Stone Age Chinese Architecture
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Early Chinese Architecture

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Goddess Temple
Goddess Temple, Niuheliang

People in China started building houses instead of living in caves about 5000 BC, about five thousand years later than the first houses in Jericho, but only a thousand years later than the first houses in Greece. People in Stone Age China built different kinds of houses depending on the weather where they lived. Some people built pit houses, dug into the ground for warmth. Other people built stilt houses, which kept cool in the summer. Some people moved back and forth, living in pit houses during the cold winters and moving to their cooler stilt house in the summer. Most houses were small, but some were bigger, maybe for richer families with servants or slaves. Some Chinese Stone Age villages have a bigger central house that may have been for meetings or praying to gods. Some have walls or moats, or both.

The earliest big ceremonial buildings in China date to about 4000-3500 BC. They were built about the same time as as the first cities in Mesopotamia or Egypt. One example is the Goddess Temple at Niuheliang, in northern China.

goddess
A statue head of a goddess from Niuheliang

The temple is gone now, because it was made of wood, but archaeologists have found the foundations so we know what shape it was. We also have some of the sculpture from the temple. This head of a goddess was part of the decoration of the temple. You could compare this head to the head from Warkafrom West Asia about the same time.

Learn by Doing - floor plans of buildings
More about Chinese architecture - the Shang Dynasty

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Chinese architecture:

Shang Dynasty History
Shang Dynasty Art
Shang Dynasty Architecture
More about Chinese Architecture
Ancient China


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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