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Painted Pottery Production and Social Complexity in Neolithic Northwest ChinaLing-yu Hung
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This study focuses on Neolithic period Majiayao-style painted pottery from Northwest China, which is known for its high quality and beautiful décor. While much is known about the pottery, research on the associated Majiayao Culture has previously been limited to cultural histories that emphasize chronology and trait-list classification, leading to a static and simplistic view of past realities. This study instead focuses on the long-overlooked social and economic processes behind the production of these vessels. Attribute and physicochemical analyses of hundreds of ceramic vessels and samples selected from multiple sites in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces are combined with settlement pattern and mortuary analyses of thousands of sites and burials. By synthesizing these data, this study illustrates a positive correlation between regional density of settlement distribution, intensification of pottery production, and degree of social inequality in each phase. Rather than showing a simple linear process of increasing social complexity, however, distinct regional variations in each phase and significant regional fluctuations over time can be seen. The results of this study demonstrate that economic and social patterns related to Majiayao ceramics were far more complex than previously thought.