Pottery masks of the Prehistoric Beifudi site in Yixian County, Hebei Province

The pottery masks of Beifudi Neolithic prehistoric site, Yixian county, Hebei province are of interest as they bear resemblance to the better known clay ritual masks found in large quantities in the middle to late Jomon populations. Both cultures may have been similar, they lived in semi-subterranean houses.

Pottery pig-faced mask found at the Beifudi neolithic site

The most exciting significant discovery from the site is the large number of carved pottery masks in the shapes of human and animal faces. these are the earliest example of this type of artefact found to date in China. The excavators suggest that the masks have a connection with shamanism and religious observances. 

Regarded as one of the most important prehistoric sites in Hebei, the stratigraphy of the site suggests that it was contemporary with Cishan and Xinglongwa archaeological cultures (i.e. 6000-5000 BCE). A number of dwelling foundations were found at the site and remains of what is described as an “altar”.

Human pottery masks, Beifudi site Image: Hebei Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute

Assemblages from the second phase, dating to 6500-7000 BP, consists of ash-pits, semi-subterranean houses, pottery and stone tools. The main type of ceramic vessels include the round-bottom fu vessel, the vessel-seat, the bo bowl with red painted belt surrounding its mouth and small-mouth-double-handles pot. (The pottery types are not similar to the early to middle Jomon pottery types, but to the last phase of Jomon pottery)

Assemblage of the first phase at Beifudi is extremely important for a better understanding of their relationship with archaeological cultures in north China, especially the Xinglongwa and Cishan cultures, to the south and north of the Yan Mountains as well as potentially for early prehistoric cultures of Japan such as  the Jomon people. Thirty clay masks or mask fragments have been recovered from more than twenty Late and Final Jomon sites, the largest numbers mainly in northern Tohoku (Hatten, Shidanai and Tateishi in Iwate prefecture and Mamachi site in Hokkaido) and there were also some Middle Jomon ceramic masks found in Niigata prefecture). There are also a very few painted Jomon masks found from Osaka and Saitama prefecture.  


Remains of the first phase, dating to 7000-8000 BP, include ash-pits, ten semi-subterranean houses and a ritual area. Within the ritual area, were found more than 90 artifacts, including ceramic pots of middle or small sizes and finely made stone tools. At the location for sacrifices, jade-pieces and polished stone pieces (see photo below) similar to those seen at the Jomon sites, were also found.

The site, with an area of 3 ha, is located at the terrace on the northern bank of the Yishui River in the Yixian County, Hebei Province.

Beifudi in Hebei, adjacent to Cishan and Houli cultures



New Archaeological Discoveries and Researches in 2004 — The Forth Archaeology Forum of CASS (Lecture by Professor Duan Hongzheng, deputy director of the Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology; Hebei Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute, Leader of the excavation: Duan Hongzhen)

The prehistoric site at Beifudi in Yixian County of North China’s Hebei Province (ChinaCulture.org)

Habu, Junko, Ancient Jomon of Japan p. 155

See also the clay mask at 北福地遗址