Archaeologists shed more light on China's past

【Archaeology & Relics】Time:2024-04-05      Source:China Daily      Views:92

The top 10 new archaeological discoveries in China in 2023 were announced in Beijing on Friday. The projects are prominent representatives of field archaeological work in the past year. [PHOTO / XINHUA]

Incredible efforts made by Chinese archaeologists last year have filled many gaps in knowledge about the origin of human beings and the formation of the Chinese civilization. This was evident from the list of China's top 10 archaeological discoveries in 2023, which was announced by the National Cultural Heritage Administration in Beijing on Friday.

The top 10 discoveries were chosen from among 22 finalists out of more than 1,600 archaeological projects carried out in the last year through open ballot by 21 of China's top-tier experts from archaeological institutes and universities.

Half of the finalists are prehistoric sites, said Wang Wei, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Academic Division of History, also one of the judges.

The Paleolithic Bashan site in Yishui county, Shandong province, stands out as it showcases the consecutive development history of people and their culture in the area from some 10,000 to 100,000 years ago.

An influential hypothesis suggests homo sapiens originated in Africa. An important reference for it is that evidence of human activities from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago had not been found in East Asia before.

Some of the artifacts discovered during various archaeological projects carried out in China last year on display. [PHOTO / XINHUA]

"The Bashan site group fills in the blank and thus plays a key role in the whole of East Asia's Paleolithic archaeological studies," said Wang Youping, an archaeology professor at Peking University.

The Neolithic Keqiutou site complex dating back 3,000 to 7,500 years in Pingtan county, Fujian province, offers key clues for tracing people's economic forms in what is now China's southeast coast and spread of Austronesian peoples across the Pacific Ocean.

"They not only relied on fishing, but also farming for living. The project enriches understanding of how prehistoric people utilized marine resources and the prehistoric agricultural culture," said Chen Xingcan, head of the Institute of Archaeology with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The Qujialing Neolithic site dating back 4,200 to 5,900 years in Jingmen, Hubei province, which is by the Yangtze River, sheds light on the marvelous wisdom of ancient people, as archaeologists have found one of the earliest and clearest water-management system which can resist droughts and floods and provide water for agricultural irrigation and daily use.

"The site shows prehistoric people's water management idea changed from passively preventing flooding to actively controlling water, realizing a stride from adapting to nature to transforming it," said Zhao Hui, an archaeology professor at Peking University.

Some of the artifacts discovered during various archaeological projects carried out in China last year on display. [PHOTO / XINHUA]

"From the projects we find that excavations and studies on the origin and formation of civilization in different areas have got unprecedented attention," said Wang of Peking University.

"It's an exciting phenomenon. It is clear the civilizational process of different areas will contribute to the understanding of the origin and formation of the entire Chinese civilization and its pluralistic and integrated pattern," he added.

Similar to this site, the Mopanshan site dating back for 6,000 years in Langxi county, Anhui province, also indicates how civilizations got complicated by the Yangtze.

Some finds revolutionized people's understanding of the Shang Dynasty (c.16th-11th century BC).

The Shuyuanjie cemetery site in the early Shang capital in what is now Zhengzhou, Henan province, is a long-anticipated discovery because archaeologists have always hoped to find high-level cemetery in the capital since archaeological efforts started at the site in the 1950s but had failed to achieve a breakthrough till now.

A great number of bronze artifacts have been unearthed from this cemetery, covering nearly all types of their counterparts discovered from Yinxu Ruins, a late Shang capital in Anyang, Henan province, that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"This means the bronzeware ritual system had developed in the early Shang stage," said Wang.

The Zhaigou Site from the Shang Dynasty in Qingjian county, Shaanxi province, has yielded information on tombs of heads of Shang vassal states, which coexisted with the central regime.

"The tombs can be compared with some of Shang kings' tombs in Yinxu Ruins in their scale. They will help us understand the relationship between Shang Dynasty and the vassal states," said Chen of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Some other projects unveil ancient products and trade. Efforts on the Chencun Ceramic Kiln site in Huozhou, Shanxi province, unveils the development of Huozhou kilns, a historically recorded kiln group but less known by people now.

Some of the artifacts discovered during various archaeological projects carried out in China last year on display. [PHOTO / XINHUA]

"Archaeological studies show the Huozhou kilns entered a mature time in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), ... and reached peak in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), becoming the major kiln group producing refined white porcelain in North China," said Huo Wei, an archaeology professor at Sichuan University.

Studies on the Northwest Continental Slope No 1 and No 2 Shipwrecks found at a depth of 1,500 meters in the South China Sea show the prosperous commercial and cultural exchanges along the ancient Maritime Silk Road in the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

"They symbolize China's underwater archaeology has reached the deep sea and help us understand the marine civilization in China," said Song Jianzhong, a researcher at the National Center for Archaeology.

The on-list projects in this year have a wide geographical range and long time span, said Chen. "We can find the achievements were made through interdisciplinary cooperation, ... and people's awareness to protect cultural relics has enhanced throughout the excavations," he added.

Started in 1990, the Top 10 annual list is considered one of the highest honors in the field in China.

Some of the artifacts discovered during various archaeological projects carried out in China last year on display. [PHOTO / XINHUA]