Before I thought of going to Xi’an, I admittedly didn’t even know this one existed, and I only found it on a fluke. I was looking at private tours for the Terracotta Warriors, and I found a service which provided tours of three different locations. They just so happened to list the Banpo Museum as one of those places. Having no idea what that even was, I did a quick Google search.
…. Dude. How did I not know??
A Neolithic village from roughly 6,000 years ago, the site was discovered in the 1950s. Like with the Terracotta, they built the museum up around the dig site rather than moving the items. It was cooler to see everything where it was regardless. They called it ‘Banpo,’ and the characters for it represent/loosely translate to ‘halfway up the hill from the river.’
The most common image found around the museum is shown below. A fish and a face, showing how much the people here relied upon the river.
At the very beginning of the tour, my guide pointed out a fountain in the courtyard. It had a little girl upon a stone, staring down into the water of the pool below her. She said this was significant because women in this village were hugely significant. It didn’t make all that much sense to me, but I went with it.
And besides, it was a pretty statue. I rather liked the idea that a female was featured so prominently.
Not as massive as the Terracotta, the museum rested, as the name implied, up the side of the hill. The structure was closer akin to what I have come to expect of museums from back home rather than the warehouse feel of the first Terracotta.
You walk in, and you are greeted by the remains of the village. Over the centuries, the structures themselves have worn away, leaving only the foundations instead. It was very similar to what I saw at Cahokia once upon a time (and renewed my desire to return to the Mounds just outside of St. Louis!).
They would drill holes in the ground into which they would put wood poles. Those wood poles would then be packed with clay and mud and occasionally animal hide in order to build upwards and create the shelter. At the entryway, they would have it dip lower before going up a step or two into the house itself – all the better to keep the rains or flood waters from the river from sweeping away everything inside the homes.
You can even see where repairs to the structures were made. Either the holes for the poles would collapse or otherwise grow weak. Sometimes it would be the poles themselves that needed to be replaced. Rather than moving, they would simply make repairs. I know this seems like a little thing and common sense to most of this, but this was six thousand years ago. I don’t know – I was fascinated by this detail and being able to actually SEE it.
Outside their homes, they would dig small pits, and these they would use as cellars to store their food. It was how they also stumbled upon agriculture “by accident,” as my guide explained. They would store meet as well as vegetation they picked from outside the village. Once they were done using the pits, they would often fill the holes to dig a fresh one. Sometimes, rotted fruit or vegetables would be left within, and would later grow.
Around the village, they built a moat.
No, I’m not kidding – they dug a freaking moat!!
Stopping to think about it, this made a great deal of sense. Remember that mention of the river earlier? Yeah, this moat helped to keep the flood waters from reaching their homes so, if it did flood enough to fill this, the small entryways would keep the remainder of the flooding at bay. In theory. The second part was that this was designed to keep out other unfavorable elements like wild animals.
Or enemy tribes/villages.
See below to get a feel of what they believe the village and surrounding landscaped looked like once upon a time. Moat and all.
So next comes the really morbid part – how they dealt with their dead.
For me, I’ve always found it fascinating how ancient people handled death and the disposal of corpses. I always have, since I was a little girl. Maybe that’s why I like ghost stories so much…
Let’s go back just a little bit here. Remember how I mentioned at the start that the little girl fountain was significant because women in this village were viewed with great importance? Yeah, when we got to the point about the dead, that’s when my guide dropped the biggest bomb (to me) about this village.
All the corpses, every single one they found, was female. Every. One.
I asked if that meant the men were buried outside of the village. Nope – no male remains were found anywhere in the surrounding area – they apparently looked. Why? BECAUSE HAVING AN ANCIENT VILLAGE OF ONLY WOMEN WAS WEIRD. I assure you, this did not sit well with the people who found made the discovery.
So first of all, when an infant or toddler was lost, they were buried in jars inside the village. They found 82 of these burial jars, and all of them were female. Yeah – I have no clue what they did with the male babies who passed (and you know there had to be some). They were buried outside of homes still within the circle of the village. Again, I know it’s morbid, but I found it fascinating.
The graves themselves were at different levels and in different positions. Obviously, this is conjecture based on everything that they found in and around the site. The higher rank an individual was within the village (the woman, the higher rank the woman was in the village), the lower in the ground she was buried. They believe those buried the very lowest in the village were likely to be village chieftain or leader.
As I said, they were buried in different positions as well. They found people on their stomach or on their backs. They believed this was because the people worshiped both the earth as well as the heavens – both of which supplied life for the small village. The way they were buried was to honor one or the other.
These four were buried together, and when my guide told me the story, it made me tear up. The two in the middle, from genetic testing, they were able to tell were related – likely sisters – both in their mid-teens. To either side of them, an older woman. Amongst the remains, they found a finger which, while it was a genetic match for the two girls to indicate a relative, it did not belong to any of those in the grave. What the experts believe happened was that the mother of the girls did not feel her daughters were ready to be without her, even in death. As such, she removed a finger to have buried with them so a part of her would always be with them and they would not be alone.
They found a number of bodies buried on their sides. From testing, they could tell that these individuals died from an illness. The belief is that they were buried in this fashion because that’s how their lives ended – on their sides, curled in pain. To me, this was rather sad – they were left to be in pain, both in life as well as in death.
Far less bodies were found simply tossed, left however they fell into their burial pit. The disregard for the WAY she was buried was indicative that the locals felt she was a monster. Still buried with everyone else, unlike the men, but still just left where she was. My guide suggested her ‘monster’ status may have come because she passed on illness, like a plague carrier, but at that point, I’m wondering the difference between she and the women who were buried on their sides. Fact is, it’s all conjecture, and we will never really know. This grave was also incredibly sad for me.
The last type of grave I found entirely fascinating. Ok, I found all of them fascinating, but this one was a bit different. They called it a ‘second burial.’ The idea behind this is that the body was left out, likely in the forest nearby, and the meat was stripped from the bones by local carrion. Once that was done, the bones were fetched back, and the woman was then buried in this manner – everything neatly brought back together and neatly stacked. There was no indication of fleshy remains within the grave – only the bones. They have no indication of why there were some graves like this and others were buried within. I have a few guesses, but I am far from an expert so it would really just be me telling stories and blowing smoke.
Again, I was left with a distinct “BUT WHERE ARE ALL THE MEN??”
It is believed that, since males are needed for that whole procreation thing, they believed that the men lived in a different village with their mothers and family. They would go out to hunt, bringing meat here, for example, and… well, you get the rest of that, right? It’s not that they found other locations that were only men – it’s just this was the only location that was only female.
Honestly, I am still all sorts of confused about this.
Sometimes, my guide would say the men were there, they just weren’t ever buried. Most of the time she said the men didn’t live at this location – only arriving to reproduce and provide food from the hunt.
Regardless, this city had a lot more awesome stuff to go along with it.
The women of the village perfect of a method of making pottery, below of which are a number of samples found on site. They used a specialized technique of taking ropes of clay and making circlet upon circlet, then smoothing the clay together. As you can see, there was obviously some staying power to what they did.
A better illustration of how important this technique is? It was the exact same technique that was used when building the Terracotta Army some two thousand years later.
With the river near by, they had access not only to clay but also a number of shells and, obviously, rocks. Not only did they create hairpins and decorations, but also fishhooks and netting. Apparently, they had no desire to always wait around for the men to show back up with fresh meat.
I had tons more pictures of the different pieces of pottery, the spear/arrow heads, and general decorations, but I thought the sampling above would sufficiently get the point across.
These women were rocking it.
Now lastly, just before I left, there were two busts by the door, side by side. The images were what the scientist believe the men and women of the village looked like.
This simply drove me nuts. I get, with the large amount of female remains, they would have sufficient data to be able to create the female bust – that makes sense. My problem sis with the male one. As you can see from the image, the two look rather different. If they extrapolated male features based upon the female remains, the two should look more similar. Instead, the male looks dramatically different.
Yet again, I asked if there were any male remains anywhere NEAR this area. The answer, again, was ‘no.’ So how did they DO this?? Just guess? Use males remains from other villages further away? Honestly, when I left, I had even more questions than when I got there (which really is saying something).