Speaker: Katherine Brunson, 2015-16 An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
The late third millennium BCE was a period of technological and cultural change in China’s Yellow River valley. Domestic cattle and sheep were introduced into China from West Asia during this period, marking a shift in the zooarchaeological record and the arrival of new methods of animal exploitation. Using zooarchaeological evidence for the exploitation of secondary products and bone working at the Late Neolithic Longshan period sites of Taosi and Zhoujiazhuang in Shanxi Province, I examine the relationship between animal products, craft specialization, and increasing social complexity. My research suggests that non-subsistence uses of cattle and sheep were important factors that contributed to the adoption of herding in the Central Plains region, and that the nature of cattle and sheep exploitation varied between sites depending on local environmental and cultural conditions. Additionally, I use ancient DNA analysis to identify bovine oracle bones from Taosi and Zhoujiazhuang. Both domestic cattle and wild aurochs scapulas were used in divination rituals, raising the possibility that people experimented with managing native East Asian wild aurochs alongside domestic cattle. The zooarchaeological data presented in this study indicate that greater attention should be paid to the varied non-subsistence uses of animals in ancient China during periods leading up to Bronze Age state formation.