a ring. Yet evidence of horse riding and
the extensive animal remains buried in sacri¬cial pits “ sometimes together
with human remains “ and the absence of agricultural tools point to a
culture that is clearly pastoral and nomadic. The use of iron in this region
before the appearance of iron in the Central Plain is con¬rmed by analo-
gous ¬ndings in Ch™ün-pa-k™e (Lun-t™ai county), the Pamirs, and the area
near Urumqi.77 Comparable iron and bronze knives found in the Chust
culture in Ferghana and human skeletal remains of Europoid stock
unearthed in Sinkiang point to connections between Sinkiang and the
Pamirs and Ferghana regions.
The far northwest was not the only area close to the Northern Zone
that had iron early on. However, the question of the spread of iron
technology in South Siberia is quite complex, and there is no uni¬ed
opinion. The date usually assigned to the early Iron Age in Central
Asia (Transoxiana) is the beginning of the ¬rst millennium b.c., and the
same date is usually applied to the early Iron Age in the steppe regions of
Kazakhstan, Tuva, South Siberia, and Mongolia, even though sites of this
period in the Kazakh steppe do not contain iron artifacts, and iron metal-
lurgy developed in Mongolia only from the middle of the ¬rst millennium
b.c. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, iron metallurgy seems to have

“Hsin-chiang Ho-chi-hsien Ch™a-wu-hu kou-k™ou yi hao mu-ti,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-
pao 1988.1: 75“99. In Mark Hall, “Towards an Absolute Chronology for the
Iron Age in Inner Asia” Antiquity 71 (1997): 863“74, a chronology of Saka sites
dates Hsiang-pa-pai to the ninth and eighth centuries b.c.; A-la-kou should be
dated no earlier than the fourth century.
K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1981.2: 199“216.

existed in Tuva at least from the eighth century b.c., based on objects recov-
ered from the Arzhan royal burial and other kurgans of the early nomadic
The presence of iron allegedly as early as the end of the second millen-
nium b.c. has been documented along the Amur River in the Maritime
region of Russia, whereas by the ninth century b.c. a rich inventory of iron
items including knives, daggers, and armor could be found.79 Direct con-
nections between this area™s ferrous metallurgy and that of the Northern
Zone have not yet been established for the earlier period, but there are indi-
cations that relations existed between Transbaikalia and the Chinese north-
east, possibly following the ancient routes of communication through the
forests of Manchuria and on the large waterways that run north to south:
the Sungari, Nonni, and Liao Rivers.80
The best-known metal cultures in the northeast are P™ing-yang and
Han-shu II, both of which present rich metal assemblages of bronze and
iron. At the burial complex of P™ing-yang we ¬nd objects of bronze, iron,
and gold; pottery; and tools made of bone, stone, agate, turquoise, antler,

On the Iron Age in Central Asia, see A. Askarov, “The Beginning of Iron Age in
Transoxiana,” in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, 1: 457; A. Askarov, V.
Volkov, and N. Ser-Odjav, “Pastoral and Nomadic Tribes at the Beginning of the
First Millennium b.c.,” in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, 1: 459“75;
Michail Petrovic Grjaznov, Der Großkurgan von Arzan in Tuva, Südsibirien
(München: Beck, 1984); Roman Kenk, Grabfunde der Skythenzeit aus Tuva, Süd-
Sibirien (München: Beck, 1986). We should note that according to Martynova
the presence of iron artifacts in the Shestakocvo cemetery (Minusinsk region) is
a completely new phenomenon and is associated with a new cultural complex
attributed to the Hunnic (Hsiung-nu) culture and dated to the last two centuries
of the ¬rst millennium b.c.; see Galina S. Martynova, “The Beginning of the
Hunnic Epoch in South Siberia,” Arctic Anthropology 25.2 (1988): 74. More-
over, iron ¬nds in other Tuvinian burials that have been dated to a much later
period, that is, to the late Uyuk culture (¬fth to third century b.c.), show that
iron metallurgy mimicked bronze models and therefore must still have been a rel-


. 3
( 15)