Mogou and the Qijia Culture

Today I am bringing you a very quick update on something I don’t tend to write a lot about -Asia- even though I’d love to learn more and more about it. Nevertheless, I found about this earlier on the year and I thought it was a pretty interesting discovery to share with you all and give you something to ponder about.

Recent excavations in the site of Mogou, north-west China, have revealed a prehistory cemetery from around 4000 years ago. The work on the site has unearthed over 300 tombs from 2008 to 2011. The original report was published in the Chinese Journal Wenwu, however an English translation is available in the most recent volume of Chinese Cultural Relics. The burials grounds present all types of goods accompanying the dead to the afterlife. Among the most abundant items, the archaeologists at Mogou have found finely craft pottery, with a peculiar ‘O’ pattern. In addition, some weapons and pieces of jewellery appears frequently. Moreover, they have also discovered bones and items used for what presumably would have been divination and other ways to predict the future. The settlement seems to coincide with the Qijia culture, which occupied the area of the upper Yellow River valley. Perhaps what has raised questions about this site and its function is the numerous burials which sometimes seem to include entire families. Some have ventured to sustain the idea that these burials in fact contain the remains of ritual sacrifices. Honghai believes that these could have been slaves or people who the Qijia conquered and then sacrificed, but this is not for certain.

About the Qijia culture we know that is regarded as one of the earlier Bronze Age cultures in China, and probably the world, inhabiting the land between 2400BC and 1900BC . Honghai states that archaeological evidence in other areas suggest they lived in modest settlements, where their houses would have been partly buried in the ground. These buildings would have been squared or rectangular. The first site belonging to these people, Qijiaping, was discovered by Johan Gunnar Anderson in 1923. The Qijia are also well-known for the early fabrication of bronze and copper mirrors, and their extensive use of horses as domestic animals. Some other interesting artefacts found in Qijia sites include the oldest noodles unearthed! This was reported in 2002 on the BBC news. The discovery constituted around 50cm of noodles, made with different techniques and materials than those we are used to nowadays. In fact, scientists believed this would have been made with millet grass, based on the evidence from Lajia. But despite the fact that this was a dominating culture and the multiple sites such as Mogou, Lajia, Huangniangniangtai or Dahezhuang, show their widespread settlements and domain, it seems that towards the 1900BC they suffered a sudden diminishing of numbers and they retreated from their lands in western China. What happened to the Qijia after that is still unclear. Some evidence from Lajia again suggest that the settlement may have been abandoned after the effects of a seemingly devastating earthquake and possible flooding, as reported in 2011 by Maolin Ye and Houyuan Lu.  Many experts support the theory that the Siwa culture took over them and developed this inheritance. Other theories suggest that the Qijia perhaps did not fully retreat from the west, but instead a branch of them, later known as the Kayue culture populated the area.

To be truthful, we do not know an awful lot about this culture, or many of these Bronze Age cultures as our main way of finding out about them is through archaeology. In addition, the same problem that I encounter with the Meso/Southamerican history occurs: the lack of materials in English. And unfortunately, in the Western world, is more common for someone to learn Spanish than Chinese. So I think we are missing the trick in here, and ignoring certain fields with a lot of potential and new grounds to explore…Just a thought.

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