Ao, Anyang and Yin

Historical capitals of China

Tradition records that they often moved the site of their capital, probably because of natural disasters or invasions.

Xibo, near Erlitou and Xian, is said to have been founded in 1557, Ao (in Zhengzhou) in 1399, Bo (Shandong province) in 1321 and Yin (Anyang) in 1299.


Ao (Zhengzhou)

Ao, Zhengzhou, lies in the centre of China where mountain passes and rivers attracted human life from the Neolithic period (Dahe village in northern Zhengzhou).

In 1955 a site was discovered that had a defensive wall, houses, wells, graves, and areas for working bronze, clay and bone and dated to around 1500. Although Ao was only briefly a Shang capital it continued to be inhabited and was later used by the Zhou dynasty.

The last Shang capital has produced the most remarkable finds. It lies to the east, near Anyang. Caves show that the area had long been inhabited. Its growing prominence from around 1300 coincides with the establishment of Yin or Yinxu.

The Ruins of Yin

This huge site, given World Heritage status in 2006, has palaces, ritual places, workshops and tombs. The discovery of 100,000 inscribed bones in 1899 had already secured its special place in Chinese history.

Photo - Yin

Yin, 'oracle bone' pit

On the bones of animals and the shells of tortoises characters in an early form of Chinese writing were incised, or less often painted. Since they seem to have been used in a type of divination ritual that required burning they have been called 'oracle bones'.

Among the inscriptions on the oracle bones was the name of Wu Ding, once thought legendary, but now documented as a real Shang king.

Oracle pit at Yin

'Oracle bone' tortoise shell with inscriptions

The breastbone of a tortoise with incised inscriptions.

'Oracle  bone' tortoise shell with inscriptions

The Ruins of Yin museum, chariot burials

The wealth and importance of Yin is also revealed by six pits, each with two horses and a chariot. Two are seen here inside the museum.

Photo - Yin museum

Yin chariot burials

The earliest chariot burials yet known to us have been found to the north east (Andronovo culture, Tobol River) and have been dated to around 2000.

Photo - Yin  chariot burial

Excavating an undisturbed royal Shang grave

Anyang, reconstruction of structure above tomb 5

A structure like this is thought to have been erected over her grave.

Drawing - Anyang, reconstruction of structure above tomb 5

Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology, p. 163

In the grave were wonderful gifts such as three ivory goblets with decoration inlaid in turquoise.

This bronze owl was one of the many bronzes. The zun was used for ritual drinking.

Bronze owl

Bronze bu wine vessel

Bronze bu wine  vessel

'Lady Hao's' jade

This jade is thought to have been an heirloom.

'Lady Hao's' jade

Inscriptions on this bronze vessel identify her as Fu Hao.