Anyang was an early city of the late Shang period, situated near modern-day Anyang in Xiaotun Village, Henan province (northern China). Excavations conducted between 1928 and 1937 by Li Chi and more recently by the Academia Sinica demonstrate the fact that occupation began in the 13th century BC, although the Shang themselves (a Mongoloid people) emerged as the dominant power in the North China Plain sometime around 2000 BC (and have produced artefacts dating back to Neolithic times). At one stage (1300-1102 BC) Anyang was the royal capital of territories which spanned the area from the Yellow Sea to the Mongol steppes; the identity of the ruler who set the city (then surrounded by marshland) as his capital is unknown, but it may have been Pangeng, the 20th king of the dynasty, who brought his people from Yan in Shandong. It became the namesake of the ‘Anyang Period’ of the Shang Dynasty, which saw the rule of 12 kings in 8 generations over 254 years.

The town consists of an oval area about 3.75 Km by 9.75 Km, largely unenclosed; the remains incorporate a temple complex, residential buildings, scattered clusters of aristocratic houses and workshops devoted to the manufacture of bronze goods. Also found here (in the Guojiawan New Village) are many tombs (covering 6.7 ha) and a large road (9m wide, 280m long with 1.8m wide sidewalks). In 2000 (AD, folks), a rammed earth wall (enclosing 1,160 acres of area) was discovered and partially excavated in an area to the north-west of Anyang (and north of the Huanshui River) called Huanbei. It was discovered to significantly predate the old capital (1450-1250 BC) and is now regarded as the oldest walled Shang city in China. At present, over 150,000 oracle bones (pieces of tortoise shell or cattle shoulder blades used in divination), 10,000 bronze vessels and scores of building sites have been uncovered in the city proper or surrounding areas.

Bronze artefacts discovered at the site are in a style distinctive to Anyang and feature prominent Ta’o T’ieh designs (demonic masks; a practice common to both Shang and Zhou Dynasties), suggesting veneration of ancestors and even death-worship; it is known that the patron god of the Shang was Shang Di, a primal and elemental deity. Faunal motifs were also common. Oracle bones provide a substantial amount of information on early social organisation as they contain the earliest known Chinese script; 1,700 of the 4,500 words have been translated. These bones were discovered long before the city itself (as they were actually prescribed as medication to an officer under the Qing Dynasty) and they continue to be found even now (with the unearthing of the Daxinzhuang bones). It is interesting to note that although written sources - particularly Sima Qian, the historiographer - indicated the presence of this large city, it was only in the early-mid-20th century that it was discovered - this was accomplished by tracing smuggled oracle bones found in druggists’ shops to their source in Xiaotun.

Perhaps characteristically, the most interesting discoveries made are those of over a dozen royal tombs. These consist of a square pit 14 metres across and 4 metres deep, entered by either two or four ramps. An inner pit at the centre contained the monarch’s body, enclosed in a wooden coffin. The size of these tombs is a testament to the will and influence of the Shang rulers, as they must have been forced to mobilise thousands of workers to dig the shaft pits, construct the wooden burial chambers and fill them with earth - the staggering material cost notwithstanding. In similar fashion to ancient Egyptian burials, these tombs were furnished with funerary goods and the bodies of the bodies of the king’s horses and personal retainers. Sometimes, only heads were discovered; both whole and partial corpses were believed to be human sacrifices. Numerous smaller pit graves exist around the tomb and it has been speculated that these represent the accumulation of burials over a long period after the central prestige grave had been completed. The only tomb which had not been robbed when it was officially discovered was that of Lady Fu Hao (who died in 1250 BC), a likely consort of the ruler Wu Ding, the earliest monarch whose name can be found in oracle bone inscriptions. Despite the fact that this was not officially a royal tomb, it was lavishly furnished and included 200 bronze vessels of various types (the largest set of ritual vessels discovered at an archaeological site in China), many jade objects and Cowry shells (probably a form of currency).


  • Archaeology: the Definitive Guide, various authors.
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvill.
  • The Encyclopaedia of Eastern Mythology, Rachel Storm.

  • Internet:
  • (AH 370/EA 355 Arts of China: Shang - excellent source for many finds, if you can persuade the pictures to work).
  • (Jade Cong Banpo/Neolithic 35th - 18th c. BCE - as above, with a broader timescale and functional pictures).
  • (Life: Tombs of Shang Dynasty excavated in Anyang).
  • (China Today: City of Anyang, China).
  • (A universal guide for China studies from Chinaknowledge: Chinese History).
  • (People’s Daily: China Unearthed Shang Oracle Bones Again, 104 Years After the First Discovery).
  • (Archaeology: Shang City Discovered, May/June 2000).
  • (Henanews: One of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China).
  • (Emuseum: Anyang).
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