Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2019, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (3): 449-464.doi: 10.1007/s11442-019-1609-y

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Cultural evolution and spatial-temporal distribution of archaeological sites from 9.5-2.3 ka BP in the Yan-Liao region, China

Yuying YUAN()   

  1. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2017-04-18 Accepted:2017-10-16 Online:2019-03-25 Published:2019-03-20
  • About author:

    Author: Yuan Yuying (1993-), PhD Candidate, specialized in human-environment interaction and historical geography. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41371148;Major Program of National Social Science Fund of China, No.13&ZD082


With basic information from 8353 archaeological sites, this study describes a holistic spatial-temporal distribution pattern of archaeological sites of the prehistoric culture sequence from 9.5 ka BP (ka BP = thousands of years before 0 BP, where “0 BP” is defined as the year AD 1950) to 2.3 ka BP in the region that extends from the Yanshan Mountains to the Liaohe River Plain (i.e., the Yan-Liao region) in northern China. Based on spatial statistics analysis - including the spatial density of the sites and Geographic Information System nearest-neighbour analysis, combined with a review of environmental and climatic data - this paper analyses cultural evolution, the spatial-temporal features of the archaeological sites and human activities against the backdrop of climatic and environmental changes in this region. The results reveal that prehistoric cultural evolution in the Yan-Liao region is extensively influenced by climatic and environmental changes. The Xinglongwa, Zhaobaogou and Fuhe cultures, which primarily developed during a habitable period from 8.5 ka BP to 6.0 ka BP with strong summer monsoons, have similar maximum density values, spatial patterns and subsistence strategies dominated by hunting-gathering. Significant changes occurred in the Hongshan and Lower Xiajiadian cultures, with a significant increase in numbers and densities of sites and a slump in average nearest-neighbour ratio when the environment began to deteriorate starting in 6.0 ka BP. Additionally, with the onset of a weak summer monsoon and the predominance of primitive agriculture, sites of these two cultures present a different type of concentric circle-shaped pattern in space. As the environment continuously deteriorated with increasing aridity and the spread of steppe, more sites were distributed towards the south, and primitive agriculture was replaced by livestock husbandry in the Upper Xiajiadian culture. The most densely populated areas of the studied cultures are centralized within a limited area. The Laohahe River and Jiaolaihe River basins formed the core area in which most archaeological sites were distributed during the strong summer monsoon period and the first few thousand years of the weak summer monsoon period.

Key words: prehistoric cultural evolution, archaeological site, spatial-temporal distribution, climate and environmental change, Yanshan Mountains, Liaohe River Plain