The term Cishan refers to a culture which flourished on the Yellow River in China, around 6000 – 5500 BC. The area had long been known as a cradle of early agriculture, Cishan lying close to the modern city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.
Cishan is known as a ‘type site’. This means it is considered to be the model of a particular type of culture, in this case, agriculture. The site covered 80,000 square meters and was noted for the amount of grain found there.
Grain was found in storage pits, dug into the ground. Over five hundred of these pits were discovered, the largest being five meters deep and capable of storing one thousand kilos of millet.
Cishan is considered to be one of the earliest sites containing evidence of millet cultivation. Foxtail millet was recovered from the pits, and it is thought that over 50,000 kilos of millet could have been stored at any one time in the pits.
Cishan is an early Neolithic site and its people were not restricted to growing millet. There is evidence that they grew other grains, such as barley and rice. Fishing provided another source of food, but Cishan has another claim to fame.
The site is considered one of the earliest to show evidence of domesticated animals, including pigs and dogs. Both types of animals were found in the millet pits at Cishan. Scientific research has shown that both pig and human bones from the site had large quantities of foxtail millet present. This implies that both animals and humans were eating the farmed millet.
The huge quantities of millet found, and potentially stored, could be set alongside the idea of keeping domesticated pigs. Feeding the pigs millet would account for the vast amount of grain found, too much for what would have been a smaller community. Pig bones found at the Cishan site showed that animals were being slaughtered at one year or younger which leads researchers to believe this was intentional population control.
Four conditions needed to be met to encourage these people to attempt domestication of pigs. There had to be a greater demand for meat than hunting alone could supply. Wild pigs had to live relatively close to a human settlement to enable the capture of young pigs for domestication. Plant domestication had to have reached a stage where it was successful and made people think that it was possible to cultivate animals too. There needed to be a surplus in cereal production to support feeding domestic animals alongside humans. The last is clearly evident in the finds at the site.
Cishan is recognized as both an early site of agriculture and of the domestication of animals. Much evidence from the site has been dissected and written about by scientists and links to their various conclusions can be found within the article.