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Painted patterns on Yangshao portery 3

Discovery of the Banpo Neolithic Village in 1954 is regarded as an important supplement to studies of the Yangshao culture. Ruins of the primitive village that existed over a period from 4,800 BC to 4,500 BC are in perfect conditions. Decorative patterns on pottery utensils unearthed from there take the shape of human faces, fish and deer and other animals, and archeologists link them to witchcraft characteristic of primitive religions.

One example is a pottery kettle with the ends bent upward and fishing net-like patterns painted on its body – obviously modeled after a primitive dugout canoe which, archeologists say, expresses hope of its producer for a good catch and should have something to do with primitive witchcraft. Mysteries surrounding some human face-like patterns remain to be cracked. Most “faces”, so to speak, are round and have straight noses and long, narrow eyes with triangular dunce caps on, as well as fish dangling from both corners of the mouth or on the forehead. Archeologists attribute such patterns to wizards chanting incantations for a good catch of fish.

Patterns of astronomical phenomena should be attributed to primitive agriculture and to understanding of astronomy by prehistory people. Some patterns are realistic in style, with the sun and moon, for example, painted as they actually look like. But in most cases techniques of symbolism were used, with the bird symbolizing the sun and the frog, the moon. Research has led to the conclusion that primitive Chinese thought the bird was the soul of the sun and the frog, the soul of the moon.

Bird and frog images are found on painted pottery produced not later than 7,000 years ago. Those on some of the earliest works are quite realistic in style but, as time went by, such images became increasingly geometrical and mysterious. Use of bird and frog images as theme patterns had continued for well over 3,000 years until the bird image changed into a golden crow and the frog image, into a toad with three legs. In classical Chinese poetry and essays, the sun is often referred to as the “golden crow” and the moon, as the “magic toad”.

Bird and fish images in decorative patterns on prehistory pottery can also be seen as totems. Different clans or tribes had different ancestral roots, hence their different totems. Struggles or alliances between different clans or tribes found an artistic expression in patterns picturing fights or unions between different animals. A pottery vase unearthed in Linru County, Henan Province, is a typical case in point. The vase is painted with a picture 37 centimeters tall and 44 centimeters wide, depicting a fierce-looking white stork with a fish, stiff and motionless, in its long beak. A large stone ax is seen at the right side of the bird, with the handle wrapped in pieces of a textile or with a rope wound round it, on which signs that look like alphabet X are painted. The ax might be symbol of the powers enjoyed by the chieftain of a tribe. The bird is done without an outline, its color, pure white, posing a sharp contrast to the fish and ax done with black outlines. It seems that prehistory artists already knew how to increase the artistic effect of their works by using such techniques as contrast.

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