Archaeological Sites: Beinan
The archaeological site of Beinan in Taiwan is one of the most important sites of the island. Covering more than 99 acres, the village site is one of most remarkable sites and offers us great insight into the history and the culture here.
Discovered in 1980, the site has revealed the remains of 50 dry stone house foundations and over 1500 burials. The majority of these graves have been given a date of between 1500 to 800 BCE. Beinan is the largest prehistoric burial site on the Pacific Rim, at which archaeologists’ unearthed earthenware for general use, jade ornaments, stone objects, residential areas, and slate coffins.
The houses were built on rectangular stone pavements in rows, with adjacent rows of dry-stone walled storehouses. The floors of the houses sealed slab-lined burial cists, an arrangement indicating an interest in ancestor veneration (Bellwood & Hiscock, p.286). A number of these houses were divided by boulders acting as walls. This has been suggested by scholars that the boulders acted as lineage divisions of some kind within the village plan.
It is of great interest that the most complex burial forms in Taiwan occur on the east coast, in distinctive, non-mainland burial treatments such as the use of slate coffins. The burials have yielded a mass of artefacts; these included beautiful pieces of jade in the form of long tubular beads, bracelets and penannular earrings in the form an almost complete ring (Bellwood & Hiscock, p.287). Other items found included clay spindle whorls, stone reaping knives, anthropomorphic earrings, projectile points, stone bark-cloth beaters and pig and dog figurines.
The pottery belonging to the Beinan culture is very distinctive. It is mostly a fine orange ware, sometimes red-slipped, with no other means of decoration. A jar with two vertical strap handles and a ring foot is the most common form of pottery found at the site. It has been compared to the Yuanshan pottery in the Taipei basin.
The site of Beinan on Taiwan has given archaeologists and scholars a mass of rich information relating to Taiwanese, Chinese and Austronesian history. Today, Beinan is classed as a Class III site and has not yet been fully excavated. However, continual research here will continue to shed light into the fascinating history of these people.
Bellwood, Peter & Hiscock, Peter (2005) The Human Past – Australia and the Austronesians, Thames & Hudson, London.
Pearson, Richard & Underhill, Anne (1987) The Chinese Neolithic: Recent Trends in Research, American Anthropologist, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropologist Association.