Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Intensive millet–pig systems supported the rise of complex societies in North China

The cause of the sudden increase in the complexity of prehistoric societies 4,000–6,000 years ago is unknown. Pig diet and millet-field manuring studies indicate that an intensive millet–pig system developed approximately 5,500 years ago in North China, which provided food for the growing populations of the emerging complex societies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Schematic drawing of the intensive millet–pig agriculture system used in Neolithic North China.


  1. Yoffee, N. Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilizations (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005). This book depicts the evolutionary processes of complex societies across the world based on archaeological evidence.

  2. Shelach-Lavi, G. The Archaeology of Early China: From Prehistory to the Han Dynasty (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015). This book introduces the social development trajectory of early China, especially the development of socio-political complexity based on updated archaeological studies.

  3. Leipe, C., Long, T., Sergusheva, E. A., Wagner, M. & Tarasov, P. E. Discontinuous spread of millet agriculture in eastern Asia and prehistoric population dynamics. Sci. Adv. 5, eaax6225 (2019). A review article that presents the origin and spread of millet-based agriculture across eastern Asia and reveals the importance of millet farming in underpinning the population growth in North China.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Barton, L. et al. Agricultural origins and the isotopic identity of domestication in northern China. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 5523–5528 (2009). This paper reports isotopic evidence for the early domestication of millets (7,800–7,200 cal yr bp) and the use of intensive millet agriculture by 5,900 cal yr bp at Dadiwan.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Wang, X. et al. Millet manuring as a driving force for the Late Neolithic agricultural expansion of north China. Sci. Rep. 8, 5552 (2018). This article provides the first evidence for millet manuring practices during the Late Neolithic period in North China.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Lu, H. et al. Phytoliths analysis for the discrimination of foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and common millet (Panicum miliaceum). PLoS ONE 4, e4448 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This is a summary of: Yang, J. et al. Sustainable intensification of millet–pig agriculture in Neolithic North China. Nat. Sustain. (2022).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Intensive millet–pig systems supported the rise of complex societies in North China. Nat Sustain 5, 739–740 (2022).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing