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During the Neolithic and Bronze Age, goods and ideas moved between Central Asia and the Chinese Central Plain via north-western China. While the crops, animals and technologies exchanged are well documented, the local and social bases of these interactions are poorly known. Here, the authors use petrographic analysis of ceramic sherds from Gansu Province, China, to document the local production of pottery vessels and their circulation between sites. Individual vessel forms are associated with multiple paste recipes indicating the production of similar products by different communities of practice. It is argued the circulation of these vessels forged inter-community relationships. In aggregate, these local networks underpinned longer-distance exchange between Central and East Asia.
We examine the Holocene loess record in the Heye Catchment on the margins of the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and China Loess Plateau (CLP) to determine: the region to which the Heye Catchment climate is more similar; temporal change in wind strength; and modification of the loess record by mass wasting and human activity. Luminescence and radiocarbon dating demonstrate loess deposited in two periods: >11–8.6 ka and <5.1 ka. The 8.6–5.1 ka depositional hiatus, which coincides with the Mid-Holocene Climatic Optimum, is more similar to the loess deposition cessation in the TP than to the loess deposition deceleration in the CLP. Grain-size analysis suggests the Heye loess is a mixture of at least three different grain-size distributions and that it may derive from multiple sources. A greater proportion of coarse sediments in the older loess may indicate stronger winds compared with the more recent depositional period. Gravel incorporated into younger loess most likely comes from bedrock exposed in slump scarps. Human occupation of the catchment, for which the earliest evidence is 3.4 ka, postdates the onset of slumping; thus the slumps may have created a livable environment for humans.
Shifts in ceramic technology are often assumed to reflect wider social changes. Closer attention, however, needs to be directed to the fundamental issue of production. Shifts in the ceramic record of the Tao River Valley in north-western China (c. 2100 BC) are no exception and the relationships between ceramic form, clay recipes and communities of practice have not been previously investigated for this region. Here, petrographic analysis demonstrates that, despite major shifts in ceramic form and surface treatment, production techniques, raw materials and exchange relationships show surprising continuity through time.
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