Rediscovering of the Ancient Sichuan Civilization
by Xiao Yi
The ancient city of Baodun, located in Xinjin, Chengdu, is with a size equivalent of 386 standard football fields, in the center of which lies a complex building like a pyramid, held by forty-two one square meter pillars. This was the first large building in the Chengdu plain, with a 20-meter length and 10-meter-long wing rooms on the left and right sides, as surrounded by the other buildings, protected by the bordering walls of the ancient city, like the way the moon is surrounded by the shining stars... The culture of Baodun, has lightened the Chengdu plain in the prehistorical period, directing the people as their Venus.
The Ancient City of Baodun, the 3rd city that modified the Chinese civilization
It was the late winter in December 2009. The Chengdu plain in Sichuan basin was lifelessly cloudy, and the sun was hardly shining. Normally, the cloudy and fogy days stays all the winter. Once the weather turned like this, the wheat sprouting, along with the greens and carrots，could be collected for the meals in the locals in the Baodun Village. Therefore, they were apparently motivated in farming, instead, they met in the teahouses, smoking the cigarettes made of dried tobacco leaves, smacking their lips, chatting with each other for a whole afternoon. What’s interesting, the hottest topic of the chats those days were about the two soil ridges in the farm of Zhang, which had been the bordering wall of the city thousands of years ago, and, which now attracted the archaeological team members from the main city.
Few days ago, the archaeological team members from Chengdu came to the Baodun Village, and found that the soil ridges at the west end of the village were a part of the ancient bordering wall, so they ‘dissected’ the ridges. When I went to the village, the ridges have been already ‘cut off’ by a 20-meter-long exploring ditch dug by the archaeological team. The depth of the ditch was 2 meters; if we stood inside the ditch, we could clearly see many irregular curves, like the shape of waves hidden within the mud. 'The curves are the marks left by the ancient people when they were building the wall, by loading the mud to the working place, then clapping forward, to densify the mud. Every curve line stands for a process of mud-loading and densification, with thousands of which the wall was finally built', Kunyu He, the leader of the archaeological team in charge of Baodun introduced this to us.
Baodun Village is 40 kilometers away from the center district of Chengdu. Just as hundreds of the other villages in Chengdu plain, flowers blossom in spring and fruits harvest in fall. The West River and Tiexi River (Iron Spring) run through the village from the northeast to the southwest corner, the bubbling stream of which enriches the soil of the farms here. It's an extremely special characteristic of Baodun that there steeply stands plenty of ridges with a height of 2-3 meters, and a width of 10-20 meters on the plain without anything else high. And there is a myth in the village about the ridges, that there was a golden dragon playing with a flying horse in the sky. Their shining skin made the sunshine glowing with all directions, propitious clouds floating with the wind (which stands for happiness in the fortune and of one's family in Chinese culture, the translator commenting). Suddenly, the dragon and the horse fell from the sky, heading towards the village; the moment they reached the ground, the whole earth began to shake, and the rocks on the mountains began to fall. After this, there lie the ridges like the fins of the dragon on the ground in the village.
In Baodun village, the ridges would be removed for purpose of farming, and used as field. Some people also held the viewpoint that, a high terrain would bring good luck and happiness, thus, they built houses there. In the processes of exploring, some broken potteries, smooth stones, which is planished for a thousand times, were discovered. The team members began to pay attention to these historical sites as they were discovered frequently in the village. After the autumn of the year 1995, the archaeological team from Chengdu came to Baodun village, the members of which began to dig at a Taoist temple called "Zhen Wu". They found plenty of broken pieces of potteries, axes,adzes and chisels made of stone, indicating that Zhen Wu Taoist temple was built manually. It was 4,500 years ago, about at the end of Neolithic, also known as, in local, the period of "Long Shan (Dragon-Mountain)".
By the end of 1996, an archaeological team consisting of members from Chengdu team, Sichuan Chuan United University archaeological educational research office and Japanese Waseda University, had entered Baodun. After been researched for months, the ridges like the Locust Pier, the Ridge of Li and the Ridge of Yu (named after the locals' family names, the translator commenting) were proved to be the original site of ancient bordering walls, which stood in the round of Baodun Ancient City, with a 1,000-meter length and a 600-meter width, covering more than 600,000 squared meters. To perform the third preliminary research works for the project of 'Exploration of the Chinese Civilization's Origin', Chengdu archaeological team extremely hoped to find more evidences about the origin of the civilization on the Chengdu Plain, making the ridge of You (pronounced as 'yooh', the translator commenting) had already become the breakthrough of the research.
The Ridge of You has a length of about 500 meters, a height (broken) of 0.5 to 3 meters, and widest part is 22 meters, built with the same technique of building the Zhen Wu Taoist temple, which was also the most popular building technique to establish city thousand years ago, in the South region of China in the Neolithic: to build the base from the ground, in the middle of the stack after several layers, and then from both sides to the middle of the ramming, in the same way of fixing up farming fields of the farmers from West Sichuan ‘Bazi’ farmers repair the field of the method almost. So that the walls of the buildingare often significantly huge, the slope is relatively moderate. For defense considerations, the walls are often excavated trenches, which is usually said "moat", while the abundant rainfall in southern China and frequent floods, also need trench drainage, flood discharge.
The You Ridge is 600 meters far from the west wall of composing of the Leech Pier, Li ridge, Yu ridge and other land ridges, discovered in. It is also from the east to the west. Does this mean that it may be the outer wall of the ancient city ofBaodun? With this question, KunyuHe and his colleagues have found a series of soil ridges like ‘the Stone Ridges’, ‘the Dog pier’and ‘Wang Lin plain’, and have confirmed that it is an ancient site of the outer wall.
Latest-discovered walls are located at the outskirts of the ancient city of Baodun found in 1996, surrounding and formed a more ancient city. It turned out that the ancient city of Baodunwas surrounded by two walls inside and outside, four corners of which were all dug towards outside, which would indicate that Baodun was undoubtedly guarded and protected. In terms of age, the outer wall was built later than the inner wall;this could be explained by the expectation that the ancients first lived in the inner city, and then because of the rapid expansion of population, they developed the outer city.
After the actuarial calculation, the outer city of Baodun has a shape of a semi-regular rectangle with rounded corners, about 2000 meters long, 1500 meters wide, whose circumference reached nearly 6200 meters, and it had an area of 2.76 million square meters, about the equivalent of 386 football field size, only slightly lower than those of Liangzhu ancient city in Yuhuang(2.9 million square meters) and Xiangfen Tao Temple ancient city in Shanxi(2.8 million square meters); it should be China's third largest prehistoric city. Some scholars have speculated that the amount of soil in the pier is near 250,000 cubic meters. In accordance with this ratio, the outer wall was filled with about 1,150,000 cubic meters of soil;total amount inside and outside the wall (the total earthwork) reached 1.4 million cubic meters, which is still a huge project even if in the modern technological and social environment. In the Neolithic period, the clan system being equal for everyone has come to an end; the rich and the poor have led to the significant differences of class, the king power was gradually grasped by a few people, and the wall is a symbol of power and order.
The mysterious building in the center of the ancient city, a Chamber or a temple?
After the excavation of the outer wall, a place called ‘Gu Pier’ caused the attention of Kunyu He. It is neatly located in the center of the inner city; it’s a round mound with a height of about 2 meters, and there is no adjacent ridge around it, which precludes its possibility to be an ancient wall. Further exploration indicated that there is a richBaodunculture layer in the bottom of the Gu Pier, which became the focus of the excavation areas in the year of 2010.
Asthestratigraphic layers of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Song Dynasty, the Han Dynasty was cleaned up, 42 one-square-meter pillars revealed in the archaeological exploration area, which has a size of about 500 square meters. According to the direction, these square pillars can be divided into three parts: the main buildingat 20 meters long, 10.5 meters wide, with 28 pillars left, in which there were 8 pillars on both west and east side, north and south of the five, two within the house; each side has a wing, the North Wing has a 10-meter length and a 7.5-meter width; the southern wing has a 9-meter length, and 8-meter width, composing a pyramid-shaped building. This is also the largest Baodun pier site, and the earliest large-scale architectural sites in Chengdu.
In order to build these large houses, the designers of the ancient city of Baodun can be described as painstaking: they usedpillars to load the weight of the upper body of the building, and first excavated pillars, set up pillars and then covered with the main building. As it’s built with 42 one-meter square beams, you can imagine how magnificent was the main building. Even on the ground, the architects also had a lot of considerations, they shipped loess and paved the surface of the ground, like the modern people’s floor tiles
Results of further excavation indicated that around the several large houses, there was no lives and other relics like the pits of dust, but the unearthed potteries, clay pots look fine with careful and beautified decorations. This implies that this was not the home of ordinary people. Bin Liu, deputy director of Zhejiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology charging for the exploration of the ancient city of Liang Zhu, thought the big house look like the large-scale constructions inLiangzhu ancient city, and larger, thus this may be the original Chamber or religious sites.
4500 years ago, houses with different sizesstood around the center of the big house; the ancient city wall guarded them, where the Baodunpeople live for more than two hundred years. Later, they moved away, leaving the ancient city. All along, no one knows how they could be willing to give up such a huge city and this piece of soil where they were born and where they grew up. Untilthe several other Neolithic cities have been revealed on Chengdu plains, the fate of the people in Baodunand their experience of the disaster, gradually became known to us.
Since 1996, several ancient Neolithic cities have been found in the plain of Chengdu: Pixian ancient city, the city of Mang in Dujiangyan, Yufu City in Wenjiang, ancient city of Zizhuin Chongzhou and Shuanghe ancient city, along with Baodun ancient city were listed as National Cultural Preservations in 2001. Since then, Dayi salt shop and two ancient cities in Gaoshanhave been found.
Chengdu was formed by connection of huge beach areas besides the Minjiang River, Qian river, ShiTing River, Mianyuan River; the eight ancient cities are on the plat next to the rivers. The city walls are also built with the same piling techniques, with the most common decoration of lace, opening circle foot cans, bell-shape higher collar, wide edge and low ‘plate beans’ on the unearthed potteries. Integrating considerations of potteries and wall buildings, eight prehistoric citiescould be obviously considered with an independent archaeological culture, while the Baodun ancient citywas the largest, most typical, whose culture is named as "the culture of Baodun".
4500 to 3700 years ago, Baodun culture has lasted for about 800 years, with the different age of ancient cities: from the earliest Baodun ancient city, to the City of Mang in Dujiangyan, Pixian ancient city, Yufu City in Wenjiang and so on. In the 800 years, the ancient Sichuan people moved from place to place,giving up their homes and the citiesagain and again. Professor XingshiLiu from University of Technology in Chengdu found the traces of the ancient river bed when exploringthe Baodun ancient city and Yufu City. He proposed that most of the ancient cities were built next to the rivers, therefore, once the rivers diverse, or flood strick, the city would likely turn ‘ocean’, and the ancient Sichuan people would become ‘fish and turtles’. In desperation, the ancient Shichuan people could only move on to the road of migration, always looking for the next paradise. Cities, floods, ruins, all these have become a disaster reincarnation of the Chengdu Plain; so many ancient cities once thrived became ruins again and again, in the endless changes of dynastyand the passage of time, it might be forever buried in the horizon.
We walked into the ancient city of Baodun, but never into their hearts
Magnificent city walls and luxurious buildings, have already suggested that the ancient cities of Baodun were scaled, and this is also why Chinese scholars call them "Duyi" (literally meaning huge cities, the translator commenting). Western scholars tend to regard bronzes, cities, texts and ritual systems as symbols of civilization butasno one has found these, the Baodun culture seems to have not yet met the threshold of civilization, but in my opinion, it is like a shining star, illuminating the plains of the plains of Chengdu.
On the origin of Chinese civilization, in the past, because of the limitation of myths and stories about the Central Plains, the Yellow River Basin has been considered the center of the origin of civilization. For nearly half a century, cultures such as those in Hemudu, those in Liangzhu, proved that the Yangtze River Basin civilization has been much better than the Yellow River Basin. The famous archaeologist BingqiSu and then the ancient Chinese culture is described as stars above in the night sky. The origin of civilization was explained by the multi-origin theory resulting the Central Plains region, Shandong, Liaoning Inner Mongolia, the middle reaches of the Yangtze River area, Jiangsu and Zhejiang regions regarded as a guiding star of the origin of civilization.
China's southwest archeology started relatively later, and the site of Neolithic before were too little. The spark of civilization once was a shot of ‘dim light’.Baodun culture, as a meteor generally pierced in the sky, confirmed that the ancient Sichuan area is also an important element of the origin of Chinese civilization, combing with the Liangzhu culture at lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the Shijia River culture at middle reaches, explaining the diversity of the Yangtze River Basin civilization.
December 2011, Chengdu archaeological team found two large bases at the Gu Pier, meaning that Baodun ancient city is still constantly bringing surprises to the world. The walls and the big houses found frequentlycan’t conceal the embarrassment from lack of beautified artifacts. As is one of the three ancient prehistoric cities, the ancient city of Liangzhu is the largest ancient city of China in Neolithic ages, known as the "first city of China", for the beautiful jade bracelet and other jade decorations; the Tao Temple has always been regarded as the capital of ancient Kings in Sichuan, Yao and Shun, where people found artifacts such as special chimes, dragon plates, drums and other high-level rituals, but the ancient city of Baodun only provides some simple potteries, stone-made stuffs unearthed. However, the huge city walls and luxury big houses madeKunyu He convinced that in a corner of the village of Baodun, there must be an ancient king buried.
Standing on the Gu Pier, we can see all the nearby fields, where there are pieces of winter-wheats covering the earth, with the middle dotting houses. 4500 years ago, did the King of Baodun with uncatchable power look around his kingdom like this after which he chose his place to go forever? Where was he buried? What treasures accompanied with the death of the king? Are there any inheritance relationship between the treasures of the ancient Sichuan and the mysterious bronzes of the Sanxingdui? From 1995 onwards, we entered the Baodun ancient city and their lives, but never into their hearts. Perhaps the current exploration of the Baodun Culture, is just a beginning.