Sunday, January 3, 2016


Chinese archaeologist have been digging at the early Bronze Age village of Lajia on the upper Yellow River since 1999. The site belongs to the Qijia culture of the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. In about 1900 BCE the village was buried by a gigantic mudslide, probably triggered by a catastrophic earthquake. Many of the inhabitants were buried where they were standing when the wave of mud struck.

The Chinese archaeologists suspect that the earthquake was only the final cause of the event, the way for which was prepared by years of severe erosion upslope, caused by careless farming. If this is so, it is an important piece of information about the Neolithic cultures of that region. Archaeologists in many areas find that Neolithic settlement seems to have begun in an unsustainable way, leading to a major fall in the population later on.

This picture of an adult cradling a child was released last summer, and Chinese news outlets said it was a mother who had been trying to protect her son. Sadly, DNA study reveals that these two people were not closely related. Or maybe that's even better; in this village adults grabbed up children and tried to protect them whether they were their own offspring or not.

The people of Lajia lived in semi-subterranean pit houses, the walls and floors covered with a mix of plaster and straw. Plan of the house called F4. The excavators estimate that the village contained about 400 such houses.

And photo. Since 14 skeletons were found in this house, it seems that people rushed to take shelter there.

Other finds at the site have included pottery kilns, oracle bones, lots of pottery (big jars, medium sized jars, wine vessels, large and small bowls, cups), stone tools (knives, axes, adzes, chisels, plate-shaped tools, choppers, scrappers, hammer stones, gravels, heads of scepters, arrowheads, and a jade knife with a blade 30 cm (1 foot) long) and a handful of badly corroded bronze or copper objects.

One of the most famous finds from the site was what appeared to be noodles (above). This made it into Nature, since these would be by far the world's oldest noodles. Analysis suggested that they were made of ground millet. But this conclusion has been challenged by people who point out that 1) the ancient Chinese almost always ate millet whole, and anyway no grindstones have been reported from Lajia; and 2) millet has no gluten, the protein that makes flour elastic enough to be stretched into noodles. But if those aren't noodles, what are they? A bit of a mystery.

Anyway it is a wonderful site, giving us an amazing glimpse into life 4000 years ago, and the catastrophe that brought life to an end for many of Lajia's people.

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