Last updated
China Northern Plain relief location map.png
Archaeological site icon (red).svg
Location in north China
Region Shanxi
Coordinates 35°53′26.17″N111°29′49.82″E / 35.8906028°N 111.4971722°E / 35.8906028; 111.4971722 Coordinates: 35°53′26.17″N111°29′49.82″E / 35.8906028°N 111.4971722°E / 35.8906028; 111.4971722
Area280 ha
Foundedc.2300 BC
Abandonedc.1900 BC
Cultures Longshan culture
A painted pottery jar excavated from the Taosi site. Exhibit of the Shanxi Museum. Shanxi Museum - a painted pottery jar.JPG
A painted pottery jar excavated from the Taosi site. Exhibit of the Shanxi Museum.

Taosi (Chinese :陶寺; pinyin :Táosì) is an archaeological site in Xiangfen County, Shanxi, China. Taosi is considered to be part of the late phase of the Longshan culture in southern Shanxi, also known as the Taosi phase (2300 BC to 1900 BC).



Taosi was surrounded by a gigantic rammed-clay enclosure. This was discovered from 1999 to 2001 by the archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; they attributed this wall to the Middle Taosi period (4,100 to 4,000 BP). Rectangular in form with an inner area of 280 ha. [1]

An internal rammed-earth wall separated the residential and ceremonial areas of the elite from the areas inhabited by commoners, signifying the development of a stratified society. [2] [3]

A painted stick discovered from a prehistoric dating from 2300 BCE excavated at the astronomical site of Taosi is the oldest gnomon known in China. [4] The gnomon was widely used in ancient China from the second century BC onward in order determine the changes in seasons, orientation, and geographical latitude. The ancient Chinese used shadow measurements for creating calendars that are mentioned in several ancient texts. According to the collection of Zhou Chinese poetic anthologies Classic of Poetry , one of the distant ancestors of King Wen of the Zhou dynasty used to measure gnomon shadow lengths to determine the orientation around the 14th-century BC. [5] [6] [7]

The Huaxia settlement outgrew the perimeter of the wall. The settlement is the largest Longshan site discovered in the Linfen basin, Yellow River basin area, possibly a regional center. The settlement represents the most political system on the Central Plains at the time. The polites in the Taosi site are considered an advanced chiefdom, but may not have not developed into a higher political organization. It was not the Taosi polites but, the less socially complex Central Plains Longshan sites, the scattered, multi-system competing systems that gave rise to early states in this region. [8]

Ancient "observatory"

Taosi also contained an astronomical observatory, the oldest in East Asia. [9]

This was discovered in 2003-2004. Archaeologists unearthed a Middle Taosi period semi-round foundation just beside southern wall of the Middle Taosi enclosure, which could be used for astronomical observations. The structure consists of an outer semi-ring-shaped path, and a semi-round rammed-earth platform with a diameter of about 60 m. The platform is 42m in diameter and over 1000 sq m in area, and can be reconstructed as a three-level altar.

On the top of the altar, an arch-shaped rammed earth foundation facing the east with 12 slots, each 0.15 to 0.2 m wide and 1.4 m between each other were discovered; standing in the center of the altar and watching through the slots, one can find that most of slots respectively orientate to a given point of the Chongfen Mountain to the east. [10]

In a given period in the ancient times, the midwinter sunrise of the winter solstice would have been in the middle of the second eastern slot, the midsummer sunrise of the summer solstice would have been in the middle of the westmost slot, and during the seasons the sun would rise within each of the slots from west to east, marking the passage of time between the winter solstice and the summer solstice. This means these slots shares a similar function of the Thirteen Towers of the Chankillo Observatory, and they might have been intentionally constructed in for astronomical observation of the sunrise on a particular point in a given day, in order to establish the local solar calendar, which is crucial for the practice of agriculture at that time. [11]


The cemetery of Taosi covered an area of 30,000 square meters (3ha) at its height. [12]

The cemetery contained over 1,500 burials. The burials at Taosi were highly stratified (the most stratified of Longshan sites), with burial wealth concentrated in the graves of a few males (nine large graves). The largest graves were placed in separated rooms with murals, had a large cache of grave goods (some with over 200 objects, including jades, copper bells, wooden and crocodile skin musical instruments); middle-size graves featured painted wooden coffins and luxury objects; most of the small graves did not have grave goods. [13] A single bronze bell was also found at a Taosi grave.

Emperor Yao connection

Several Chinese archaeologists postulate that Taosi was the site where the state of Youtang (有唐) being conquered by Emperor Yao, (traditionally c. 2356–2255 BC) who later instituted Taosi as the capital. [14]

In Chinese classic documents Yao Dian (Document of Yao) in Shang Shu (Book of Ancient Time), and Wudibenji (Records for the Five Kings) in Shiji (Historic Records), King Yao assigned astronomic officers to observe celestial phenomena, including time and position of sunrise, sunset, and stars in culmination, in order to systematically establish a solar calendar and a lunar calendar with 366 days a year with leap month. The observatory found at Taosi coincides with these records. [15] It is theorized that the city collapsed with a rebellion against the ruling class. [16] [17] [18]

On the other hand, some Western scholars assert that emperor Yao was a mythical figure.


  1. He Nu, Wu Jiabi (2005), Astronomical date of the "observatory" at Taosi site. Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (IA CASS)
  2. He 2013; Ren 1998; Zhongguo et al. 2005
  3. Higham, C.; Higham, T.; Ciarla, R.; Douka, K.; Kijngam, A.; Rispoli, F. (2011). "The Origins of the Bronze Age of Southeast Asia". Journal of World Prehistory. 24 (4): 227. doi:10.1007/s10963-011-9054-6. S2CID   162300712.
  4. Li, Geng (2014). "Gnomons in Ancient China". In Ruggles, Clive (ed.). Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy. Springer New York (published July 7, 2014). p. 2095. ISBN   978-1-4614-6141-8.
  5. Li, Geng (9 July 2017). Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy. p. 2095. Bibcode:2015hae..book.2095L. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-6141-8_219 via NASA ADS.
  6. Li, Geng (2014). "Gnomons in Ancient China". In Ruggles, Clive (ed.). Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy. Springer New York (published July 7, 2014). pp. 2095–2096. ISBN   978-1-4614-6141-8.
  7. The 2nd-century Chinese book Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art claims gnomons were used by the Duke of Zhou (11th century BC). Laertius, Diogenes. "Life of Anaximander".
  8. Liu, Li (2005). The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States . p.  191.
  9. David Pankenier, et al. (2008), The Xiangfen, Taosi site: A Chinese Neolithic 'observatory'?. Archaeologica Baltica 10
  10. He Nu, Wu Jiabi (2005), Astronomical date of the "observatory" at Taosi site. The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (IA CASS)
  11. He Nu, Wu Jiabi (2005), Astronomical date of the "observatory" at Taosi site. The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (IA CASS)
  12. 书略*追远略*古DNA显示:现代汉族就是古代中原人的直系后代 Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  13. K.C.Chang in Cambridge History of Ancient China, 1999, p.60.
  14. 尧的政治中心的迁移及其意义 Archived 2011-09-06 at the Wayback Machine
  15. He Nu, Wu Jiabi (2005), Astronomical date of the "observatory" at Taosi site. The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (IA CASS)
  16. 论陶寺古城的发展阶段与性质 Archived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  17. 从陶寺遗存看中国早期国家之形成——中国早期文明研究札记之五 Archived 2011-07-11 at the Wayback Machine
  18. 从陶寺遗址考古收获看中国早期国家特征

Related Research Articles

Archaeoastronomy Interdisciplinary study of astronomies in cultures

Archaeoastronomy is the interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary study of how people in the past "have understood the phenomena in the sky, how they used these phenomena and what role the sky played in their cultures". Clive Ruggles argues it is misleading to consider archaeoastronomy to be the study of ancient astronomy, as modern astronomy is a scientific discipline, while archaeoastronomy considers symbolically rich cultural interpretations of phenomena in the sky by other cultures. It is often twinned with ethnoastronomy, the anthropological study of skywatching in contemporary societies. Archaeoastronomy is also closely associated with historical astronomy, the use of historical records of heavenly events to answer astronomical problems and the history of astronomy, which uses written records to evaluate past astronomical practice.

Shang dynasty First directly-attested dynasty in Chinese history

The Shang dynasty, also historically known as the Yin dynasty, was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the middle and lower Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the semi-mythical Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty. The classic account of the Shang comes from texts such as the Book of Documents, Bamboo Annals and Records of the Grand Historian. According to the traditional chronology based on calculations made approximately 2,000 years ago by Liu Xin, the Shang ruled from 1766 to 1122 BC, but according to the chronology based upon the "current text" of Bamboo Annals, they ruled from 1556 to 1046 BC. The Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project dated them from c. 1600 to 1046 BC based on the carbon 14 dates of the Erligang site.

Gnomon The part of a sundial that casts a shadow

A gnomon is the part of a sundial that casts a shadow. The term is used for a variety of purposes in mathematics and other fields.

Emperor Yao

Emperor Yao was a legendary Chinese ruler, according to various sources, one of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.

Longshan culture

The Longshanculture, also sometimes referred to as the Black Pottery Culture, was a late Neolithic culture in the middle and lower Yellow River valley areas of northern China from about 3000 to 1900 BC. The first archaeological find of this culture took place at the Chengziya Archaeological Site in 1928, with the first excavations in 1930 and 1931. The culture is named after the nearby modern town of Longshan in Zhangqiu, Shandong. The culture was noted for its highly polished black pottery. The population expanded dramatically during the 3rd millennium BC, with many settlements having rammed earth walls. It decreased in most areas around 2000 BC until the central area evolved into the Bronze Age Erlitou culture.

Nabta Playa Region in the Nubian Desert

Nabta Playa was once a large internally drained basin in the Nubian Desert, located approximately 800 kilometers south of modern-day Cairo or about 100 kilometers west of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt, 22.51° north, 30.73° east. Today the region is characterized by numerous archaeological sites. The Nabta Playa archaeological site, one of the earliest of the Egyptian Neolithic Period, is dated to circa 7500 BC.


Kokino is a Bronze Age archaeological site in the Republic of North Macedonia, approximately 30 km from the town of Kumanovo, and about 6 km from the Serbian border, in the Staro Nagoričane Municipality. It is situated between about 1010 and 1030 m above sea level on the Tatićev Kamen summit and covers an area of about 90 by 50 meters, overlooking the eponymous hamlet of Kokino.

Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory

Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory, also known as the Dengfeng Observatory, is a World Heritage Site in Duke of Zhou's shrine, Gaocheng Town, near Dengfeng in Henan province, China. This site has a long tradition of astronomical observations, from the time of the Western Zhou up to the early Yuan dynasty. There is also a gnomon used for the Da Yan calendar in 729 AD and the great observatory of the Yuan Dynasty.


Carahunge, also called Zorats Karer, Karahunj, Qarahunj and Carenish, is a prehistoric archaeological site near the town of Sisian in the Syunik Province of Armenia. It is also often referred to in international tourist lore as the "Armenian Stonehenge".


Chanquillo or Chankillo is an ancient monumental complex in the Peruvian coastal desert, found in the Casma-Sechin basin in the Ancash Department of Peru. The ruins include the hilltop Chankillo fort, the nearby Thirteen Towers solar observatory, and residential and gathering areas. The Thirteen Towers have been interpreted as an astronomical observatory built in the 4th century BC. The culture that produced Chankillo is called the Casma/Sechin culture or the Sechin Complex.

Paris M. Herouni was an Armenian physicist and engineer. He was a member of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences in the fields of radio-physics, radio-engineering, and radio-astronomy and the head of the Antenna Systems chair, which he founded, at the National Polytechnic University of Armenia and Radio Physics Research Institute (RRI). In 1986, he was awarded the USSR State Prize.

Wurdi Youang

Wurdi Youang is the name attributed to an Aboriginal stone arrangement located off the Little River – Ripley Road at Mount Rothwell, near Little River, Victoria in Australia. The site was acquired by the Indigenous Land Corporation on 14 January 2000 and transferred to the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative on 17 August 2006.

Liye is a town of Longshan County, Hunan Province, China. Located on the northern bank of You River, Liye is the southernmost town of the county, and bordered to the west by Youshuihe Town and Keda Township of Youyang County, Daxi Township of Xiushan County of Chongqing Municipality, to the south by Qingshuiping and Bier Towns of Baojing County, to the east and southeast by Maoertan Town, to the southwest by Zaguo Township. The present-day Liye was reformed on November 30, 2015. It covers an area of 259.2 square kilometres (100.1 sq mi), as of November, 2015, it has a registered population of 43,300, the seat is Liye Community.

National archaeological park of China

The national archaeological park of China is a designation created by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) in 2009 to preserve and present large-scale archaeological sites. National archaeological parks must have previously been designated as Major Historical and Cultural Sites Protected at the National Level, and are considered to have high historical, cultural, and academic value. They include ancient settlements, cities and towns, palaces, temples and caves, engineering and manufacturing sites, and mausoleums and cemeteries. Many parks also have on-site museums.

Xuanzhong Temple

Xuanzhong Temple is a Buddhist temple located in Jiaocheng County, Shanxi, China. After Ennin introduced Pure Land Buddhism to Japan, Xuanzhong Temple is regard as one of the cradles of Pure Land Buddhism in both Chinese Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism.

Yang Hongxun was a Chinese architect, architectural historian, and archaeologist. He was a professor at the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a founder of the field of architectural archaeology in China. He published a number of acclaimed books in the fields of architectural history and archaeology of China, and designed the National Museum of Chinese Writing and the Longshan Culture Museum.

Zhang Changshou was a Chinese archaeologist who served as vice director of the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). He was a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute and an honorary member of the CASS.

Taosi Township Township in Shanxi, China

Taosi Township is a township in Xiangfen County, Shanxi, China. It is surrounded by Dadeng Township on the north, Xincheng Town on the west, Yicheng County on the east, and Quwo County on the south. As of the 2008 census it had a population of 23,141 and an area of 66-square-kilometre (25 sq mi).