Archaeology and palaeontology
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Archaeologists at a site near the the Sanxingdui ruins have discovered evidence of a cabin they believe is 4,500 years old. Photo: Xinhua

Archaeologists unearth evidence of 4,500-year-old ancient Chinese cabin and nearby rice paddy

  • Experts say the discovery provides ‘well preserved’ evidence to help recreate ancient homes
  • The discovery of a nearby rice paddy could be equally, if not more, important

Archaeologists in southwest China revealed last week the discovery of six pieces of carbonised bamboo that they believe was used to build a mud cabin dating back to 4,500 years ago. 

The bamboo chips would be the oldest evidence of mud and bamboo structures discovered on the Chengdu plain, where the pieces were found.
They were uncovered at a site named Baodun Ancient Town, located on a flood plain near the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. 
An archeologist cleans up ivory relics found at the Sanxingdui ruins site, about 50km southwest of Baodun Ancient Town. Photo: Xinhua

Tang Miao, the deputy head of the Baodun project, told state-owned newswire Xinhua that the discovery “directly proves” that the people of the area made walls out of bamboo and mud. 

Jade d’Alpoim Guedes, an associate professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego, said the discovery of the “wattle and daub” provides “a well-preserved example of the architecture of the houses that people used to live in in this area”.

She added: “I don’t know how this particular find changes much of what we already knew about Baodun, but it’s significant to have such a well preserved and reconstructible house that allows archaeologists to fully understand how these were built.”

I think the discovery of associated rice paddies holds significance no less than the discovery of the cabin.
Lam Weng Cheong, assistant professor, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Bamboo-mud cabins are not new to ancient China. Dwellings made out of bamboo strips and mud plaster have been found at archaeology sites belonging to the Liangzhu culture that existed near modern-day Shanghai from between 3400–2250 BC, according to a 2018 research paper published in the Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering

Archaeologists have also found tens of thousands of pottery pieces and evidence of ancient rice paddies at the site.  

Lam Weng Cheong, an assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: “I think the discovery of associated rice paddies holds significance no less than the discovery of the cabin. Rice agriculture provides staple food, but it involves complicated coordination of labor.

“The discovery of the rice paddies can provide an important piece of missing puzzle for understanding the bronze age culture in the Chengdu plain.”

The people of Baodun Ancient Town predate a culture being uncovered at the Sanxingdui ruins that have produced remarkable pieces of archaeology. Photo: SCMP

The ancient city has provided key evidence into how rice cultivation originated early on in Chinese prehistory, offering key insights into the region’s eventual transition into an agricultural hub of dynastic China, according to a 2013 research paper from a group of experts in Chinese archaeology. 

D’Alpoim Guedes, who was one of the authors of the paper, said: “Compared to other parts of China, rice farming gets to the Chengdu plain pretty late, but the key is that farmers adapted their rice agricultural strategies to this environment … It’s a really neat example of human adaptation.”

She added that the farmers who lived in the Chengdu plains region at the time transformed it into one of the most agriculturally productive parts of China. 


Ancient Sanxingdui culture challenges traditional narrative of Chinese civilisation

Ancient Sanxingdui culture challenges traditional narrative of Chinese civilisation

According to Lam, the Baodun is one of the earliest walled towns in the upper Yangtze river valley.

It predates the civilisation that has been unearthed in the Sanxingdui archaeological site, which lies about 50km southwest of Baodun, that has been the site of recent archaeological discoveries.

In March, archaeologists at Sanxingdui revealed sophisticated treasures, such as a mask made out of gold, that suggest the people, believed to be part of a civilisation known as the Shu, were highly sophisticated. The Shu civilisation is believed to have lived in the area between 1200-1000 BC.

In May, the scientists working in the area revealed a 3,000-year-old statue that is 1.5 metres high and holding a wine vessel. Some of the archaeologists are optimistic they may find evidence of ancient text in the area.