Material Culture And Social Identities In The Ancient World – Laura D. Gelfand Find other articles by Laura D. Gelfand on the current page Google Scholar Close PubMed
This series offers art historical and interdisciplinary approaches to how art was conceived, produced, and received across Europe, from the early Middle Ages to the early modern period. Special attention is paid to the social, cultural, religious and political history of this period as seen through contemporary visual and material culture.
Material Culture And Social Identities In The Ancient World
The series is interested in all areas of European artistic life in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The work in the series explores art forms such as painting, sculpture, architecture, textiles, glass, metal, ceramics, ephemera, spatial strategies, etc. Topics of study may include emotions, senses, devotional practices, the environment, animals, bodies, weaknesses, religious and social change, literacy (written and visual), protest, and issues of class, race, and gender, to name a few. little big Interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and comparative work is also warmly welcomed. The collection publishes monographs, edited thematic collections and reference works.
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Authors are kindly invited to submit proposals and/or full manuscripts to the series editors, Professor Sarah Blick and Professor Laura D. Gelfand, or to the publisher at Dr. Kate Hammond.
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Sarah Blick, Ph.D. (1994) in Art History, University of Kansas, is Professor of Art History at Kenyon College. Her research focuses on medieval pilgrimage art and English parish churches. She is the editor-in-chief of Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture.
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Laura D. Gelfand, Ph.D. (1994) in Art History from Case Western Reserve University, is Professor of Art History and Department Chair at Utah State University. She has published extensively on Northern Renaissance art and architecture with a particular focus on reception. Already in Neolithic times, people living in the area we know today as China were busy separating the world of the living from the world of the dead. Along with this came the desire to furnish the dead, carefully buried in underground tombs, with gifts of pottery or jade ornaments to help them in the unknown world of the afterlife – an afterlife later described by writers of the Warring States period countries. as imbued with dangerous environmental forces and rampaging soul-eating monsters. Underground tombs served to protect the remains of the dead and provide their spirits with a permanent abode for the afterlife.
Single-layer pipe (cong 琮) with masks, common grave object, Liangzhu 良渚 culture, Late Neolithic, ca. 3300-c. 2250 BC n. no., jade (nephrite), China, Lake Tai region, 4.5 x 7.2 x 7.2 cm (Freer Gallery of Art)
In this chapter, we survey 5,000 years of early Chinese funerary art, from the Neolithic period to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 220) and across the diverse geographical and cultural landscape of early China. During this period, we see the abodes of the dead evolve from simple earthen vertical cave tombs with a few ceramic offerings to multi-chambered underground tombs or hilltop tombs equipped with objects made of various materials such as bronze, lacquer, jade, silk, bamboo and clay. Most of our knowledge of early China comes from excavations of tombs and the wealth of artifacts they uncovered. These discoveries give us important insights into early Chinese cultures and societies: how they were organized, their religious systems, the diversity of their regional and cultural identities, and the materials and sophisticated technologies they used. Through careful study of the material remains of these distant peoples, their stories come alive and we learn about our shared awareness of our mortality and our never-ending quest for longevity.
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Banshan-type pot, Gansu ware, Neolithic period, 5000-2000 BC. n. no., ceramic with iron pigments, China, 36.1 x 42.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase – Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F6930)
In China, hunters and gatherers settled in agricultural villages around 7000 BC. With this transition, people had more time to specialize in crafts. As you will read in the Neolithic Period essay below, although Neolithic people left no written records, we can piece together their stories from the archaeological record in their villages, including building foundations and cemeteries, as well as pottery, jade, and bone artifacts.
Map of Neolithic China with hotspots corresponding to published excavations. The different colors of the hotspots represent the different revealed cultures. Check out the responsive map here (map below © Google)
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As can be seen from the map above, China experienced many “Neolithic revolutions” at the same time, and as you would expect, we see marked differences in burial rites from one Neolithic cultural group to another. In this section, we will explore three cultural groups that help define different burial practices in Neolithic China: the Yangshao culture along the Wei River in central China, the Longshan culture along the east coast, and the Liangzhu culture in the southeast.
During the Neolithic period in China, established agricultural peoples were interested in separating the daily activities of village life from the burial grounds of their dead.
In Yangshao cultural sites such as Banpo (located along the Wei River), the cemetery is located outside the deep moat around the village. The dead were buried in simple vertical earthen graves with a few potsherds as offerings. At Yangshao sites, vessels for food offerings took precedence over vessels for liquid offerings. To store these gifts, they used clay containers made by hand using the rolling technique.
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Glass with fish motifs, Yangshao culture, 5-4 millennium BC n. No., Neolithic, from Banpo, China (National Museum of China; photo: Zhangzhugang, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Yangshao culture sites such as Banpo are often referred to as Painted Pottery cultures to distinguish them from the so-called Black Pottery cultures on the east coast. In Banpo, however, only a small percentage of the pots were painted, and they were found only in burials. Banpo painters mostly decorated funerary vessels with geometric motifs, including abstract triangles and geometric fish. Given the location of Banpa, this is not surprising, but can you think of other reasons why fish imagery on funerary vessels might be significant?
In the Longshan cultural sites on the east coast, the dead were buried beyond the demolished earthen walls of their villages. While some Longshan peoples were buried in simple earthen pits without sacrifice, others were buried in wooden coffins in cave tombs built with a sacrificial shelf. This included earthenware in a variety of shapes, from bowls and tripods to casts and fragile cups.
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Stem cup, Longshan culture, c. 2500–2000 BC n. no., fired ceramic, China, 22.7 x 8.41 cm (Minneapolis Institute of Art)
In contrast to the Yangshao culture, the Longshan culture favored the offering of liquid vessels over food vessels for the funeral ritual. The vessels were made on the wheel, where the most distinctive, elegant drinking cups with walls as thin as eggshells, were fired in a reducing atmosphere to turn the red iron oxide in the clay into black iron oxide.
A distinctive feature of Chinese Neolithic cultures along the east coast and in the northeast is their production of jade artifacts.
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At Liangzhu culture sites, jade objects were carved into circular discs (bi), square tubes with circular inner cavities (cong, as shown earlier), and axes (yue) were carefully placed on and around the bodies of the deceased.
Farther to the northeast, jade carved into shapes such as coiled dragons, stylized clouds, and hooves adorned the bodies of the dead at Hongshan. Jade is a material associated with wealth and status. In the following essays, you will learn more about jade in Neolithic China and how this material was processed. What processes are involved in making a jade object that add value to it?
Around 1600 BC, civilization arose along the Yellow River and in other regional centers throughout China. Neolithic agricultural peoples who once lived in small villages moved into cities with increased social stratification. With this transition came the introduction of bronze metallurgy and writing. The Bronze Age civilization near the Yellow River in northern China was ruled by the Shang, a powerful ancestor-worshipping culture.
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Inscribed Tortoise Shell (“Oracle Bone”), Anyang Period, Late Shang Dynasty, ca. 1300–1050 BC n. no., tortoise shell, China, 6.5 h x 10.8 x 2.3 cm (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Dr. Paul Singer Collection of Chinese Art at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; joint gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Paul Singer, the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, and the children of Arthur M. Sackler, S2012.9.445 )
In the Shang Dynasty introduction below, you’ll read about Shang ritual practices, the written records they left on oracle bones, and how they used bronze to cast offerings to ancestral spirits.
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With the rise of cities, greater social stratification, writing and the use of metallurgy between
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