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China: Shang dynasty (about 1500-1050 BC)

The manufacture of bronze is what distinguishes the Shang period from the earlier Neolithic period in China. Historical records mention another ruling group, the Xia, as preceding the Shang, but no archaeological site has been found yet to prove this, so it remains a matter of speculation. The Shang period is usually divided into three phases: the Erlitou (about 1650-1500 BC), the Erligang (about 1500-1400 BC) and the Anyang (after around 1300 BC), also known as the Yinxu phase.

The Shang peoples are recognized by their bronzes, particularly their bronze vessels in which food and wine were offered to the ancestors. The earliest known bronzes have been found at Yanshi Erlitou in the northern province of Henan. A site with a city located at the modern town of Zhengzhou was probably constructed by about 1500 BC. A massive city wall, specialized workshops and buildings of differing standing, all indicate a highly organized and stratified society. At this stage, the influence of the Shang must have been very great, as bronze vessels in the metropolitan style (in terms of shape and decoration) have been found at widely separate sites across Shaanxi, Anhui, Hubei and Henan.

The major site of the late Shang period was at Anyang. Notable discoveries include large palace buildings, workshops, burials both of kings and nobles, and deposits of oracle bones. The large numbers of inscribed oracle bones and bronze inscriptions found at Anyang are China's earliest known examples of writing. They also serve to validate many later historical records, as a number of the inscriptions include the names of kings.

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