UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The social dynamics of early bronze age China : a bio-molecular approach to the exploration of the regional and interregional interactions in Shang China Cheung, Christina


The Shang Dynasty (ca 1600 – 1046 BC) is considered one of the earliest state-societies in the world, as well as the earliest literate civilization in East Asia. The last capital of the Shang Dynasty, Yinxu (located in present day Anyang, Henan, China; ca. 1250–1046 BC) is therefore a crucial site for archaeologists to understand early states and the process of state formation in early Bronze Age China. In this thesis, stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur of bone collagen from a total of 379 humans from Yinxu (n=119) and 12 roughly contemporaneous neighbouring sites (n=260) are analyzed to reconstruct past dietary as well as mobility patterns for these individuals. This thesis consists of three projects. The first project examines the internal social dynamics of Yinxu by comparing the reconstructed diets of 39 individuals from Xin’anzhuang (XAZ), a residential neighbourhood located in Yinxu, with other archaeological and mortuary evidence. The second project reconstructs and compares dietary practices of sacrificial victims (n=64) with that of the local residents from XAZ, in order to address a key archaeological question that concerns the social identities of sacrificial victims found at the royal cemetery in Yinxu. The third project attempts to investigate the social dynamics of early Bronze Age China within a larger context. In addition to the 127 individuals examined in the first two projects, this project reconstructs and then compares the diets of local Yinxu inhabitants from four additional localities (n=16) with individuals (n=26) from six late Neolithic to early Bronze Age sites from the Central Plain of China. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions of an additional 234 individuals from six other sites taken from published reports were also included to expand the geographic scope of this study. Results from these three studies reveal that Yinxu consisted of an agglomeration of people of different socio-cultural affiliations, further confirming the hypothesis that Yinxu was a vibrant, diverse cultural center in early Bronze Age China, where goods, ideas, technologies, and people from different cultural groups were gathered and exchanged.

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