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Feeding the wonder of our origins

Updated: 2021-12-09 09:47 ( China Daily )
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A bird's-eye view of part of the Shi'ao site that includes a group of rice paddies dating back 6,700 to 4,500 years in Yuyao, Zhejiang province.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Discoveries of millennia-old rice paddies in Zhejiang province may cast a new light on past lifestyles, Wang Kaihao reports.

Recent studies of the world's oldest known large-scale rice paddies, uncovered in Yuyao, East China's Zhejiang province, may throw light upon the dawn of civilization in the Yangtze River Delta, experts say.

The discovery of the Shi'ao site was first publicly announced by the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in December 2020, following the unearthing of a site that hosted a group of rice paddies dating back 6,700 to 4,500 years.

Follow-up research continued this year, and four sections of the paddies-each covering an area of between 700 square meters and 1,900 sq m-have been examined, according to Wang Yonglei, a researcher at the Zhejiang institute who leads the ongoing excavation.

"We not only unearthed a road network, which was composed of field ridges," he told an online conference with the National Cultural Heritage Administration last week. "More importantly, evidence of an irrigation system, including waterways, was found."

Archaeologists have found 22 field ridges, as well as excavating a large number of pottery items and stone tools, which are believed to have been for agricultural use.

The paddies belong to three periods: 4700-4500 BC, 3700-3300 BC, and 2900-2500 BC. They span more than two key archaeological cultures in the region: Hemudu Culture, which dates back about 7,000 to 5,300 years, and Liangzhu Culture, that existed between 5,300 and 4,300 years ago.

"Archaeological findings show the development of rice paddies was continuous throughout that time," Wang explains. "Rice-growing agriculture is thus the crucial foundation to feeding people and supporting the economy of both cultures. It is also key for nurturing civilization."

According to Wang, research of the area around the Shi'ao site has also begun to reveal its extraordinary status. The area was once planned for infrastructure construction, but the plan has been dropped to preserve the ancient paddies.

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