Human Behavior or Environmental Change? New Thoughts on Animal Archaeology Research in Xiaozhushan Shell Midden Site
  • Map showing the location of the Xiaozhushan site on Guanglu Island, Changhai County of Dalian City in Liaoning Province. Map: D. Hosner/DAI

The Xiaozhushan site is situated on the eastern slope of Xiaozhushan Hill, west of Wujiacun Village in the center of Guanglu Island, Changhai County of Dalian City in Liaoning Province. The area is about 100 meters in length north/south and 50 meters in width east/west. A small scale investigation and trial excavation was conducted in 1978 followed by official excavations in 2000, 2006, 2008 and 2009 carried out by the Institute of Archaeology, CASS, Liaoning Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Dalian Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Guanglu Island, where the site is located, is small - 10.10 km in length and 2.68 km in width. About 8500 years ago, due to a rise in the sea level, the island, originally part of Liaodong Peninsula, separated from the continental plate. Several other kitchen-midden sites were also discovered on the island. Most of the sites were from the Neolithic Xiaozhushan culture (7000-4000 BP), while a few dated from phase I of the Bronze Age Shuangtuozi culture (4000-3600 BP) and the upper Shangmashi culture ( 3100 - 2700 BP).

There are 8 classes, 20 orders, 33 families and 73 species of unearthed animal bones, including mammals (30 species), lamellibranchia (18 species), gastropods (14 species), pisce (4 species), aves (3 types), amphibian (2 species), crustacea (1 species - crab) and reptilia (1 species). Research results of dog, pig and yellow cattle indicate that they were domesticated animals, emerging on the island during different periods.

Livestock breeding, hunting and fishing were the three main groupings from which the prehistoric population had obtained animal resources. Fishing (mainly shellfish and secondly, fish) was a steady and important activity without obvious change in each period. The acquisition of mammals had undergone a transformation process from an overwhelmingly dominant hunting process to a livestock-oriented approach. The continuing evolution of human behavior was the reason behind the change and archaeological excavation data and zooarchaeological research results have provided evidence for this argument.

Represented by the Xiaozhushan site, the animal remains unearthed on the kitchen-midden site of Guanglu Island can be divided into two categories: wild and domestic. Among the wild animals, mammals (represented by deer) left behind due to the separation of the island from the continental plate, became the main source for prehistoric inhabitants who had landed on the island 7000 years ago. Another supplement was the rich seafood resources. Among the domestic animals, three species (dog, pig and yellow cattle) successively emerged suddenly suggesting that they could have been introduced by human. It is speculated that during the early stage of Xiaozhushan culture, dogs entered the island along with the prehistoric inhabitants as companion, and became a supplement to fishing activities. In phase III of the Xiaozhushan culture, domestic pigs or pig domestication method was introduced into the island, then the livestock husbandry represented by the pig breeding arose and developed gradually. In the late period of Xiaozhushan culture (phase V), domesticated yellow cattle breeding had begun on Liaodong Peninsula, but might not really happened on the Island, only the boneware made of yellow cattle bones being transported into the island.  

Under the condition of little change in fishing activity during various stages of the Xiaozhushan culture, conclusions are reached through the comparison of diachronic changes of relative proportion to the three variables, namely the domestic animals (represented by domestic pigs), major wild animals (including large and medium sized cervine animals such as red deer and sika deer), and secondary wild animals (including roe deer, river deer and other small and medium-sized deer, but mainly river deer):

A. During phases I and III of the Xiaozhushan culture, the proportion of the major wild animals gradually decreased, in particular red deer, which had completely disappeared from the late period of phase III. This has indicated that the hunting pressure conducted by the prehistoric inhabitants to the major wild animals was quite high and obviously affected or even endangered the population structure of the large and medium sized cervine animals; meanwhile, the proportion of secondary wild animals increased.

B. During phases III and V, the relative proportion of major wild animals and secondary wild animals was still decreased and increased, but overall trended towards stabilization. This has indicated that the hunting pressure to the wild animals had gone down and with this gradual decline, the population structure of small and medium-sized cervine animals had not been much affected. The reason for the decline in hunting was mainly because of the emergence and development of domestic livestock breeding, mainly the domestic pig breeding. This development pushed down the proportion of hunting which took the cervine animals as the main resource. The internal cause of the emergence of domestic livestock breeding was due to the increase in hunting during the early stages of the Xiaozhushan site (i.e., phase I to II), resulting in the situation where the hunting pressure to the wild animals getting high and the wildlife resources might not meet demand of historic inhabitants to a certain extent. The external cause was the Dawenkou culture of the Jiaodong Peninsula spreading into the Liaodong Peninsula and affecting Guanglu Island. Advanced modes of production were brought in, including breeding methods for domesticated pigs. This approach gradually replaced hunting, with the advantage that it could provide more stable animal resources. However, livestock breeding did not completely replace fishing and hunting, which might be related to the availability of rich resources on the island and its surrounding waters.

Through analysis of the animal remains and statistical results on numbers combined with the archaeological background, it shows that the changes and impacts regarding gaining modes of animal resources of the prehistoric inhabitants on the island could be summarized as follows:

During phases I and II of the Xiaozhushan culture, hunting was the main method used to obtain animal resources resulting in changes to the population structure of the cervine animals. The population of large and medium-sized cervine animals declined or even died out, and hunting target shifted from these to medium and small-sized cervine animals. After phase III, hunting declined due to the development of domesticated livestock. On one hand the number of the entire cervine animals' population decreased while on the other, medium and small-sized cervine animals maintained a more stable population structure. In short, since the prehistoric population arrived on Guanglu Island 7000 years ago, their methods had a profound impact on animal resources. Human behavior was the major cause of changes to the structure of animal population.

However, some scholars believe that environmental change was the major cause of this transformation of the animal population and the means of livelihood on the Liaodong Peninsula. But this simply reflects an issue concerning environmental factors, while ignoring hunting, the emergence and initial development of livestock management models and the impact of population expansion. Thus, such a conclusion has a problem.

Some scholars have argued that the island's agricultural tools occupied a secondary position, so the proportion of agricultural economy is very low; the main feature being the shift from hunting implements to fishing implements; thus the characteristics of their methodology can be summarized as mainly fishing, supplemented by hunting and farming, with the proportion of the fishing economy gradually increasing. The reason of the changing was due to the over-exploitation of island resources, leading to an inevitable turn to fishing. However, this statement has ignored the important role of livestock husbandry as a means of livelihood.

The kitchen-midden site complex on the Guanglu Island has proved that human behavior played the most critical role in the transformation of the means of livelihood.

{Source: The website of Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Author: Lu Peng, Jia Xiaobing, Jin Yingxi (Institute of Archaeology, CASS). Originally published in "Relics from South" 2017, Issue 1}


Suggest further reading:

Institute of Archaeology, CASS, et al. 2013: Excavation on the Neolithic Xiaozhushan Site in Changhai County, Liaoning. Chinese Archaeology 10, 91-98.


Abstract: Xiaocheng Chen
Translation: Joy Zhou
Editor: Prof. Dr. Mayke Wagner, Xiaocheng Chen

How to cite this page:

Bridging Eurasia , September 2017 ,
Accessed:19 March, 2018 - 19:13