This study focuses on Neolithic period Majiayao-style painted pottery from Northwest China, which is known for its high quality and beautiful décor. While much is known about the pottery, research on the associated Majiayao Culture has previously been limited to cultural histories that emphasize chronology and trait-list classification, leading to a static and simplistic view of past realities. This study instead focuses on the long-overlooked social and economic processes behind the production of these vessels. Attribute and physicochemical analyses of hundreds of ceramic vessels and samples selected from multiple sites in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces are combined with settlement pattern and mortuary analyses of thousands of sites and burials. By synthesizing these data, this study illustrates a positive correlation between regional density of settlement distribution, intensification of pottery production, and degree of social inequality in each phase. Rather than showing a simple linear process of increasing social complexity, however, distinct regional variations in each phase and significant regional fluctuations over time can be seen. The results of this study demonstrate that economic and social patterns related to Majiayao ceramics were far more complex than previously thought.
Ling-yu Hung was Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, specializing in the early complex societies of China and the prehistory of Taiwan. She received her PhD in Art History and Archaeology from Washington University in St Louis in 2011. She passed away after a long battle with cancer on April 26, 2018.
Anke Hein is Associate Professor in Chinese Archaeology at the University of Oxford. She received her PhD in Archaeology from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2013. Her research focuses on issues of identity, culture contact, human-environment interaction, and ceramic technology. She is the PI of the Andersson Prehistoric Pottery Analysis Project.
Andrew Womack is an Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology at Furman University. In his role as Associate Director of the Tao River Archaeological Project (TRAP), he undertakes collaborative research using a mixture of geophysical survey, excavation, and ceramic analysis to map the development of interaction networks along the proto-Silk Road in northwestern China. Includes contributions from Eric Carlucci, Cui Jianfeng, Rowan Flad, Anke Hein, Hsiao-chun Hung, and Andrew Womack.