The Prehistory of China

China’s prehistory became the subject of more extensive investigations only after World War II. In particular, the excavations of the rich first tombs of the Han and Zhou dynasties have attracted international attention. However, these tombs date from a period rich in written sources and therefore fall outside of China’s actual prehistory.

Paleolithic time

The first to systematically collect ancient finds and make excavations of purely prehistoric character was the Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson. During the 1920s, he made a number of significant discoveries. Among other things, Andersson’s reconnaissance led to the study of rich cultural layers in some caves near Beijing. In thick layers of debris there were found quantities of bone debris, especially of animals, but also of humans. The oldest of the human bones was believed to be ca. 450,000-500,000 years old. Along with these knuckle remains, simple staining tools and chipping waste of quartz, fireplaces and meal scraps were found. It seems that the implements belong to a paleolithic tradition that is different from towel and stain traditions elsewhere in the world.

According to Nexticle, two other discoveries, one from the “Upper Cave” at Zhoukoudian, have yielded skeletal parts of humans and remains of bone implements estimated to be about age. 25,000 years. These findings are related to late Paleolithic material from Siberia. Other researchers, such as the French archaeologists Emile Licent and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, also conducted a series of investigations of China’s stone age during the 1920s. Their discoveries, together with the research done in recent years, have shown that many very varied cultural forms existed in older and especially younger Stone Age in Central China, but we still know little about the oldest prehistory in the rainforest areas.

The oldest Neolithic settlement

The oldest Neolithic settlement in China can be dated to ca. 6000 BCE or earlier. As early as the early Stone Age, there were two Neolithic cultivation traditions – one based on rice cultivation, the other on millet. Everything approx. 5000 BCE technological development has been relatively advanced. Besides milled stone implements are thus known rich finds of painted ceramics from this and later parts of younger stone age. This is especially true of the Shanghai – Nanjing District, where hundreds of Neolithic settlements and burial sites are located and surveyed.

In the period between approx. 5000 and 3000 BCE the average temperature has been 2-3 degrees higher than today. Besides cereals, fruits and nuts have been eaten. Pigs, dogs, sheep and water buffalo have been kept as pets. It seems that the water buffalo has been used as a migratory animal in neolithic times, including for earthing. During the Neolithic period, copper has become known and used both for jewelry and weapons. The use of metal is probably due to cultural development and not influences from the Middle East.

The bronze age

China’s Bronze Age has also proved to be very rich, and a clear tradition has been demonstrated from the oldest Neolithic phases, throughout the Bronze Age and down to our times. It is thought that the actual Bronze Age was first developed during the Shang Dynasty in northern Henan ca. 1600 BCE This Bronze Age is the oldest known phase in China’s culture from which we have written sources.

In a unique way, archaeological and historical information complement each other, so that the Bronze Age, through the discoveries of recent years, represents an extremely rich period. Among the finds are the royal tombs of the capital of the Shang Dynasty, which was located near the later Anyang. Despite older looting, these graves are impressive in scope and equipment. People, animals, tanks and objects of all kinds were thus sacrificed at the funerals. Only one of these plants found human remains, in this plant there were at least 249.

From the subsequent Zhou Dynasty, the archaeological material is even richer. Near Shangcunling in Henan Province, in 1972, three tanks were uncovered and 234 other partially very well-equipped burials from the 600s BCE. The largest tomb contained 10 tanks, which were unusually well kept. These examples, as well as lots of other information, testify that China in the Bronze Age was very populous, and that the society was highly divided and well organized.

Early Chinese history

  • Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BCE) (Mythical)
  • Shang Dynasty(1600-1050 BCE)
  • Zhou Dynasty(1050-221 BCE)
  • Vestre Zhou (1050-771 BCE)
  • Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE)
  • Spring and Autumn Period (771-481 BCE)
  • The warring states (403-221 BCE)

Imperial China

  • Qin Dynasty(221-210 BCE)
  • Han Dynasty(206 BCE-220 AD)
  • Vestre Han (206 BCE- 9 AD)
  • Xin Dynasty (9-25 AD)
  • Eastern Han (25-220 AD)
  • Three Kingdoms (220-280)
  • White (220-265)
  • Shu (221-263)
  • Wu (222-280)
  • Jin Dynasty (265-420)
  • Vestre Guilder (265-317)
  • 16 kingdoms (304-439)
  • Northern and Southern Dynasties (317-589)


  • Eastern Jin (317-420)
  • Liu-Song (420-479)
  • Southern Qi (479-502)
  • Liang (502-557)
  • Chen (557-589)


  • Nordre Wei(286-535)
  • Østre Wei (534-550)
  • Vestre Wei (535-557)
  • Northern Qi (550-577)
  • Nordre Zhou (557-581)
  • Sui Dynasty(581-618)
  • Tang Dynasty (618-907)
  • Five Dynasties (907-960)
  • Frontier Dynasties (907-1234)
  • Liao Dynasty (907-1126)
  • Vestre Xia(1038-1227)
  • Jin Dynasty (1115-1234)
  • Song Dynasty(960-1276)
  • Nordre Song (960-1126)
  • Sydre Song (1126-1276)
  • Yuan Dynasty (1276-1369)
  • Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
  • Qing Dynasty(1644-1911)

The Chinese Republic

  • Republic of China (1912-1949)
  • People’s Republic of China(1949-)

The Prehistory of China

The Prehistory of China
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