Location within Qinghai
|Alternative name||Lajia Ruins|
|Excavation dates||1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004|
|Management||Lajia Site Museum|
Lajia (Chinese: 喇家; pinyin: Lǎjiā) is an archaeological and prehistoric site that is situated near the upper reaches of the Yellow River and on the border of China’s Gansu and Qinghai province. The Lajia site occupies an extensive area of land and is closely linked to the Qijia culture, and the site was identified by archaeologists between 2000 and 2001. Archaeologists believe that the site was destroyed by natural disasters, including a flood and earthquake killing majority of the inhabitants. Significant artifacts were found at the Lajia site, including potteries, cultural artifacts, as well as the world’s oldest noodles. Although archaeologists believe the site was devastated by a flood and earthquake, the devastation of the site still remains controversial and divisive.
An archaeological study based on the geologic-geographic evidence observed from the 2000 and 2001 excavation of the Lajia site indicated that the findings of the remains from the houses at the site were composed of minerals from the older terrace surface and was covered with clay that was brown and red in, as the human remains were submerged in this clay. The study also found that the death of the inhabitants is associated with the identified clay, as thin wave-shaped sand deposits were found mixed with the clay. A grain size analysis of this structure from the study revealed that the clay sediments were associated with running water from the nearby Yellow River as the substances of the clay samples exhibited characteristics of flood deposits. A further examination of the sediments scattered across the surrounding terrace of the Lajia site determined that it was composed of clay deposits similar to those found in the houses, confirming that the clay is the result of the remaining deposits created by the flood from the Yellow River. Additionally, the deformed ground and the dwelling floors at the Lajia site, followed by a crisscrossing analysis of the earthquake fissures suggests that earthquakes were the first disaster to hit the site.
Considering that comprehensive studies of fauna at archaeological sites were uncommon for the Lajia region and the time period, a study on the examination of the use of animals at the Lajia site provided a better understanding of the food sources and the social and ritual utilisation of animals by the Lajia people. From the faunal remains from the Lajia site, the study found that sheep was the main source of meat for the Lajia people as it was believed to be a newly established domesticate at the time, followed by the use of pigs and cattle. This was consistent with the general trend in northern China during this time period, in which sheep domestication became more prevalent. The study also revealed that this finding of sheep being the primary food source contradicts with the data from other northern Chinese archaeological sites from the same period, which suggested that sheep were used as a source of secondary products of milk and wool. Evidence from the study also illustrated that the Lajia population performed ritual activities as pig remains were found to be altered for divination purposes and were used in burials. Furthermore, the pigs were discovered to not be slaughtered for meat consumption, implying that they were not a key source of meat for the Lajia people. Most notably, the study highlighted the prominence of trade as even though the remains of domesticated species predominated the site, the discovery of deer remains at the Lajia site shows that the Lajia people hunted them, however, it could also suggest that the deers and other wild animals were hunted elsewhere, and was then traded to Lajia.
One of the major discoveries at the Lajia site was the unearthing of the world's oldest noodles, as the method of radiocarbon dating was used to determine that the noodles retrieved from the site was approximately 4000 years old. The noodles were found inside a pot and was identified to be 50 cm in length, described as thin yellow strands in appearance and were made of grains taken from millet grass. In particular, the noodles were identified to be made from two different types of millet grass, foxtail millet and broomcorn millet. This discovery proposes the fact that the noodles dish originated from China, falsifying the claims and theories that noodles were first discovered in Italy.
A recent archaeological study of the site identified that many ceramic sherds were discovered, whereby some of which had melted due to extremely high temperatures. Some of the overfired sherds had traces of prolonged use, indicating that they had not been abandoned but rather had been utilised for quite some time before being buried, conveying that the ancestors of the site valued this glassy-surfaced pottery. The unearthing of these sherds suggest that the discovery of the high-temperature kaolinite ceramic retrieved from the site was not coincidental and highlights the idea that the Lajia people had a basic understanding of the relationship between the materials and temperature required to make ceramic. Therefore, this demonstrated that the Lajia people had experience with pottery-making in which they found a special type of clay comprised of high quantities of flux, such as calcium oxide and iron oxide that was able to be vitrified under the firing conditions utilised at the time to create a surface with a glassy shine finish to it. Most importantly, these discoveries and findings from the study not only change the preceding views on the origin of proto-porcelain, but it also advances the date of invention of Chinese high temperature porcelain by more than 200 years, laying the groundwork for calcareous glaze production in northern China and points to the need for further research into the cultural origins of the northern kaolin system of proto-porcelain.
Based on the biofacts retrieved from the Lajia site, a study that aimed at tracing the genetic history of the Chinese people was undertaken through the application of ancient DNA analysis on the dental remains found at the Lajia site. The study attempted to investigate the possibility of maternal familial relationships between the remains of the various bodies that were recovered from the site through the method of mitochondrial DNA sequence analysis, and observed that 14 of the bodies from the site had some close maternal kinships in common, this process is also known as matrilineality. However, the presence of various haplotypes among the individuals observed living in the same house at the excavation of the site eliminates the possibility of there being a matrilineal social structure at the Lajia site.
A study on the prehistoric disasters that plagued the Lajia site argued that the ancient earthquake that occurred during 1920 BCE at the Guanting Basin, located alongside the upper reaches of the Yellow River caused the collapsing of the caves at the Lajia site, resulting in the death of the Lajia inhabitants. The study also stated that the site encountered massive flooding within the Yellow River region. Contrary to this study, a recent study that investigated the timeline of the ancient earthquake and flooding of the Yellow River at the Lajia site by examining bone samples that were wrapped in earthquake sand blasting from the site found differing results. The study concluded that the ancient earthquake at the Lajia site did not happen earlier than 1800 BCE, and neither the earthquake nor the flooding of the Yellow River resulted in the deaths of the Lajia inhabitants in the cave dwellings at the site.
Another recent study found that it was not the earthquake or the Yellow River flooding that caused the Lajia site to go under, but rather two large mudflow events that flooded the Lajia site and killing the Lajia settlements. This is because the study identified a mid-Holocene paleosol sequence along the Shanglajia section of the site, which comprised of 2 layers of red clay that were dated to 3950 a BP and 3500 a BP which were intercalated in the mid-Holocene paleosol. By performing a multi-proxy analysis, the results revealed that these 2 red clay layers have properties that were similar to the current gully deposit at the foot of the Great Red Hills and the Tertiary red clay deposits, however, they were unique when compared to the slackwater deposits of the mid-Holocene paleosol and the Yellow River.
The Qijia culture existed between the Neolithic and Bronze Age culture in Northwest China and was spread throughout the upper Yellow River region, and the culture was known for its creation of bronze and copper objects and ceramics. Majority of the remains at the Lajia site resemble the Qijia culture and this is significant as it allows researchers, academics and archaeologists to gain a better understanding of the changing cultural and social process of the region. Excavations at the Lajia site have discovered various types of Qijia culture artifacts including potteries, rings, stone, and weapons. This is supported by the fact that since there is a moat at the site, as well as archaeological discoveries of jades and jade flakes found inside the house further suggests that the site is reflective of the Qijia culture. Additionally, because of the stylistic similarities between particular metal artifacts found at Qijia sites and sites in Central Asia and Siberia, it has been suggested that these populations may have shared a common cultural heritage.
Stone knives have been found in various archaeological sites in East Asia. Although there is limited direct evidence to show the function of these knives, the ancient starch grains and phytoliths from residues found on the stone knives have provided some insight into what they were used for. Remnants of starch grains including the foxtail millet, broomcorn millet and stems of the Hordeum and Triticum species indicate that the Lajia people used the stone knives to process, peel and cut certain foods.
In relation to the fauna findings at the Lajia site, the use of oracle bones for divination has been linked to the Qijia culture as indicated by the discovery of modified pig scapulae at the Lajia site, as well as other Qijia sites. This is supported by the Qijia site of Huangniang, where 13 oracle bones of scapulae from sheep, pigs and goats were retrieved and this is because pigs and sheep remains were commonly found in graves across Qijia culture sites.
The influence of climate change has been considered to play a pivotal role in the evolution of prehistoric cultures, especially when economic productivity was relatively low. A study on the mid-late Holocene temperature and precipitation variations at the Guanting Basin, located at the upper reaches of the Yellow River found that during the Qijia period, the climate in the Guanting Basin was relatively warm and moist at the time. This was consistent with the observation that the most prominent cereal crop of the Qijia culture that was also found at the Lajia site was millet, a type of crop that requires relatively high precipitation and temperature to grow. Moreover, a significant decrease in mean annual precipitation, followed by a reduction in mean annual temperature was experienced between 3800-3400 a BP in the Guanting Basin. Due to this climatic decline, it was observed that the fall and demise of the Qijia culture (4000-3600 a BP) largely coincided with this climatic change and a possible explanation for this would be the Qijia culture's inability to adapt to such dramatic alterations in climate since they relied heavily on the cultivation of millet to survive. The evidence from various paleoclimatic studies near the Guanting Basin verify that the Guanting Basin region experienced relatively high moisture conditions. This was shown through a study that found that in Changning, the climate was humid during 4700-3940 a BP, whereby it was believed that the cause of this humidity was due to the increase in monsoon activity after 4500 a BP. Consequently, during 4200-4000 a BP, many researches on the topic claim that the relatively warm and moist climate would have advanced the establishment of the Qijia culture, however, the substantial changes in the climate also contributed to the demise of the culture.