Ancient China

A statue of a woman from central China, c. 4000 BCA statue of a woman from central China, c. 4000 BC The Chinese civilization grew up on the banks of the Huang He (Yellow) River in northern China more than 7000 years ago. It developed in isolation from the rest of the world for thousands of years. Indeed, the Chinese people did not even realize that there were other civilized people in the world until the second century BC. Until then, the only other people they came across were nomads from lands to the north and east.

First settlers

A farming village in northern China, about 4500 BCA farming village in northern China, about 4500 BCLoess landscape in ChinaLoess landscape in ChinaModern humans first arrived in China around 100,000 years ago. Around 7500 years ago, farmers started to cultivate crops in the deep, fertile soil on the banks of the Yellow River. It was the colour of the soil, called loess, that gave the river its name. The people lived in small villages of huts made from mud and sticks. At the centre of each village was a large pyramid-shaped hut where people gathered to talk.

MilletMilletTheir main crops were millet, a kind of cereal they used to make bread, and hemp, from which they made clothes. Farming methods became more efficient so farmers could produce enough food to feed people outside their own families. Some of these learned useful crafts such as pottery or weaving. The population increased and began to spread to other parts of China. Eventually the land became a kingdom under the rulers of the Shang dynasty in about 1750 BC.

Consultant: Philip Parker

In Xihoudu, Shanxi Province, there is some evidence for the control of fire by prehistoric humans (Homo erectus). Finds of burnt mammal bones have been dated to around 1.27 million years ago.

Flutes made from the wing bones of cranes have been discovered at Jiahu on the Yellow River. They date back to 6000 BC, making them the oldest known musical instruments in China.

Silkworms were probably bred to produce silk in China as early as 5000 BC.

One of China’s earliest cities was Erlitou, which was inhabited between 1900 and 1500 BC. It may have had a population of 30,000 people at its peak.

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