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An Analysis of the Pile-Dwellings in the Hemudu Site

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An Analysis of the Pile-Dwellings in the Hemudu Site:
The Natural Reasons of the Appearance and the Classification of the Pile-Dwellings in the Hemudu Site


The pile-dwelling is a special architectural type, mainly popular in Yangtze River valley and the southern area in ancient China. It has been widely considered as the direct development of nest. The origin of this architectural style, in China, might be traced to the Neolithic Age. It can be found in amount of Neolithic sites of the Hemudu culture and the Liangzhu culture, together with other Neolithic sites located in the southwestern part of China, for instant, the Yun Menkou site (Mount Jian, Yunan province). Based on the report on the excavation, in this article, we discussed the natural causes of the appearance and the classification of the pile-dwellings in the Hemudu site.

China; the Hemudu Site; pile-dwelling; natural environment; timberwork building

The Hemudu site lays in the alluvial plain named Yu (Yuyao) --- Ci (Cicheng) which is located in the northern piedmont of Siming Mountain and surrounded by the Ningshao Plain together with the southern part of the hilly-country of Cixi. The ancestors in this area constructed their village directly on the cyan clay-like loam stratum (formed with marine deposit). As the village is located in the transition zone which lies between plains and hills, its terrain is geographically high in the south but low in the north.

The site was discovered in the summer of 1973 and had been excavated in both 1973 and 1977. During the two excavation seasons, archaeologists found pile-dwellings remains, such as match boards and other timber components with mortise-tenon connections. Through analyzing the excavation reports we could find that pile-dwellings in the Hemudu site were designed especially for swampy lowland area and constructed in the shape of row housing.

The natural reasons of the appearance of the pile-dwellings in the Hemudu site
Back to 7000 year age, according to the identifications on animals and plants remains as well as pollen analysis, ancestors in this area lived in the south bank of the lake which located among Zhangting, Erliu city and Hemudu. In this area, only the south was hilly area, other part of this area was plain and swamps. Since upper Pleistocene, this area has experienced three transgressions, which was caused by Asterorotalia, Pseudorotalia and Ammonia beccarii var separately. It is necessary to point out that the third transgression seems especially important to the formation of Ningshao Plain. During this transgression, Ningshao Plain was almost covered by sea water entirely and did not turn back into dry land until 7000---8000 years ago. By analyzing lots of freshwater fish remains and pollen found in the alluvium of Hemudu and the surrounding area within the same period, we could know that the plain near the site was formed after the dry land formed and basically broke away from inundations. What’s more, it lately evolved as low-lying swamp area accompanied by lakes and rivers. To sum up, ancestors in Hemudu lived in an environment abound with swamps and lakes.

Moreover, with the help of pollen analysis, we could deduce that the climate during the formation and development of Hemudu might belong to maritime subtropical monsoon climate. That is to say, the weather then was warm and humid. When summer and autumn came, ancestor would have to face the threat of typical cyclones from the ocean. Under such kind of climate, ancestors need a new construction style to fit in with the environment.

First and foremost is to adjust to the climate, ancestors chose piles together with keels and timber flooring to construct fundamental beds. Above the fundamental beds, the buildings were built for different reasons. Elevated fundamental beds perfectly accommodated to the humid environment and equipped the buildings with the damp proofing function.

Secondly, geographically, ancestors formed a situation in which buildings back on the mountains and front to the water, so that all the pile-dwellings were in northwest—southeast arrangement mode. This was another choice ancestors made to adjust to the nature. As Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces are to the north of the Tropic of Cancer, such kind of arrayal could assure ancestors in Hemudu to acquire the most sunshine in winter and in the mean time, to resist the attacks of tropical cyclone from Pacific Ocean efficiently. From this we could conclude that ancestors do understand the environment as well as landform of their dwelling place, what’s more, they also had already possessed the skill of adjust to and make use of the surroundings.

Thirdly, using of brads enhanced the buildings’ capability of sustaining negative effects from nature. This method not only solved the problems caused by the distortion of mortise-tenon joint but decreased the threaten to Hemudu ancestors from tropical cyclones. Therefore, the fastness of those pile-dwellings had been strengthened greatly.

Lastly, because all the dwellings were constructed with long ridges and short eaves, the pour of rain would be accelerated. As a consequence, the time rainwater stagnated on the roofs could be reduced. Thus, ancestors could acquire a better life in such rainy weather in Ningshao Plain.

The appearance of pile-dwellings in Hemudu is the consequence of human being adjusting to and making use of nature conditions, which is also the embodiment of the strengthening of human survivability.

The classification of the pile-dwellings

In “The Main Acquisition of the Second Excavation of Hemudu”, the development of dwelling in Hemudu was divided into three stages.

The first stage includes the kind of building constructed by pile-planting method and equipped with supporting boards.

The second stage contents buildings constructed by pile diving method--- firstly, dig a pillar hole; then put backing plates (used as plinth) into the hole; lastly, put a pillar into the hole and secure it. This kind of building has two significant characteristics---- load-bearing columns and corner columns, as well as the sections of columns are quiet different, for example, roundness, hemicycle and squareness. It has been regarded as surface constructions, a new construction style developed directly from pile-buildings instead of be concluded into pile-buildings.

The third stage contains another kind of ground building. The main method is in some sort of the same as the building style in the second stage, but there is a difference---- in the third stage, plinths developed and turned into two kinds. The first kind is supporting boards and the second one is a plinth made of sintering soil, polish and clay and it looks like steel helmets.

However, among Chinese archaeologists, there are some different opinions. Mr. Lao Bomin thought that construction styles in the second and third stage should also be considered as pile-building. He illustrated it in “Exploration of Hemudu Pile-building Remains”>. Briefly, Mr. Lao Boming’s proof could be summarized into four points. First, remains for the buildings belonged to the second and third stages were constructed 4800—6000 years ago and during this period, the geography characteristics of Hemudu village was still low-lying and muddiness. Secondly, during those two stages, plinths experienced a complicated tooling process for the sake of preventing pillars from subsidence and steadying the buildings. This also proved that environment then was still muddy and seeper usually happened in this area. Third, from the processing condition of the surface, around the pillars in buildings belong to both the second and third stage, no petrous living surface, which has been processed, have been found. Forth, from the arrayal situation of the pillars, plinths belonging to the second stage were unearthed in the second and third cultural layers, so it is quite difficult to figure out the disciplines. However, in the contrary, helmet-style plinths belonging to the third stage were unearthed in the lower part of the first cultural layer of pit No.234. Archaeologists have found six of them and have been arrayed in a certain discipline. They have been arrayed in a line and each of them stood 1 meter apart. Imaging that if there were another row of pillar with the same quantity and in a proper distance and then put beams between the pillars using the technical of mortise-and-tenon, as a consequence, people could find that the space between two beams are just suitable for setting wooden floor.

Nevertheless, the author does not identify with Mr. Lao’s opinion entirely. Firstly, the author does not deny that during the second and third stage the climate in Hemudu were still humid and rainy, but this does not mean that pile-dwellings were the only construction style that adjusted to the environment. Secondly, according to the definition of pile-dwellings given by Mr. An Zhimin, pile-dwelling is a kind of structure that constructed above ground and this is its fundamental characteristic. However, buildings belonging to the second and third stages were constructed just on the ground, which were longer cohered with the basic characteristic of pile-dwellings. To sum up, the author does identify with the view mentioned in “The Main Acquisition of the Second Excavation of Hemudu” and think pile-dwellings in Hemudu only have one style which will be illustrated as follow.

The Hemudu pile-dwellings are composed by piles, wooden floors, beams and keels. Piles are the critical component of the foundation. Above the piles are beams and keels used for bearing floors. With all those parts, a foundation bed built on stilts will be completed. After the construction of foundation beds, rooms will then be built on it. From the construction method of pile-dwellings we could find that the upright pose is an important part of the buildings. Ancestors settled in Hemudu have their own method of fastening poses. Firstly, they sharpened the lower side of a pose and then drove it into the raw soil about one meter. This is the process of constructing heel poses. Second, prepared a three-meter long straight pose of which upper side was bifurcated and then tied its lower side firmly onto the heel poses with ropes. This is how the pillars used in pile-dwellings construction.

With the method described above, between the peripheral column placed separately in the front and back of the building, the heel pose could remain a space precisely for the ground beams. The ground beams will then be laid on the poses. Referring to the construction of the ground beam, ancestors also had their own secret methods. As there are no spare spaces for ground beams among central cylinders, it is hard to place them directly above those central poses. So in Hemudu, ground beams were connected with central cylinders with the help of mortise-and- tenon connections. On both sides of a ground beam, tenon would be made and then fixed directly into mortises which have been made on central cylinders as well as the peripheral column placed in both the front and back of the building. Finally, after all these processes, floors would then be paved on to the foundation. The using of mortise and tenon connections in Hemudu showed that Hemudu ancestors had already mastered some wooden buildings construction skills. In the Hemudu site, archaeologists have found all kinds of mortise and tenon connections, they were not only in different shapes but also have different usages. For different timber components used in diverse parts as well as those which were supposed to bear different level of pressure and pull, appropriative mortise-and-tenon works were created. It is important to point out that, each mortise-and-tenon work has perfectly catered to the force situation because this might be a significant proof for the development of construction techniques in the Neolithic Age. Also, it is an important resource for seeking the origin of construction techniques used in timberwork buildings in China.

7000 years ago, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces were covered with hilly area, rivers and swamps. The weather then was humid, rainy and warm. Facing such complicated natural surroundings, ancestors lived in Hemudu used their wisdom to adjusted to the environment and in the meanwhile, they also made every effort to making use of the nature. Consequently, pile-dwellings emerged as the time required and finally became one of the wonderful works in the history of the development of human civilization. The using of mortise and tenon connections is not only the result of adapting to the environment but an efficient measure to enlarge the inner area of houses used in Matriarchal society.

As an important component of the Hemudu Culture, the research on its construction style pushed forward the process of dissecting the construction culture of the Hemudu Culture. The thought--- taking actions that suiting local circumstance also provides a train of thought for the development and innovation of constructions nowadays.

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