Well before the advent of recognizable civilization in the region, the land was occupied by hominids. Peking Man, a skull fossil discovered in 1927 CE near Beijing, lived in the area between 700,000 to 200,000 years ago and Yuanmou Man, whose remains were found in Yuanmou in 1965 CE, inhabited the land 1.7 million years ago. Evidence uncovered with these finds shows that these early inhabitants knew how to fashion stone tools and use fire. While it is commonly accepted that human beings originated in Africa and then migrated to other points around the globe, China’s paleoanthropologists “support the theory of `regional evolution’ of the origin of man” (China.org) which claims an independent basis for the birth of mankind. “The Shu Ape, a primate weighing only 100 to 150 grams and being similar to a mouse in size, lived [in China] in the Middle Eocene Epoch 4.5 to 4 million years ago. Its discovery posed a great challenge to the theory of African origin of the human race” (China.org). This challenge is considered plausible due to genetic links between the Shu Ape fossil and both advanced and lower primates, standing, then, as a `missing link’ in the evolutionary process. However one interprets this data (the Chinese conclusions have been disputed by the international community), the solid evidence provided by other finds substantiates a very ancient lineage of hominids and human beings in China and a high level of sophistication in early culture. One example of this is Banpo Village, near Xi’an, discovered in 1953 CE. Banpo is a Neolithic village which was inhabited between 4500 and 3750 BCE and comprises 45 houses with floors sunk into the ground for greater stability. A trench encircling the village provided both protection from attack and drainage while man-made caves dug underground were used to store food. The design of the village, and the artifacts discovered there (such as pottery and tools), argue for a very advanced culture at the time it was constructed.
It has generally been accepted that the Chinese `Cradle of Civilization’ is the Yellow River Valley which gave rise to villages sometime around 5000 BCE. While this has been disputed, and arguments have been made for a more wide-spread development of communities, there is no doubt that the Henan province, in the Yellow River Valley, was the site of many early villages and farming communities. In 2001 CE, archaeologists uncovered two skeletons “buried in a collapsed house, which was covered with a thick layer of silt deposits from the Yellow River. In the layer of deposits, archaeologists found more than 20 skeletons, an altar, a square, pottery, and stone and jade utensils” (Chinapage.org). This site was only one of many prehistoric villages in the area.
by Joshua J. Mark, A freelance writer and part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York.