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Shang Dynasty (ca. 1700-1046 BC)

Timeline and Description

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Shang Dynasty bronze, Polymuseum, Beijing

Shang Dynasty bronze, Polymuseum, Beijing

Guy Taylor
The Bronze Age Shang Dynasty in China is roughly dated between 1700-1050 BC, and, according to the Shi Ji, it began when the first Shang emperor, T'ang, overthrew the last of the Xia (also called Erlitou) dynasty emperors. They in turn were overthrown by the first rulers of the Zhou Dynasty, in 1046 BC.

Shang Dynasty Chronology

  • Erlitou (or Xia dynasty) 1850-1600 BC (Erlitou, Xinzhai)
  • Early Shang (Erligang) 1600-1435 BC (Erligang, Zhengzhou, Yanshi, Xingyang Dashigu, Anyang)
  • Middle Shang 1435-1220 BC (Yanshi)
  • Late Shang (Yinxu) 1220-1050 BC
Archaeological evidence for the Shang Dynasty suggests that the story is far more complex and that the use of the term 'Shang dynasty' or 'Shang civilization' is confusing, and 'Shang period' might be of more use. Settlement patterns of the Shang period include dispersed villages like Taixi, walled settlements like Gucheng and Zhengzhou, and ritual or ceremonial centers like Erlitou and Anyang.

Important advances of the Shang Dynasty are the creation of writing, on oracle bones, bones and turtle shells used to record dreams and public and private events and sacrifices. Ritual bronzes were first created at Erlitou, which may or may not represent the early part of the Shang Dynasty, depending on which scholar you listen to.

Sites of the Shang

The known capital cities of the Shang are Anyang, Ao, Bo, Yinxu and Zhengzhou; other important archaeological sites include Erlitou, Yanshi, Erligang, Zhengzhou, and Sanxingdui.

Sources

Allan, Sarah 2007 Erlitou and the Formation of Chinese Civilization: Toward a New Paradigm. The Journal of Asian Studies 66:461-496.

Campbell Roderick B. 2009. Toward a Networks and Boundaries Approach to Early Complex Polities: The Late Shang Case. Current Anthropology 50(6):821-848.

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. Chinese Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: New Perspectives on China's Past. Yale University Press, New Haven.

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