Tangcunmiao archeological site provides insight into prehistoric Chinese civilization

Seemingly unremarkable, the Tangcunmiao archeological site holds the earliest remnants of Chinese civilization, from prehistoric tools and relics, to ancient tombs.
Tangcunmiao archeological site provides insight into prehistoric Chinese civilization
Ti Gong

Tangcunmiao sits at the intersection between the Zoumatang and Huatianjing rivers in Xiaokunshan Town.

At the north bank of the intersecting point between the Zoumatang and Huatianjing rivers, 3 kilometers west of Xiaokunshan Town, several dilapidated earthen houses surround an inconspicuous stone monument, hidden among the surrounding fields and trees. Upon closer inspection, the monument is clearly inscribed with the words: "Shanghai Cultural Heritage Protection Site, Tangcunmiao Ancient Cultural Relics." This seemingly unremarkable, desolate and uninhabited "village" was once a place where the ancestors of Shanghai lived and thrived over 5,000 years ago.

In 1962, staff from the Songjiang County Museum discovered relic fragments in the surrounding rice fields of Tangcunmiao. In the same year, the Shanghai Cultural Heritage Administration sent investigators to survey the area and found an ancient tomb and fragments of black ash pottery. The team also collected gray-black pottery fragments, tripod bases in a "丁" shape, stone knives, stone axes, stone plows and stone chisels from the nearby Huatianjing riverbank. After extensive archaeological excavations, it was confirmed that the earliest relics belonged to the late Songze culture period.

A large number of agricultural and daily life tools unearthed at the site provided a glimpse into the lives of prehistoric ancestors. Among them, the discovery of two male and two female tombs, with abundant accompanying burial objects, including a triangle-shaped and single-holed stone plow (one of the earliest plows found in China), vividly depicted the farming life of the ancestors during the Songze culture period.

Stone plows cannot be used alone and must be combined with a plow bed and plow frame. However, during the archeological excavations, no plow beds or plow frames were found. It is estimated that they were made of wood, an organic material that had decayed and eroded over several thousand years, leaving no trace behind.

Archeological evidence shows that primitive agriculture originally relied mainly on wooden, stone and bone tools such as hoes, shovels and hoes used for light tilling of the soil.

The emergence of the stone plow broke through the slow and inefficient cultivation method in which only one hole could be dug at a time or soil could only be loosened with each up-down motion. Instead, it enabled the continuous and rapid deep plowing of a line, several times faster than the previous method. To use the plow, pulling force was required in front, while someone supported and adjusted the depth behind. Although the plow was deeper in the soil, there is currently no direct evidence of the use of animals such as oxen or horses during the Songze period.

In ancient times, there was a saying that "a well can create a village." During the excavation of the Tangcunmiao ruins, well remains were discovered. The wells are in a simple straight shape with reed marks on the wall and decayed bamboo and wood ash inside.

The discovery of these wells not only provides an important example for studying the early well-making technology in China but also proves that people during the Songze period had already overcome their reliance on natural water sources and used their own wisdom to create better conditions for human survival. It vividly demonstrates that since over 5,000 years ago, Tangcunmiao was a relatively large, busy "marketplace."

In 1977, Shanghai government designated the area as a protected site for ancient cultural relics.

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