Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 1143–1153 | Cite as

Archaeobotanical studies of the Yanghai cemetery in Turpan, Xinjiang, China

  • Meiying Zhao
  • Hongen JiangEmail author
  • Christopher Joel Grassa


The Yanghai cemetery (~ 1260–48 BC) belongs to the Subeixi culture (1200 BC–100 AD), which is one of the most important prehistorical archeological cultures in Xinjiang, China. Plant macroremains like seeds/fruits, wood, and stems were discovered in the Yanghai cemetery. Altogether 25 species of plant were found, including three cereals, one type of fruit tree, two medicinal plants, one plant for decoration, and five types of wood for fire drilling, as well as some other plants. The date range of the samples discussed in this paper is around 900–200 BC. It is suggested that the Yanghai people once lived in a relatively humid area like an oasis with local water resources. They lived mainly pastorally and cultivated common millet, naked barley, and wheat as a supplement. However, the evidence of viticulture indicates that they led a sedentary life rather than being mobile pastoralists. It is notable that Cannabis was used not only for medicine but also for shamanistic use. Since there is still a lack of a systemic summary of these archaeobotanical studies at the Yanghai cemetery, an overview is given in the present paper.


Archaeobotany Yanghai cemetery Subeixi culture Xinjiang China 



We thank Prof. Enguo Lv for his assistance during the field work and Ms. Rhett Nichols for her linguistic assistance

Funding information

This study was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (41672171).


  1. Bronk Ramsey C (2017) OxCal program v 4.3.2 online:
  2. Chen G (2001) Another prehistorical archaeology culture in Xinjiang—discussion of Subeixi culture. In: Su B (ed) Su Bingqi and contemporary Chinese archaeology. Science Press, Beijing, pp 153–171 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  3. Chen F, Dong G, Zhang D, Liu X, Jia X, An C, Ma M, Xie Y, Barton L, Ren X, Zhao Z, Wu X, Jones MK (2015) Agriculture facilitated permanent human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau after 3600 BP. Science 347:248–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dai X, Lv H (2011) Influence of disastrous weather on agricultural production in Turpan area. Xinjiang Agricultural Science and Technology 6:28–29 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  5. Fuller DQ, Rowlands M (2011) Ingestion and food technologies: maintaining differences over the long-term in West, South and East Asia. In: Wilkinson TC, Sherratt ES, Bennet J (eds) Interweaving worlds: systematic interactions in Eurasia, 7th to the 1st millennia BC. Essays from a conference in memory of Professor Andrew Sherratt. Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp 37–60Google Scholar
  6. Geographical Society of Xinjiang (1993) Geography handbook of Xinjiang. People’s Publishing Press of Xinjiang, Xinjiang (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  7. Gong Y, Yang Y, Ferguson DK, Tao D, Li W, Wang C, Lv E, Jiang H (2011) Investigation of ancient noodles, cakes, and millet at the Subeixi site, Xinjiang, China. J Archaeol Sci 38:470–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Han J (2007) The culture of Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in Xinjiang. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  9. Han J (2013) “The polychrome ceramic road” and early sino-western cultural communication. Archaeology and Cultural Relics 1:28–37 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  10. Jiang H (2006) The plant remains of Yanghai tombs (2500 yrs B.P.), and their relationship to the ancient Yanghai people and environment. Ph.D. thesis. Beijing: Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Science (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  11. Jiang H, Li X, Zhao Y, Ferguson DK, Hueber F, Bera S, Wang Y, Zhao L, Liu C, Li C (2006) A new insight into Cannabis sativa (Cannabaceae) utilization from 2500-year-old Yanghai Tombs, Xinjiang, China. J Ethnopharmacol 108:414–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jiang H, Li X, Ferguson DK, Wang Y, Liu C, Li C (2007a) The discovery of Capparis spinosa L. (Capparidaceae) in the Yanghai Tombs (2500 years BP), NW China, and its medicinal implications. J Ethnopharmacol 113:409–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jiang H, Li X, Li C (2007b) Cereal remains from Yanghai tomb in Turpan, Xinjiang and their palaeoenvironmental significance. J Palaeogeogr 9:551–558 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  14. Jiang H, Li X, Liu C, Wang Y, Li C (2007c) Fruits of Lithospermum officinale L. (Boraginaceae) used as an early plant decoration (2500 years BP) in Xinjiang, China. J Archaeol Sci 34:167–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jiang H, Zhang Y, Li X, Yao Y, Ferguson DK, Lv E, Li C (2009) Evidence for early viticulture in China: proof of a grapevine (Vitis vinifera L., Vitaceae) in the Yanghai tombs, Xinjiang. J Archaeol Sci 36:1458–1465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jiang H, Wu Y, Wang H, Ferguson DK, Li C (2013) Ancient plant use at the site of Yuergou, Xinjiang, China: implications from desiccated and charred plant remains. Veg Hist Archaeobotany 22:129–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jiang H, Zhang Y, Lv E, Wang C (2015) Archaeobotanical evidence of plant utilization in the ancient Turpan of Xinjiang, China: a case study at the Shengjindian cemetery. Veg Hist Archaeobotany 24:165–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jiang H, Wang L, Merlin MD, Clarke RC, Pan Y, Zhang Y, Xiao G, Ding X (2016) Ancient cannabis burial shroud in a central Eurasian cemetery. Econ Bot 70:213–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jiang H, Feng G, Liu X, Cao H, Wang S, Ma L, Ferguson DK (2018) Drilling wood for fire: discoveries and studies of the fire-making tools in the Yanghai cemetery of ancient Turpan, China. Veg Hist Archaeobotany 27:197–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Li C (2010) Molecular genetic analysis of ancient remains from Xiaohe cemetery. Ph.D. thesis. Jilin University, China (in Chinese with English abstract), ChangchunGoogle Scholar
  21. Li C, Zhou H (2016) A study of the matrilineal genetic diversity of the human remains unearthed from Xiaohe cemetery. The Western Region Studies 50–55 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  22. Li X, Lv E, Zhang Y (2011) Excavation on the Yanghai cemetery in Shanshan (Piqan) County, Xinjiang. Acta Archaeologica Sinica 1:99–150 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  23. Luo F (2009) Boomerangs identified at Yanghai cemetery in Xinjiang. Archaeology and Cultural Relics 3:83–89 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  24. Lv E (2002) The site and cemetereies at Subeixi in Shanshan County, Xinjiang. Archaeology 6:42–57 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  25. Lv E, Wang L, Guo W (2017) A study on the staging and dating of Yanghai cemetery. Tufanological Research 1:1–18 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  26. Niyaz E (2012) On the horsegears uneathed in Yanghiy necroples, Turpan and related issues. J Xinjiang Univ (Philosophy, Humanities & Social Science) 3:76–79 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  27. Qu Y, Hu Y, Rao H, Abuduresule I, Li WY, Hu X, Jiang H, Wang C, Yang Y (2017) Diverse lifestyles and populations in the Xiaohe culture of the Lop Nur region, Xinjiang, China. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 3:1–10. Google Scholar
  28. Reimer PJ, Bard E, Bayliss A, Beck JW, Blackwell PG, Ramsey CB, Buck CE, Cheng H, Edwards RL, Friedrich M, Grootes PM, Guilderson TP, Haflidason H, Hajdas I, Hatté C, Heaton TJ, Hoffmann DL, Hogg AG, Hughen KA, Kaiser KF, Kromer B, Manning SW, Niu M, Reimer RW, Richards DA, Scott EM, Southon JR, Staff RA, Turney CSM, van der Plicht J (2013) IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55:1869–1887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shao H (2012) Research on the Subeixi culture in Xinjiang. Frontier Archaeology Research 12:193–220 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  30. Si Y, Lv E, Li X, Jiang H, Hu Y, Wang C (2013) Exploration of human diets and populations from the Yanghai tombs, Xinjiang. Chinese Science Bulletin (Chinese Version) 15:1422–1429 (in Chinese with English abstract)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Spengler RN, Chang C, Tourtellote PA (2013) Agricultural production in the Central Asian mountains: Tuzusai, Kazakhstan (410–150 B.C.). J Field Archaeol 38:68–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tuerxun W (2006) Exploration of the medicinal value of the Capparis spinosa. Journal of Medicine and Pharmacy of Chinese Minorities 4:33Google Scholar
  33. Wang B (1992) Excavation of the wooden-chambered tomb at Alagou in Xinjiang. Wenwu 1:18–22 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  34. Wu Z, Raven PH, Hong D (1994–2013) Flora of China. Science Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  35. Yang D (1993). The features, potentialities and development directions of agricultural production in Turpan. In: Xinjiang Institute of Geography (ed) Journal of Arid Land Geography. Science Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  36. Yang R, Yang Y, Li W, Abuduresule Y, Hu X, Wang C, Jiang H (2014) Investigation of cereal remains at the Xiaohe cemetery in Xinjiang. J Archaeol Sci 49:42–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Yao Y, Li X, Jiang H, Ferguson DK, Hueber F, Ghosh R, Bera S, Li C (2012) Pollen and phytoliths from fired ancient potsherds as potential indicators for deciphering past vegetation and climate in Turpan, Xinjiang, NW China. PLoS One 7:e39780CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zhang L, Yang C (2004) Protection of Capparis spinosa in wind-erosion area. Plants 1:3–4 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  39. Zhao Z (2011) New archaeobotanic data for the study of the origins of agriculture in China. Curr Anthropol 52:S295–S306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Zhao K, Li X, Zhou X, Dodson J, Ji M (2012) Characteristics of agricultural activities and its impact on the environment at Xintala site, Xinjiang, reconstructed from archaeological plant remains. Quaternary Sciences 32:219–225 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  41. Zhao K, Yang Z, Zhang Y, Bi Z, Wang C, Yang Q, Liu L, Kong Z, Yan M (2013) Pollen records and paleoenvironment since Mid-Holocene in the Aydingkol Lake of Xinjiang. Quaternary Sciences 33:526–535 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  42. Zheng H, Jiang H, Zhang Y, Lv E, Yang Y, Wang C (2015) Early processed Triticeae food remains in Yanghai tombs, Xinjiang, China. Archaeometry 57:378–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Lab of Human Evolution, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and PalaeoanthropologyUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Archaeology and AnthropologyUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard University HerbariaCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations