Subsistence ecology in the rise of complex societies in Shandong, eastern China

Lee, Jinok
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This dissertation explores environmental history and agricultural plant-use patterns of Shandong Province in eastern China during the Longshan-middle Shang periods (ca. 2600-1400 BC). Through a combination of geomorphological and archaeobotanical analyses, my dissertation reconstructs the long-term history of human-environment interactions in Shandong to illustrate how ancient Shandong farmers had viable subsistence strategies to ensure a better adaptation to changing ecological and political contexts during the time of emerging complex societies. A study of regional and temporal variations in land-use and agricultural plant-use patterns identifies that a mixed agricultural system focused on millet and rice cultivation was standard throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Meanwhile, indigenous farming communities practiced multiple risk-minimizing strategies, such as exploitation of wetlands, dry farming, field fragmentation, and agricultural specialization, in response to shifting environmental, demographic, and political circumstances. Drawing upon the geoarchaeological and phytolith data sets generated from this work, I provide an alternative perspective for the study of major social changes in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Shandong, i.e., social decline in the coastal Shandong region during the late Neolithic period and the eastward expansion of the Shang state in the mid second millennium BC. In so doing, I suggest that the change and persistence of subsistence practices should be viewed as a mover of social change, instead of the result of it. Through their everyday interactions with their land and plants, the indigenous farmers of ancient Shandong shaped not only ecological processes, but also sociopolitical ones. It is my intention that this research contributes to understanding state formation processes in a more comprehensive way that considers the roles of all people in the society