A Prehistoric Legend Stone Adzes that Crossed the Taiwan Strait

2020-02-17 10:52:41

Narrator: Fan Xuechun (Research Fellow at Fujian Museum)

The Damaoshan site has similar cultural relics as that of coeval prehistoric sites on Penghu Islands, hinting at a close relationship between archaeological findings on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. This indicates that our ancestors back then had advanced navigation technology and knowledge of the ebb and flow of the tide in some sea areas, enabling them to cross the Taiwan Strait with ease.

To study the links between prehistoric civilizations in Fujian and Taiwan and the origins of the Austronesian language family, Fujian Museum has conducted multiple joint research with the Anthropology Department of Harvard University and Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i. The research focuses on the modes of interregional interaction and development of navigation in the coastal area of eastern Fujian in prehistoric times.

Together with other institutes, Fujian Museum conducted the first excavation of Damaoshan site from November to December in 2002, and the second from May to July in 2003. The large number of historical relics unearthed reveal the age, nature, culture and economics at that time and provide a frame of reference for further comparative research on civilizations in the region and the establishment of a chronosequence of Neolithic civilizations in Southern Fujian.

Specifically, the Damaoshan site is an island-type shell mound with relatively homogeneous accumulation. Though its cultural deposits have been damaged, the second and third layers appear to be connate deposits judging from the unearthed relics. The earthenware that could be restored is concentrated, and the forms of some artifacts are still recognizable upon excavation. The shards still retain the shape at the time the artifacts were shattered, which is also a characteristic of unearthed stone adzes and bone artifacts. A considerable amount of shells, especially those close to the bottom of the cultural deposits, are still intact.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the two layers of cultural deposits have never been damaged by subsequent human activities. The analysis into unearthed relics reveals that the type of civilization at the Damaoshan site is relatively homogeneous, as the relics are from the same period in the Neolithic age. This indicates that no other humans lived here after the site was abandoned. These conditions provided the basis for accurately determining the nature and age of the site. According to Carbon-14 dating, the site was formed some 4,300 to 4,800 years ago, which was coeval with the Tanshishan civilization in Minhou County.

The earthenware artifacts unearthed at the site were chiefly fragments, with only 11 earthen spinning wheels remaining intact. One earthen jar and one stem cup were restored apart from those. Most of the pottery was sand-mixed, accounting for 84% of the total, while the remaining was clay pottery. Most of the sand-mixed pottery was reddish-brown. Some other common colors included dark grey, light brown and light yellow. There was only a few red, light-yellow and yellow sand-mixed pottery. The colors of the base and the surface of grit ceramics are often not the same, and the “sandwich” type is common. The color of the base is usually dark grey, with quartz sand, mica and shell powder mixed inside. The color of the surface of clay pottery is diverse, including dark grey, light red, reddish-yellow, yellow, light grey, light yellow, light brown and so on. Its base is usually in the same color as the surface, though there are some exceptions. Likewise, the base is often mixed with quartz sand, mica and shell powder.

Generally, the type of earthenware is homogeneous, with round-bottomed and round-foot articles being the prevalent types. The recognizable forms include cauldrons, jars, stem cups, plates, bowls and spin wheels. As for the techniques of crafting the earthenware, it could be observed that the mouths and shoulders appear to be adjusted on slowly-spinning wheels, with marks of the spinning wheel left on the inner side. The bottoms and bellies are mostly hand-made, resulting in marks left on the corresponding areas on the inner side and uneven thickness. The round feet are mostly attached after crafting on wheels. The earthenware is lightly fired with fine sand and mica pieces in the base.

The surfaces of plain pottery appear to have been polished by wet hands. Certain clay pottery artifacts have had their surfaces polished. The techniques of decorating the earthenware surfaces include patting, pressing, stamping, pricking, engraving, embossing, polishing and hollowing-out. Among these techniques, the corded patterns obtained through patting are the most common one, though there are also woven patterns, short-line patterns and fingernail patterns obtained through pressing, dotted patterns obtained through stamping and pricking, parallel short-line patterns and zig-zag patterns obtained through engraving, and additional heap patterns and convex patterns obtained through embossing.

These patterns often do not appear alone on an artifact, but in a combination. Pressed patterns were often applied to the mouths of artifacts, with saw-tooth patterns found on the mouths of some artifacts; additional heap patterns and convex patterns were mostly applied to the bellies; fingernail patterns are often seen on the bottom; hollowed-out patterns are often found on round feet of artifacts.

These cultural features are typical to Neolithic sites in Southern Fujian, with similarities between them and the Sufengshan site and Cheng’an site in Dongshan County as well as the Lazhoushan site in Zhaoan County. This indicates the possibility that they belong to the same civilization in Southern Fujian, which could be named “Damaoshan civilization”. It shares similarities with the Tanshishan civilization found at Minhou County.

Speaking of the cultural characteristics, many similarities could be drawn between the earthenware artifacts in the Damaoshan site and those in the Suogang site on Penghu Islands. For example, they are both chiefly red or reddish-brown in color; stem cups, jars and cauldrons in type; corded, engraved and saw-tooth in pattern with a small number of articles with fingernail and additional heap patterns. In addition, the physical and chemical content of the stone adzes has been analyzed to be the same as that of the Qimeidao stone tool factory.

According to the archaeological materials available to date, there is evidence that the prehistoric humans living along the southeastern coast of Fujian Province had traveled to Taiwan with the help of the monsoon, then to islands on the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean via the Philippines. Cultural and daily-life elements similar to those of people from Austronesian language family were found in the prehistoric sun pattern rock painting relics in Dongmenyu Island, Dongshan County, Damaoshan shell mound, and relevant key prehistoric sites. Hence, it can be concluded that the Damaoshan civilization is also one of the early civilizations of the Austronesian language family.