Yuchanyan Cave

Archaeological History

The Yuqangyan site was discovered in 1988.

The Sino-American cooperation in excavating the Yuqangyan site was officially approved by the State Council.

In 1993 and 1995, the earliest cultivated rice specimens and the earliest pottery products in the world were successively excavated at the site, which was rated as one of the one hundred most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century in China and caused a world sensation. According to researcher Yuan Jiarong, the Chinese leader of the archaeological excavation team and director of the Provincial Institute of Archaeology, the excavation concentrated the world’s most authoritative experts on the origins of agriculture today, including four foreign experts including Bayeseph, a tenured professor in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, Professor Zhang Wenxu, an expert in rice history at China Agricultural University, and nearly 30 experts from universities and research institutions such as Peking University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The main goal of the excavation is to find earlier and more evidence of the origin of rice farming.

Collapse edit this section Geographical location

The Yuzhanyan site, excavated three times in 1993, 1995 and 2004, is located near the village of Baishi Zhai in Shouyan Town, Daozhou, and has the cultural characteristics of the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period. Pottery shards were unearthed from all three archaeological excavations, but they belonged to different individuals.

In 1993, the archaeologists found two rice husks, black in color, in the soil sample of the cultural layer near the bottom of the Yuzhangyan site, and the pottery shards excavated in 1993 were also roughly recoverable as kettle-shaped vessels, similar in form but slightly smaller in size. The 1993 pottery sherds excavated from Yuzhangyan were dated by the Carbon XIV Laboratory of Peking University by mass spectrometry gas pedal carbon XIV, and four data were determined. The date was 12,320+-120 years ago using humic acid on the pottery shards, 14,810+-230 years ago using the pottery shard matrix, and 14,490+-230 years ago using charcoal from the same layer. This was the earliest pottery shard found in the world at that time to be fired.

The pottery shards excavated in 1995 can be recovered as a kettle-shaped vessel. In 1995, two rice hulls, grayish-yellow in color, were found in the layers of the cultural cement accumulation slightly above the layer.

Collapse edit this section Main features

In 2004, five charred rice hulls were discovered by a joint Sino-American archaeological team. The three unearthed or charred ones vary in degree or color because of the different environments in which the specimens were found. The rice grain unearthed at Yuzhangyan is a special rice species with a combination of wild, indica and japonica characteristics, reflecting the primitive traits of the early evolution from common wild rice to cultivated rice. The ancient cultivated rice at Yuzhangyan was determined to be about 14,000~18,000 years old, which is the earliest artificially cultivated rice specimen found in the world.

In 2004, an even more primitive pottery shards were discovered at Yuzhangyan by a joint US-China archaeological team. In order to more accurately date these pottery shards, and without damaging the natural ecology and small natural ecosystem of Yuqangyan, the archaeological staff conducted a detailed carbon dating analysis of the surrounding strata where the pottery shards were unearthed. Researchers extracted more than 100 bone fragments and charcoal sediment specimens from the surrounding strata, and radiocarbon dated 29 of these samples, thereby obtaining a chronological lineage regarding the different surrounding strata. After comparing the sherds with the excavated stratigraphy, the researchers tentatively dated the pottery sherds to 18,000 years ago.

On June 5, 2009, the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences published an article on the dating of the Yuzhanyan pottery shards, stating that the pottery shards excavated at Yuzhanyan are approximately 14,000 to 21,000 years old, which is thousands of years earlier than any other pottery shards found anywhere else in the world, and indicates that the Yuzhanyan people invented pottery in the Late Paleolithic period.

Collapse edit this section Cultural Relics Remains

The Yuzhanyan site is an early Neolithic cave site with a simple cultural nature and rich cultural connotations. Roughly made primitive pottery, stone tools, bone tools, horn tools and perforated mussel tools have been excavated from the site. The primitive pottery was of low fire, with a large amount of coarse sand and loose texture, and was recovered in the form of a kettle-shaped vessel, which is one of the earliest known pottery products in China. Animal fossils include mammals, birds, fish, and mollusks. In addition, 17 recognizable plant species were found, including four rice husks. These rice husks are the earliest dated physical specimens of artificially cultivated rice that have been found in the world.

The cultural pile of the site is 1.2-1.8 meters thick, and the excavated relics are mainly stone tools, bone, horn, tooth, mussel products and a large number of animal remains, showing the transition from the Paleolithic culture to the Neolithic culture, which dates back to about 10,000 years ago. In particular, rice remains were found in both excavations, which were identified by experts as cultivated species, still retaining the comprehensive characteristics of wild rice, can rice and japonica rice.

This is the earliest artificially cultivated rice specimen found in the world, refreshing the historical record of the earliest human cultivation of rice. It is also a rare physical material to explore the time and place of the origin of rice farming and the history of rice evolution. In addition, the unearthed pottery with low fire, loose texture and black-brown appearance is the earliest known pottery product in China, which is of great value in exploring the origin and development of pottery making in China, together with the unearthed pottery from such sites as Xianren Cave in Jiangxi. What is also surprising is that a large number of fossilized snail shells have been excavated here, and the tail end has been removed, which indicates that the local people knew how to eat snails in ancient times.

Collapse edit this section excavated remains

A large number of plant and animal remains have been unearthed at the Yuzhan Rock site. Because the age is relatively recent and the preservation environment is relatively stable, the animal and plant remains are not deeply lithified, so let’s call them semi-fossils. Animal remains are divided into mammals, birds, fish, turtles, snails and mussels, and insects.   

As many as 28 species of mammal remains have been unearthed at Yujingyan. The largest number of animals are deer, such as water deer, plum deer, red deer, muntjac, musk, etc.; followed by wild boar, cattle, bamboo rats, porcupines; meat-eating animals are mostly small animals, and there are many kinds, such as green weasel, dog badger, crab-eating midge, spotted spirit civet, flower-faced civet, coconut civet, wild cat, big spirit cat, bear, raccoon. In addition, there are also remains of macaques, sheep, rabbits, insectivores and other animals.    

There are 27 species of bird and avian animal remains and a huge number of them. Among them, 18 species of aquatic species are related to the aquatic environment. Such as herons, geese, swans, ducks, cranes, mandarin ducks, etc. Such an abundance of aquatic birds indicates that there was a wide distribution of water near Yuzhan Rock at that time.   

Fish remains include carp, grass carp, and blue fish. The turtles and tortoises include the turtle and the hidden-necked turtle. There are two types of snails, large and small. There are small snails that live in freshwater environments and those that live in terrestrial environments, while large snails basically live in freshwater environments. More than 26 species of snails have been identified, of which four species are available for human consumption: barrel snail, Chinese snail double up subspecies, cut snail, and square snail square subspecies. There are seven species of mussels, all of which are freshwater lakes, rivers, riverside pond life species, such as heavy beauty with mussels, short pleated spear mussels, pearl mussels, Hebei basket clams, basket clams, etc. 

Collapse edit this section site significance

The cultural accumulation at Yuqangyan is 1.2~1.8 meters thick, which is obviously not caused by short-term human activities but is the result of long-term life.

The production tools excavated at Yuqangyan are mainly stone products, horn, tooth, and mussel products. The combination of stone tools is mainly scrapers, slashers, hoe-shaped tools, stone hammers, and a small number of subwaisted axe-shaped tools, Sumatran-style stone tools, and pointed tools. Among them, the hoe, subwaisted axe, and Sumatran stone tools are all primitive agricultural tools. The excavation of these tools is a direct proof of the existence of primitive agriculture at Yuzhan Rock. In particular, three archaeological excavations have unearthed rice grains, which solemnly declare the existence of primitive rice farming at Yuzhanyan.

The Yuzhanyan site is a cultural relic of the transition from the Late Paleolithic to the Early Neolithic period, which demonstrates the primary economic form of human rice agriculture, explains the process of the origin of the human pottery industry, and explains the rise of the earliest human hand-made crafts.

In 1995 and 2001, the Yuzhangyan site was named one of the “95 National Top Ten New Archaeological Discoveries” and one of the 100 major archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, respectively.

Collapse Editorial Protection of Cultural Relics

In June 2001, the Yuqangyan site was announced by the State Council as a National Key Cultural Relics Protection Unit. The discovery and successful interpretation of the Yuzhangyan site is eloquent proof of the unique and important role of the upper reaches of the Xiangjiang River and the Xiaoshui Valley in the history of ancient Chinese civilization and the history of world civilization.

The Yuqangyan site provides rare physical information for understanding the culture of the transition period from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic and the origin of early pottery and rice agriculture.

In the evening of October 18, 2020, the “First Wannian Rice Crop Forum” hosted by the Chinese Crop Society and the People’s Government of Shangrao City, Jiangxi Province, the “Chinese Prehistoric Rice Crop Cultural Site Alliance” was officially established, initiated by academicians such as Wan Jianmin, Yan Longan and Xie Hua’an.

The alliance by the Jiangxi Wannian County Xianren Cave site, Hunan Daoxian Yujinyan site, Hunan Li County Chengtoushan site, Zhejiang Yuyao Hemudu site, Henan Maeyang Jiahu site, Guangxi Guilin Cailiyan site and other six site units jointly initiated. The establishment of the alliance aims to establish Chinese rice culture self-confidence, highlight the status of Chinese prehistoric rice in the history of human civilization, promote the protection, research and utilization of Chinese prehistoric rice culture sites cross-regional collaboration, and jointly declare the world cultural heritage.

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