Back in December 2015, I brought to your attention the findings of an archaeological dig in China. In a piece, I wrote about the discovery of Camelia sinensis roots and pottery fragments that were over 6,000 years old. The piece was named - 6,000 Years of Brewing Our Favourite Cuppa
Recently on a visit to China, I was invited by the China International Tea Cultural Institute (CITCI), to be a guest speaker at a tea cultural seminar in Ningbo. One of China’s ancient port cities, famous during the Song and Ming Dynasties, and utilised by the Europeans to create their famous Eastern trade base. Not too far from Ningbo, is Tian Luo Shan (Snail Mountain), where a Hemudu village site has been uncovered at an archaeological dig.
The Hemudu culture was one of China’s earliest cultures and existed between 5500 BC and 3300 BC.These Neolithic people lived in an area known today as Zhejiang Provence, around the town of Yuyao, which is just a short drive from Ningbo.
So, when Ms. Liang of the CITCI, knowing how keen I was to visit the site, arranged a visit I couldn’t resist the opportunity or hold back my excitement. This Hemudu village site to me, is such an
incredibly significant and important site for those of us interested in the history of tea but let’s come back to that shortly. Ms. Liang introduced me to Ms. Lin Hao and Mr. Chen Weiquan the local official with connections to the site and the man who with Ms. Liang, had arranged the visit. Two Japanese tea colleagues from the institute, Ms. Mari Shimizu and Mr. Yuasa Kaoru, along with Ms. Liang and myself accompanied Mr. Chen to the site.
As we arrived, the domed roof of a building, which was erected to protect this most precious of discoveries loomed large like a sports stadium. Once we had concluded the initial greetings and we had been introduced to Professor Xu, lead academic at the site and the man who uncovered the spot where the Camelia sinensis roots and pottery fragments were discovered. What a great pleasure to be meeting Professor Xu, the man who uncovered tea history for us. We then entered and I must say this was a very privileged moment for me and truly quite overwhelming.
We entered the large domed stadium, immediately I could identify the site from pictures I had seen. Professor Xu then invited us down into the site, which was to say the least an unbelievable thrill. The site is open to the general-public for viewing from platforms and walkways but to be actually entering the site was an incredible privilege. The hollow where the professor had uncovered the roots and pottery fragments was pointed out by him. The site sections and the shape of the large single building that people would have lived in were perfectly identifiable. Everyone was very excited to be taking a trip through history and walking on ground that ancient tribal people had walked over, thousands of years before.
As we exited the stadium Professor Xu invited us back to his private workshops where many of the root sections are stored. We also viewed tray after tray of bones, Neolithic tools, jewels and the pottery fragments. It turned into quite an amazing visit, one I believe my colleagues and I will not forget.
I hear you say, “that’s all very nice but what significance does this site and find, have to tea and the consumption of tea?”.
As many of you will know, today we believe that the plant used to produce tea from, the Camelia sinensis evolved and originated in an area we know today as Western China, the Province of Yunnan. The finding of Camellia sinensis roots at this site show’s us that primitive tribal people transported and cultivated the plant as they traveled east across China. This find at Tian Luo Shan also offers us a glimpse into how man was using the leaves of this plant and pushes us to form new timelines documenting evidence into man’s cultivation and consumption of tea. The Hemudu people would appear to be making an infusion from the leaves, as the discovery of fragments of primitive tea cups points to this practice. This is significant when for centuries we have focused on a period around 2737 BC when Shen Nong and ancient chieftain or Emperor, supposedly took the first sips. He drank an infusion created, after a leaf fell from the tree he was sitting under while drinking his cup of boiled water. The leaf landed in his cup of water and infused giving him an invigorating and flavoursome brew! The uncovering of this site and its treasure of discoveries, takes tea drinking further back in time to between 5,000 and over 7,000 years ago. The history of tea, in particular, Chinese tea need to be re-written.
That is significant!
Unfortunately, today the site is suffering from water, which is seeping through the ground and collecting as pools in the site. Attempts to remove the water is proving unsuccessful. Maybe it’s time the earth wishes to reclaim the site and any further history it still holds. After all, it has given us a glimpse into the tea drinking past and the people who called Tian Luo Shan their home.