The Majiayao to Qijia transition: exploring the intersection of technological and social continuity and change

Abstract

The transition between the Majiayao (5300–4000 BP) and Qijia (4200–3500 BP) “cultures” in what is now northwestern China’s Gansu Province has typically been defined by major technological changes in pottery forms, subsistence practices, and site locations. These changes are thought to have been driven by a combination of climate change induced cooling and drying as well as human migration into the region from areas further east. Based on our review of literature on the topic, as well as recent fieldwork in the northern Tao River Valley, we suggest that the picture is significantly more complex, with some new technologies slowly being experimented with, adopted, or rejected, while many other aspects of production and social organization persisted over hundreds of years. We hypothesize that these changes reflect the active agency of the inhabitants of southern Gansu during the fifth and fourth millennia BP balancing long-standing cultural traditions with influxes of new technologies. Unlike some societies in other regions at this time, however, increasing technological specialization does not appear to have resulted in growing social inequality, but the archaeological material instead reflects increasingly complex heterarchical organization.

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Data availability

All raw data is available on request to the authors. All ceramic petrography data is available online on OpenContext <https://opencontext.org/projects/2c5addea-41d5-4941-b2bd-672bc1e60448>.

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Acknowledgments

This research would not have been possible without the assistance of the excellent staff at the Gansu Provincial Institute of Archaeology as well as the guidance of Prof. Shuicheng LI of Peking University. Many scholars, undergraduate, and graduate students also contributed to our work in the field and lab and in particular we would like to thank Dr. Yitzchak JAFFE, Dr. Yanxi WANG, and the late Dr. Pochan CHEN and Dr. Ling-yu HUNG for their contributions in making this work possible. We would also like to thank the following institutions for their generous support of our fieldwork: the Asia Center at Harvard University, the American School for Prehistoric Research, the National Science Foundation (USA) [Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant #1541275], the Tang Center for Early China at Columbia University, the Stanford Archaeology Center, and National Social Science Fund of China (Key Project of Chronological Research on Bronze Cultures along the east part of the Silk Road, Grant # 16ZDA144). Finally, we would like to thank the people living near Dayatou, Qijiaping, Siwashan, Majiayao, and the many other sites we have visited for their generosity and support year after year.

Funding

The research presented in this paper was generously supported by funding from the Asia Center at Harvard University, the American School for Prehistoric Research, the Tang Center for Early China at Columbia University, the Stanford Archaeology Center, the National Science Foundation (USA) [Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant #1541275],  the ACLS/ Henry Luce Foundation pre-Dissertation Grant program, the Association for Asian Studies China and Inner Asia Council Small Grant program, and the National Social Science Fund of China (Key Project of Chronological Research on Bronze Cultures along the east part of the Silk Road, Grant #16ZDA144).

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Womack, A., Flad, R., Zhou, J. et al. The Majiayao to Qijia transition: exploring the intersection of technological and social continuity and change. asian archaeol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41826-021-00041-x

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Keywords

  • Technology
  • Social organization
  • China
  • Bronze age
  • Continuity
  • Heterarchy