Erligang culture

Erligang culture
Relief map of eastern China with an oval covering most of the North China Plain, the Yanshi and Zhengzhou sites just south of the Yellow River and the Panlongcheng site just north of the Yangtze
Geographical rangeNorth China Plain
PeriodBronze Age China
Datesc. 1510 – c. 1460 BC
Type siteErligang
Major sitesZhengzhou, Yanshi, Panlongcheng
Preceded byErlitou culture
Followed byShang dynasty
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese二里崗文化
Simplified Chinese二里岗文化

Coordinates: 34°45′14″N 113°40′34″E / 34.754°N 113.676°E / 34.754; 113.676

The Erligang culture (Mandarin: [ɑɻligɑ̃(ŋ)]) is a Bronze Age urban civilization and archaeological culture in China that existed from approximately 1510 to 1460 BC. The primary site, Zhengzhou Shang City, was discovered at Erligang, within the modern city of Zhengzhou, Henan, in 1951.

Major sites[edit]

The culture was centered in the Yellow River valley. In its early years, it expanded rapidly, reaching the Yangtze River. The culture then gradually shrank from its early peak.


Later investigations showed that the Erligang site was part of an ancient city surrounded by a roughly rectangular wall with a perimeter of about 7 kilometres (4 mi). The walls were of rammed earth construction, a technique dating back to Chinese Neolithic sites of the Longshan culture (c. 3000–1900 BC). It has been estimated that the walls would have been 20 metres (66 ft) wide at the base, rising to a height of 8 metres (26 ft). Large workshops were located outside the city walls, including a bone workshop, a pottery workshop and two bronze vessel workshops. The modern city sits on the remains of the Erligang city, rendering archaeological excavations impossible. Therefore, most of the information about the culture comes from studying other Erligang sites.


The large site at Panlongcheng, on the Yangtze River in Hubei, is currently the largest excavated site of Erligang culture. It was discovered in 1954, and excavated in 1974 and 1976. Since Zhengzhou lacked access to local bronze metals, sites like Panlongcheng were probably used to secure distant metal resources.

Bronze vessels[edit]

Erligang bronzes developed from the style and techniques of the earlier Erlitou culture, centred 85 kilometres (53 mi) to the west of Zhengzhou. Erligang was the first archaeological culture in China to show widespread use of bronze vessel castings. Bronze vessels became much more widely used and uniform in style than at Erlitou.

Relation to traditional accounts[edit]

Many Chinese archaeologists believe that the ancient city of Zhengzhou was one of the early capitals of the Shang dynasty mentioned in traditional histories. However many scholars and Western archaeologists have pointed out that, unlike the later Anyang settlement, no written records have been found at Erligang to link the archaeological remains with the official history.


  • Bagley, Robert (1999), "Shang Archaeology", in Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward L. (eds.), The Cambridge History of Ancient China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 124–231, ISBN 978-0-521-47030-8.
  • Liu, Li (2003), "The products of minds as well as of hands: production of prestige goods in the Neolithic and early state periods of China", Asian Perspectives, 42 (1): 1–40, doi:10.1353/asi.2003.0025.
  • Liu, Li; Chen, Xingcan (2012), The Archaeology of China: From the Late Paleolithic to the Early Bronze Age, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-64310-8.

Further reading[edit]