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Yanshi (China)


Definition: Yanshi is an early Shang dynasty capital city, located on the Luo River in the modern town of Yanshi, Henan Province, China. The site was occupied between about 1600-1365 BC, and has Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasty occupations; and a capital city of the Middle Shang period (ca. 1500-1400 BC).

Yanshi is a small rectangular walled town with an inner city and outer city, all of which is enclosed by a rammed earth wall and a 20 meter wide external moat. The entire walled city measured 1240 meters west/east and 1710 meters north/south. The interior rammed earth wall is between 6 and 7 meters thick; the exterior wall measures between 17 and 19 meters thick. A palace district lies at the heart of Yanshi, with two large palaces, two storage compounds, and an underground drainage system made of pottery pipes.

Importantly, archaeologists have noted evidence for animal sacrifice, with an emphasis on pigs, cattle, sheep, horse, and dogs. Combinations of animal sacrifice shift over time at Yanshi, allowing researchers to examine the role of sacrifice throughout the Shang Dynasty.

Yanshi was discovered in 1983 by the CAIS, and excavations have been ongoing ever since. Some scholars have identified Yanshi with the earliest historic Shang capital of Xibo, the Shang, built by King Tang about 1600 BC, although this is a minority opinion.


Yuan, Jing and Rowan Flad 2005 New zooarchaeological evidence for changes in Shang Dynasty animal sacrifice. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 24(3):252-270.

Yang, Xiaoneng. 2004. Walled City Site at Yanshi, Henan Province. Pp. 118-119 in Chinese Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: New Perspectives on China's Past. Yale University Press, New Haven.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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