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Subsistence strategies and development of social complexity


Subsistence strategies are the essence of a political-economic system, and may predict other forms of behavior, such as population size, division of labor, and social structure. The ways to produce, distribute and consume foodstuffs vary among human societies, thus we focus on this research topic by studying residues on food processing artifacts and use-wear patterns on tools from different cultures through time and cross space. Our on-going projects also investigate agricultural activities in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age of north China, in order to shed light on subsistence strategies and craft specialization related to the urban revolution and state formation.

In China, the earliest written record of alcohol appeared in oracle-bone inscriptions around 3000 years ago. Archaeological investigations, however, have pushed back the date of alcohol production several millennia. Around 9000-8000 years ago, the production of fermented beverages in specialized pottery vessels appeared as a significant component in the transition to agriculture. Since then, alcohol has been essential in ritual feasting, contributing to sociopolitical processes throughout prehistory and history. Our research has revolutionized the understanding of alcohol production and consumption in the prehistoric Yellow River valley.

Current Projects

Bronze Age

Li LIu

 Jiajing Wang

Lower Yellow River Region

Wangmen Project


Functional analysis of stone and shell tools from an early Shang site in Wangmen, Henan, collaborating with Henan University.

Late Neolithic

Yahui He

Li Liu


Shimao Foodways


Plant-based food processing and consumption revealed by pottery assemblage and stone tools at the Shimao site in Late Neolithic Loess Plateau, collaborating with Shannxi Institute of Archaeology


Li LIu

 Jiajing Wang

Sichuan Highlands

Sichuan Project


Dispersal of the Yangshao culture and the drinking ritual tradition in NW Sichuan highlands, China (Li Liu and Jiajing Wang, collaborating with Chengdu City Institute of Archaeology and Sichuan Provincial Institute of Archaeology)


Hao Zhao


David's Deer in Qin Royal Garden at Shanglin


We study the large quantity of bone remains from David’s deer excavated in the Qin royal garden, only 3000 individuals of this deer are living under human custody in China today.


Liu, L., Wang, J., Levin, M.J., 2017. Usewear and residue analyses of experimental harvesting stone tools for archaeological research. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 14, 439-453.


Liu, L., Wang, J., Rosenberg, D., Zhao, H., Lengyel, G., Nadel, D., 2019. Response to comments on archaeological reconstruction of 13,000-y old Natufian beer making at Raqefet Cave, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 28, 101914.


Wang, J., Liu, L., Georgescu, A., Le, V.V., Ota, M.H., Tang, S., Vanderbilt, M., 2017. Identifying ancient beer brewing through starch analysis: A methodology. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 15, 150-160.

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