Geographical Location: On the border of Lingyuan and Jianping counties, Northeast China's Liaoning Province

Period: Late Neolithic Age (3770-2920BC)

Excavation period: Year2003

The Liaoning Provincial Cultural Relics Archeological Research Institute, led by Zhu Da


In the excavation at the No 16 site in the southwest of the Niuheliang(牛河梁Niúhéliáng) ruins of the Hongshan Culture last year, an area of 1, 575 square meters were uncovered, containing six tombs and 479 relics, including a jade human figurine, a phoenix and a piece of a jade dragon. Other unearthed jade pieces included bracelets, pendants and loops.

The most startling discovery was the 3.9 x 3.1 x 4.68-meter M4 stone grave -- the largest grave ever found at the Neolithic Hongshan Culture Site in Niuheliang . The jade articles were found well preserved in a stone coffin.

Unlike most other graves in the area, this one was buried in hard granite along the ridge of the mountain. Experts say the well-preserved skeleton, with its head pointing to the east and feet to the west, could have belonged to a man 45-50 years of age. They say he must have been a very rich man who enjoyed a high social status since he was buried with a jade figurine and phoenix.

The 18.5-centimeter-tall greenstone human figurine was found naked on the left side of the skeleton's pelvis. The 19.5-centimeter jade phoenix found under the skeleton's head was also a first-time discovery at the Hongshan Culture Site. The light-green jade dragon is referred to as the "pig dragon," since its coiled body is combined with the head of a pig with a broad, creased snout and tusks. It shaped like the other two jade dragons unearthed in the same area in 1984 and resembles the Chinese character "dragon" in ancient script found on bones and turtle shells.


The discovery provides important clues into the study of burial customs and religious and sacrificial rituals during the Hongshan Culture Period some 5,500 years ago. This is not only the first time that such an intact and refined jade figurine and phoenix were unearthed, but also the first time for both relics to be discovered at the same site, which further affirms China's dragon and phoenix culture and the belief that the Chinese people are "descendants of the dragon".

Archeologists say the jade dragons unearthed in the region suggest that the dragon worshipped by Chinese people was a combination of several animals, with its original shape coming from the pig, deer, bear and bird. The dragon met its final shape through long-term artistic processing -- an evolutionary process closely linked to the origin and development of the Chinese civilization.

Niuheliang Site

Chinese archaeologists have excavated 16 sites at the Niulheliang ruins of the Hongshan Culture over the past two decades.

The Niuheliang Site, covering an area of 50 square kilometers, lies at the juncture of Jianping and Lingyuan counties in Northeast China's Liaoning Province. The site consists of the Temple of the Goddess, stone graves and a sacrificial altar . Since 1983, archeologists have produced prehistoric pottery and jade ware, such as figurines, phoenixes, dragons and other animals with high carving techniques, from the soil. They claim that China's Jade Age prevailed more than 5,000 years ago.

The Goddess Temple at Niuheliang is an important key to this culture. It consists of two groups of earthen and wooden constructions, with painted walls exhibiting triangular geometric patterns in reddish brown, interlaced with yellow and white. Dozens of fragments of sculpted human busts and hands were unearthed, including a life-sized head, red-painted faces and circular blue-jade eyes, which were the earliest goddess statues in China. A large number of animal statues include jade dragons that resemble pig and bird sculptures with high carving techniques.

The stone graves were constructed by piling chipped rocks, either square or round, measuring 40 x 20 x 30 cm. Each tomb covers an area of 300-400 square meters, with the largest stretching over 1,000 square meters. The rocks were arranged to a height of more than one meter.

The Niuheliang Site belongs to the Neolithic Hongshan Culture, which was created by tribes living in the west of the Liaohe River Valley about 5,000-6, 000 years ago. The Hongshan Culture was a culture of the late Neolithic Age centered in today's Southeastern Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, Western Liaoning and Northern Hebei province s. The Hongshan Culture was named in 1935 after the first site was discovered in Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia in China.