Xi'an Banpo Museum

Banpo Museum is located in the eastern suburb of Xi'an, nine kilometers from the center of the city. It houses the site of a 6,000-year-old village, which belongs to a Neolithic matriarchal clan community.

The site was discovered by chance in 1953. It extends over an area of 50, 000 square meters. Excavations were conducted in five phases between 1954 and 1957, opening up an area of 10, 000 square meters. Banpo Museum was set up at the site in 1958, the first of its kind in China.

According to the archaeological survey, the village is divided into three sections: the living section, the pottery-making section and the burial section. By means of scientific excavation, archaeologists have discovered nearly 10,000 production tools or daily utensils, 46 houses, 2 pigsties, 200 cellars, 174 burial pits for adults and 73 burial jars for children. The discovery of so many artifacts is indeed unprecedented.

Entrance of Xi'an Banpo Museum

Production Activity

The plant specimens and animal bones under study show that the area of Banpo Village was warm and moist 6, 000 years ago. This made it possible for them to conduct many activities: faming, fishing, hunting, making pottery wares, raising livestock, building houses and living a settled life. Some carbonized millets were discovered in a cellar, and Chinese cabbage seeds were discovered in a pottery jar. This shows that Banpo people not only knew how to grow grain crops, but also vegetables, which greatly enriched their material life. 

Hunting played the most important role in the life of the Banpo people. Judging from the animal bones discovered on the site, we can tell that sika (spotted deer) were the principal game of the Banpo people as evidenced by most of the animal bones found at the site. People then went out hunting collectively. The hunting tools they used were mainly arrows, stone pebbles and stone spears.

Fishing was another occupation of the Banpo people. Fishhooks and harpoons were found at the site, all of them exquisitely made. In the early period, they had no barbs on them, later on, barbs appeared on both fishhooks and harpoons. Archaeologists found impressions of fishnets on pieces of broken pottery. What is more, some stone net sinkers were discovered, another evidence that fish nets were used to catch fish 6,000 years ago.

In Banpo remains, a large number of differently shaped Pottery utensils were discovered. According to their usage, they could be classified into several categories, such as food and water containers, cooking utensils and utensils for storing things. The pottery made by Banpo people was mainly red in color. Banpo is a typical site of Yangshao Culture, which first came to light in Yangshao Village, Mianchi County, Henan Province in 1921. With painted red pottery as its chief feature, Yangshao Culture is also known as "the Painted Pottery Culture."

The pottery making area is located in the eastern part of Banpo Village. In this area, six pottery kilns of two different types were discovered: horizontal and vertical. An examination of the wall of the kilns shows that the temperature in the kiln could reach as high as 800`C to 1,000`C.

The pottery utensils unearthed at Banpo were not only beautifully shaped, but also rich in the variety of colorful designs. Most of the designs had to do with fish. There were also designs of deer, mountains and rivers, etc. In addition to painted designs, there were also impressions of nails, strings, mats, linen fabrics, etc. 

In Banpo remains, some bone shuttles, spinning wheels and 81 bone needles with eyes were unearthed. Impressions of linen fabrics were found at the bottom of some excavated pottery vessels. All this may convince us that this period saw the emergence of spinning and weaving.

A House Site in Xi'an Banpo Village

The Living Section

Banpo is one of the largest villages of Yangshao Culture. The living section alone covers an area of 30,000 square meters. It is surrounded by a 300-metre-long moat that served the purpose of protecting the village against wild beasts and floods. To the north of the moat is the burial section; while to its east is the pottery-making section. In all, the remains of 46 houses were discovered. A house as large as 160 square meters was uncovered in the center of the living section with smaller houses built around it. It is believed this large house was used as a meeting hall in which the Banpo people discussed their communal affairs, and at the same time, it served as a "dormitory" for children and old people. 

There are altogether 200 cellars scattered outside the houses. They were mainly used to store tools and grain. All the cellars were located in the open air, which shows that the Banpo people worked together, and enjoyed equal distribution. They lived in a primitive society without classes, exploitation or private property.

Houses in Banpo Site (reproduction)

The Burial Section

To the north of the protective moat lies the burial section of Banpo Village. It was the place where adults were buried. Altogether 170 graves were excavated. At the time of Banpo, males and females were separately buried either in groups or singly and there was not a grave where a man and a woman were buried together. This is precisely an indication of a characteristic matriarchal society when exogamy was practiced. At that time a man was "married" to a woman. As a result, their children only recognized mothers; children followed their mother. 

There were three or four pieces of burial objects in every tomb. They include bowls, plates, bottles and some other pottery cooking vessels. The burial objects were usually placed near the legs of the deceased. From this, we can see that 6, 000 years ago the primitive people already generated the conception that everybody had a soul. They believed that people would go to live in the other world after their death. So they buried the dead together with his daily utensils.

An Urn Burial Group in Xi'an Banpo Village Site

Children's Burial Jars

To bury dead children in jars is a burial custom of the Banpo people. When children died, they were not supposed to be buried in the communal cemetery of the village. So far 73 burial jars were found. To bury the children near the house is probably an indication of the mother's affection for their lost children. Mothers perhaps thought that their children were too small to live by themselves; they still needed to be taken care of. On the other hand, it is believed that there was a strict rule for burying the dead in Banpo. Since those children died very Young, they were not considered as full members of the clan.

An Adult's Grave and Mortuary Potteries in Banpo Site

Unearthed Artifacts

Banpo was a village of the Neolithic Age, when tools were made by the technique of grinding and polishing and were comparatively smooth. Drill technique appeared in a later period. The polished tools are mostly for chopping and finishing purposes.

Harvesting tools discovered at the site include stone and pottery knives and stone sickles. They were shaped more or less like metal sickles in use nowadays. The improvement in the farm tools reflected the constant development of man's wisdom. Millstone and grinding stone that were used to process grain were also discovered.   

Some 113 carved and painted signs were found on the unearthed pottery vessels. It was believed these signs were possibly the earliest Chinese script, the predecessor of the inscriptions on bones or tortoise shell of the Shang Dynasty.

The tip-bottomed bottle is characteristic of the pottery unearthed at Banpo. It had two advantages for holding water. The first is that it was portable and easy to carry on the back. The second is that the water would not spill out when it was carried from the river to the living place.

The design of a fish with a human face was a masterpiece painting discovered on the site, and reflected the artistic attainments of these early inhabitants. Its lines were clear and graceful. On its head the hair was well Pinned and done into a knot, two small fish were held in the corners of its mouth. This designs depicted BanPo people's strong ties and special emotion with fish. It was most likely the totem of the Banpo People.

Banpo people already found that steam could be used in cooking, and then they invented pottery steamers. This has been proven to be the earliest use of steam in human history.

In the course of excavation, the remains of two sties and bones of pigs, dogs, oxen, sheep, horses and chickens were found. According to the study of some experts, the only domestic animals 6, 000 years ago could be pigs and dogs, while other animals were being tamed.

Pottery Vessels Unearthed from Banpo Site


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