Teacher Notes

Picture courtesy of Regent Tours

Banpo Village: Gone, But Not Forgotten

Banpo is a village that existed some 6,000 years ago near Xi'an in the Shaanxi Province of China. Artifacts that have been unearthed from the Banpo site are all that remains of this prehistoric clan-based community. The village grounds occupied a physical area of 50,000 square meters, and consisted primarily of a residential section, a pottery area, and burial grounds. Five excavations that were conducted from 1953 to 1957 revealed the remains of 45 houses, 200-odd storage pits, 6 kilns, 250 tombs, and more than 10,000 stone tools and everyday articles. These artifacts have proven extremely valuable to archaeologists and scholars from other disciplines who study prehistoric and ancient Chinese peoples. Most importantly, they have provided solid evidence for the existence of settled communities in prehistoric China.

The Banpo community existed during the neolithic era of human history, which represents the final phase of the Stone Age. Here we see the use of gradually improved stone tools, and also the beginning of agriculture. We call this period the "Agricultural Revolution." It is one of the major turning points in human history because it signaled the end of hunting-and-gathering lifestyles and the beginning of settled, agricultural communities. Many scholars who have examined the Banpo artifacts believe that this Stone Age community was matriarchal in its social organization. This means that in family relations mothers were the head of the family, and family descent was traced through the maternal line.

Stone Age communities such as Banpo, then, formed the earliest human settlements that were intended to be permanent. Although their culture disappeared long, long ago, the Banpo villagers' accomplishments remain a vital part of modern civilization's heritage--our heritage. Clearly, there is much we can learn about our own beginnings by studying their lifestyles. For this reason, we should make every effort to preserve their story as part of our historical record.

The Task:

You are a renowned scholar who has just received an exciting opportunity. China's prestigious Ministry of Culture has recently announced an international competition among eminent scholars to be held at the site of the Banpo excavation. You are invited to participate in this competition as part of a six-member team of scholars from your country (see invitation letter below). The theme of the competition is "Banpo Village: Scholars Battle for the Key to a Prehistoric Culture."

Your task is to plan a trip to China and prepare yourself for the competition by studying prehistoric and ancient Chinese history. You should familiarize yourself with the artifacts that were found at the Banpo site, and learn how scholars have used these artifacts to explain the way that Banpo citizens organized their family and community life.

The Letter:

Government of China
Ministry of Culture



You have been selected to travel to the ancient village of Banpo to participate in this world class competition. The theme of this competition is "Banpo: The Lost Civilization: Battle of the Scholars."

You will join five other scholars to represent your country in this competition. Your team will compete against other teams from other countries by answering questions designed by the other teams. The six person team that answers the most questions correctly will 
win the competition.

On behalf of the Competition Organizing Committee, I wish all of you the best of luck and hope your stay here at Banpo is a most enjoyable one.

Sincerely yours,
A.B. Lee
Minister of Culture
People's Republic of China

The Process:

Your preparation and the actual competition should follow these steps:

Step 1:
Locate Banpo on a map of China. Then, using construction paper, create your own map of China, and mark on your map the location of Banpo village near Xi'an. Your map should display the correct longitute and latitude for Banpo, and also the present-day time zone in which the Banpo site is located. If your teacher consents, you may liven your map project by using a "pop-up" design with the construction paper provided. Or, you can decorate the map with drawings of some artifacts that were found at Banpo (your teacher should set the guidelines for this activity).

Step 2:
Plan a detailed round-trip travel itinerary from Los Angeles to Banpo. You will need to determine the following information:

Internet travel sites can help you to do this.

Step 3:
Now you must produce questions that will be posed to other teams during the competition. To begin, students should work independently to create two questions for each of the four categories listed below. Each student should also write down correct answers to the questions he or she creates. Then, after writing down these questions and answers on your own, you should meet with your team members and exchange your questions and answers. Discuss all of them as a group. By sharing what you have learned, you all will gain broader knowledge in each area of research.

Before the competition, your team should select the best two questions for each of the four categories, and be certain that the answers being provided for these questions are correct. That way, the responses of other teams to your questions during the competiton can be accurately assessed.

The questions and prepared answers should cover each of the following areas:

You can use the websites provided in the "Resources" section below to research and formulate questions and answers.

Step 4: The Competition


The following Internet links will help you prepare for the competition:
History, Accommodation, Restaurants, Climate
Chinese Geography, History, Culture
Banpo History and Artifacts
Middle School Students' Writing Project
Travel Logs and Diaries
Artifacts Dating Techniques

Learning Advice:

Comprehending a prehistoric culture like Banpo requires a sincere effort on our part to view the lives of its inhabitants from their perspective--through their eyes, their thoughts, and their beliefs. We must approach these prehistoric humans on their own terms, and not assume to know anything about their lifestyle based on our own deeply ingrained customs and beliefs. In order to formulate the best possible questions and answers for the competition, then, each student must do thorough research in each of the four categories listed in Step 3 of the "Process" section. Ample preparation and an open mind are the keys to success here. By learning as much as you can in these areas before the competition, you will greatly increase your chances of winning the competition.

Accurate notetaking and effective organization are very important. I recommend the Cornell Notetaking Model. This model uses two columns, one for notes and one for questions such as that shown below:

On the left hand side of the paper, take notes while you are looking for the information on the Internet. When you have finished, look back at your page of notes and write down questions that could be asked from this information during the competition. Select two of the questions for the competititon.

These pages of notes will be useful for review for your team to prepare for the competition.


Your teacher will develop a "rubric" (a procedure for evaluating your work during this lesson) based upon the following criteria:

Step 1: Map Making
Accurate positioning of Banpo village on the map
Correct labeling of longitude and latitude
Correct time zone

Step 2: Itinerary
Accurate distance
Accurate cost for round trip
Accurate mathematical computation

Step 3: Question/Answer Formulation
Thoroughness of notetaking by each person on the team
Quality of questions and answers
Degree of higher-level thinking skills displayed
Accuracy of information
Thorough knowledge of prehistoric and ancient Chinese cultures
Accurate locations of other prehistoric or ancient sites
Comments on artifacts found at the excavation sites

Step 4: The Competition
Coordination of efforts by each team member
Effective leadership for each team
Clear communication of questions and answers during the competition
Number of correct answers

After completing the lesson, you should take time to reflect on the following questions:

  1. What can we learn from ancient artifacts?
  2. In what ways is Banpo similar to or different than other neolithic cultures?
  3. Are there aspects of Banpo culture that carried over into later Chinese civilizations?
  4. What influence do prehistoric and ancient cultures have on modern life?
  5. Imagine yourself conducting an excavation. What feelings might you have when you see the first artifact? What should you do with the artifacts that you find? What steps should be taken in order to secure the excavation site? These are issues that professional archaeologists address in the course of their work, and it would be useful for you to give consideration to some of their concerns.

Through this lesson, your teacher has introduced you to a society that is very distant from our own in terms of time, physical location, and everyday lifestyle. This is a special opportunity for you, because by learning about the ways of prehistoric and ancient peoples, we in fact learn more about ourselves--about our origins, our cultural heritage, our limitations and our possibilities as individuals and as a society.

Just as learning is an ongoing process, so is teaching! As students who have just been introduced to a new area of knowledge, you are well-qualified to offer suggestions on how this learning process might be improved for the benefit of other students who will follow you. Consider the questions listed here. Your teacher will surely be interested in hearing your suggestions on how to improve this lesson:

  1. Can this scholarly competition be better organized? How?
  2. Did participants take responsibility for their research? If not, what could be done to make future participants more accountable?
  3. Were instructions clear? If not, how can they be improved?
  4. Were the Internet links useful? If not, how can they be made more helpful?

Name: Tim Nguyen
Location: Vista Heights Middle School, Moreno Valley USD
California H/SS Project - SCORE Technology Academy 1997
Email: TNguyen48@aol.com
Lesson reviewed for accuracy by Suzanne Cahill, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor
of Chinese History, UCSD