Cultural Geography and Interregional Contacts in Prehistoric Liangshan (Southwest China)

by Anke Marion Hein


AHPresentationPicture1The identification of cultural groups in the archaeological record, and the reasons for and mechanisms of contact between them, have been major topics of discussion in archaeology since its beginnings as a discipline. The methodological and theoretical aspects of these questions have so far largely been argued on the basis of ethnographic studies and socio-anthropological theories, but they are notoriously difficult to apply to archaeological research. To bridge this gap between socio-anthropological models and the material record, this dissertation starts from a concrete body of archaeological material that reflects the lives and movements of various groups of people living at a crossroad of different contact routes.

The Liangshan area in Southwest China is located at the intersection of several cultural-geographic regions and is crisscrossed by many rivers connecting it to places far north and south, while the high mountain ranges divide it into many micro-areas with very different environmental characteristics. In spite of exchange over long distances, most cultural phenomena therefore tend to be localized, making the Liangshan region an ideal case study for research on cultural groups and their relationship with the local environment on the one hand, and directions and mechanisms of short- and long-distance contacts on the other.

Liangshandiqu 055 

Research in the region has been hampered by the fact that the multitude of groups that have lived in, passed through, and intermingled here since the late Neolithic left a complex archaeological record that is still not well understood. This study for the first time compiles a comprehensive catalog of all prehistoric material of the Liangshan area, providing separate analyses of all types of artifacts and archaeological features, and suggesting a chronological scheme for the whole region. Furthermore, this study relates the archaeological material to the geographical context and discusses local, regional, and supra-regional developments.

This study starts from the micro-level of single objects, considering them in their technical properties of production and function, before widening the scope to the intermediate level of sites and features, and finally moving toward the regional and over-regional picture. A set of questions addressed on all levels are geographic preconditions and patterns of human-environment interaction that contribute to the formation of the archaeological record. One of the main methods employed in this endeavor is computer-aides spatial analysis (GIS) together with traditional archaeological methods of typology and statistics. This combined approach gives a third dimension to problems of chronology and cultural assignation, on which traditional approaches of classification and multivariate analyses provide insight.

Through this combination of various methods applied to this very special body of material this study is able to re-conceptualize the objects and features in their geographical, temporal, and cultural context, sketching out local developments while at the same time answering questions of inter-group contact, its mechanisms and underlying reasons, both in this special case and in general. This study thus simultaneously makes a contribution to theoretical and methodological discussions on the nature of cultural groups and inter-group contacts, and their identification in the archaeological record.


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Table of Contents

I. Introduction

I.1. Spatial and Temporal Scope of the Dissertation

I.2 History and Preconditions of Archaeological Research in the Liangshan Area

I.3 Range of Field Research and Material Collection

I.4 Preliminary Theoretical and Methodological Considerations

I.5 Methods of Analysis and Structure of the Dissertation

II. Geographic Background – Setting the Stage

II.1 Geology, Tectonics, and Natural Resources

II.2 Connecting and Dividing Factors: Rivers and Mountains

II.3 Present-Day Environmental Conditions: Soil, Climate, Vegetation, and Land Use

II.4 The Vertical Zonation of the Landscape

II.5 Remarks on Biodiversity and Patterns of Endemism

II.6 Past Conditions: Paleoenvironmental Data and Indicators for Past Patterns of Land-Use

II.7 Summary: General Trends and Geo-Climatic Sub-Regions

III. Systematic Description of the Source Material: Object Typologies

III.1 Classification and Typology: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations

III.2 Preliminary Remarks on Object Nomenclature

III.3 The Ceramic Assemblage

III.4 The Lithic Assemblage

III.5 Metal Objects

III.6 Decorative Objects Made of Stone, Bone, Tooth, and Shell

III.7 Other Organic Objects

III.8 Conclusion

IV. The World of the Living — Settlement Sites and their Assemblages

IV.1 Nature and Distribution of the Sites

IV.2 Settlement Structure and Features

IV.3 The Ceramic Assemblage

IV.4 The Tool Assemblage: Lithics and Bone Objects

IV.5. Questions of Resource Availability, Site Function, and Location Choice

IV.6. Conclusion

V. Grave Sites

V.1 Theoretical and Methodological Considerations

V.2 The Life History of Graves: Developing a Model

V.3 Illustrating the Model: Ethnographic Examples and Textual Evidence

V.4 Applying the Model: Particularities of the Data and Parameters of Analysis

V.5 Constructing the Grave: The Main Parts and their Combination

V.6 Using the Grave: Interment Practices and other Rituals

V.7 Furnishing the Grave: The Object Assemblage

V.8 The Big Picture: Form and Content, Action and Location

VI. Object Pits and Single Finds: Dealing with Heterogeneous Categories

VI.1 Object Pits

VI.2 Single Finds

VI.3 Conclusion

VII. Synthesis: Connecting Settlements, Grave Material, and Object Pits

VII.1 The Geographic Distribution of Different Types of Sites

VII.2 Comparing Assemblages: Functional Differences, Chronological Developments, or Cultural Differentiation?

VII.3 Chronology: Revisiting an Old Problem

VII.4 The "Big Picture": Regional Groups, Geographic Preconditions, and Chronological Developments

VII.5 Mechanisms of Human-Environment Interaction and Intra- and Inter-Group Demarcation

VIII. Questions of Culture Contact and Mobility

VIII.1 Theoretical and Methodological Considerations

VIII.2 Geographic Preconditions: Incentives, Impediments, and Routes of Interaction

VIII.3 Indicators of Contact in the Archaeological Record

VIII.4 The Contact Network(s) Through Time and Space: Routes, Places, and People in the Liangshan Region and Beyond

VIII.5 Reconsidering Questions of Culture, Contact, and Human-Environment Interaction