News Release

What was the agriculture like in southeast China in Late Neolithic

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Higher Education Press

What was the agriculture like in southeast China in Late Neolithic

image: 3D model of major charred plant remains identified at the Jingshuidun site. (a) Layer 25, Chenopodiaceae caryopsis; (b)Layer 27, Solanaceae caryopsis; (c) Layer 27, rice caryopsis; (d) Layer 32, Fabaceae caryopsis; (e)1–4: Layer 25, 5: Layer 26, foxtail millet caryopsis view more 


The emergence and spread of agriculture in the Neolithic had a revolutionary impact on the development of human society, and it provided a solid economic basis for the origin and development of human civilization. In southern China, the original crop was rice, but over time, millet cultivation gradually spread. Affected by these various environmental and social developmental factors, there are still many issues about spatiotemporal detail of agriculture development in southern Anhui Province, China, with most information currently deriving from historical documents and rather limited archeological evidence.

The study, looked at data of the archeobotanical remains at the Jingshuidun site in the mountainous areas of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River in southern Anhui Province. This work was carried out by the research team of Wu Yan, from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, entitled “The history of agriculture in the mountainous areas of the lower Yangtze River since the late Neolithic” is published online in Frontiers of Earth Science on 2022.

The study site of Jingshuidun (31°48 '3"N, 117°11′ 50" E), located at the intersection of the lower reaches Yangtze River Plain and the mountainous area in southern Anhui Province, preserves thick archeological strata and a rare superpositional relationship of multiple occupational periods, allowing for the study of cultural stages and archaeobotany.

The authors noted that macrobotanical remains and phytoliths of domesticated rice are present in layers at the Jingshuidun site dated to 4874–4820 cal. yr B.P. (middle-late Liangzhu Period) and 2667–2568 cal. yr B.P. (late Western Zhou Dynasty to the early Spring and Autumn Period). Moreover, macrobotanical remains and phytoliths from the site document the earliest remains of foxtail millet (Setaria italica) in southern Anhui Province, from a layer dating to the late Western Zhou Dynasty and the early Spring and Autumn Period (2667–2568 cal. yr B.P.). These results suggest that the people occupying the Jingshuidun site used single rice farming as far back as 4874–4820 cal. yr B.P., and they began to plant millet by at least 2667–2568 cal. yr B.P., documenting the spread of millet agriculture to the southern area by that time.

The study also showed that there were many traces of carbonized millet remains in layers dated to 2667–2568 cal. yr B.P. in the Jingshuidun site, which is the earliest direct dating of millet remains in southern Anhui. Evidence of macrobotanical remains at the Jingshuidun site shows that dry cultivation techniques from northern China had spread to southern Anhui by 2667–2568 cal. yr B.P., and that mixed cultivation of rice and millet occurred. It may be caused by the migration of ancient people and the change of climate.

The analyses of their study on macrobotanical remains and phytoliths also formed the basis for the reconstruction of the subsistence economy of ancient humans at the Jingshuidun site from the late Neolithic to early historical times. They can obtain a clearer picture of the development of rice and millet agriculture in the southern Anhui Province region, as well as the spread of millet cultivation, when combined their dates with that of the previous archeobotanical work. It provides new evidence for further understanding of agricultural development and the transmission route of Millet in southern Anhui since the late Neolithic period.


Cite this article

Wang, J., Chen, X., Zhang, G. et al. The history of agriculture in the mountainous areas of the lower Yangtze River since the late Neolithic. Front. Earth Sci. (2022).


About Researcher

Wu Yan, young professor. Innovative research achievements have been made focusing on the use of phytolith methods to carry out the origin and spread of agriculture, the utilization of ancient human plants and the feeding habits and evolution of herbivores. 


About Frontiers of Earth Science

Frontiers of Earth Science publishes original, peer-reviewed, theoretical and experimental frontier research papers as well as significant review articles of more general interest to earth scientists. The journal features articles dealing with observations, patterns, processes, and modeling of both innerspheres (including deep crust, mantle, and core) and outerspheres (including atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere) of the earth. Its aim is to promote communication and share knowledge among the international earth science communities.


About Higher Education Press

Founded in May 1954, Higher Education Press Limited Company (HEP), affiliated with the Ministry of Education, is one of the earliest institutions committed to educational publishing after the establishment of P. R. China in 1949. After striving for six decades, HEP has developed into a major comprehensive publisher, with products in various forms and at different levels. Both for import and export, HEP has been striving to fill in the gap of domestic and foreign markets and meet the demand of global customers by collaborating with more than 200 partners throughout the world and selling products and services in 32 languages globally. Now, HEP ranks among China's top publishers in terms of copyright export volume and the world's top 50 largest publishing enterprises in terms of comprehensive strength.

The Frontiers Journals series published by HEP includes 28 English academic journals, covering the largest academic fields in China at present. Among the series, 13 have been indexed by SCI, 6 by EI, 2 by MEDLINE, 1 by A&HCI. HEP's academic monographs have won about 300 different kinds of publishing funds and awards both at home and abroad.

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