Archaeology of China

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The archaeology of China is researched intensively in the universities of the region and also attracts considerable international interest on account of the region's civilizations.

The application of scientific archaeology to Chinese sites began in 1921, when Johan Gunnar Andersson first excavated the Yangshao Village sites in Henan.[1]

He believed that prehistoric Chinese culture had a "Western Origin". In fact, most archaeologists at that time believed that all human civilizations, including Chinese, originated in the broader Middle East and then spread to different regions of the world.[2] This statement caused an uproar in China. Chinese archaeologists hope to find evidence to refute this argument, which has led to a series of Chinese scientific archaeology.

Excavations from 1928 at Anyang, also in northern Henan, by the newly formed Academia Sinica by anthropologist Li Ji uncovered a literate civilization identified with the late stages of the Shang dynasty of early Chinese records. Earlier cities in northern Henan were discovered at Zhengzhou in 1952 and Erlitou in 1959. More recently prehistoric cities such as Panlongcheng and Sanxingdui have been discovered in other parts of China.


Beginning in the Song dynasty (960-1279), many members of the Chinese gentry began to pursue antiquarian hobbies such as art collection, leading to scholar-officials retrieving several ancient relics from archaeological sites, such as ancient ceremonial vessels that were then used in state rituals.[3] Scholar-officials claimed to have discovered ancient bronze vessels that were created and used during the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) due to the fact that they contained Shang era characters.[4] Although romanticism abounded around these artifacts (including imaginative recreations by scholar-officials that were not based on proper evidence), the fanciful nature of the antiquarian pursuit was heavily criticized by Shen Kuo in his Dream Pool Essays.[3] Shen objected to the notion that the vessels were created by famous sages or ancient aristrocrats, correctly observing that the artifacts were more likely made by ancient artisans or commoners from previous eras. Shen also believed that the antiquarian pursuit of archaeology simply to enhance state ritual was frivolous, as he was far more in favor of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of archaeology and emphasized the study of functionality and process of manufacture for artifacts.

Archaeological finds[edit]

In the 20th century, archaeologists made tens of thousands of discoveries in China. In 2001, the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences organized a poll of experts who selected China's 100 major archaeological discoveries in the 20th century, with Yinxu receiving the most votes.[5][6]

One of the archaeological discoveries of China is a Guanyindong Palaeolithic cave site, discovered in 1964 by archaeologist Pei Wenzhong in Qianxi County, Guizhou. During several archaeological excavations in the 1960s and 1970s, most of the material remains were gathered from the cave entrance. About one-third of the artifacts were extracted from the upper layer which is called "Layer 2" or "Group A" by archaeologist Prof. Li Yanxian, and the rest of them were collected from the lower layers- "Layers 4–8" or "Group B". According to Associate Professor Bo Li, besides several non-Levallois flakes, archaeologists examined more than 2000 stone artifacts from Guanyindong and revealed proof of Levallois concepts on 45 samples (including cores, flakes and tools).[7][8] It contains the earliest evidence of stone artefacts made using the Levallois technique in China. In November 2018, the discovery of these stones dated to approximately 170,000-80,000 years ago were announced by the University of Wollongong.[9][10]

A number of Chinese artifacts dating from the Tang dynasty and Song dynasty, some of which had been owned by Emperor Zhenzong were excavated and then came into the hands of the Kuomintang Muslim General Ma Hongkui, who refused to publicize the findings. Among the artifacts were a white marble tablet from the Tang dynasty, gold nails, and bands made out of metal. It was not until after Ma died, that his wife went to Taiwan in 1971 from America to bring the artifacts to Chiang Kai-shek, who turned them over to the Taipei National Palace Museum.[11]

What were identified as the oldest-known noodles were found in an earthen bowl at the 4,000-year-old site of Lajia on the Yellow River in China. The noodles, discovered by Ye Maolin of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and analyzed by Lu Houyuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues, were 50 cm long and had been made with two strains of millet.[12]


For a long time, archaeology has been associated with history in China. In colleges and universities with archaeology majors, archaeology is also a secondary discipline subordinate to history. Regardless of whether it is superior or inferior to Western archaeology in anthropology, changes are inevitable with the development of the times. After the emergence of "new archaeology", it has become an irresistible trend for many scientific factors to intervene in archaeology. Using the methods and techniques of natural science, the research scope of archaeology has been continuously expanded, and the information obtained has become increasingly diversified.[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fan, Ka-wai (2004). "Review of the Web Sites for Chinese Archaeology" (PDF). ASLIB Proceedings: New Information Perspectives. 56 (4): 255–264.
  2. ^ Peng, Peng (October 1, 2021). "Decentralizing the Origin of Civilization: Early Archaeological Efforts in China". History of Humanities. 6 (2): 515–548. doi:10.1086/715935. ISSN 2379-3163. S2CID 244133983.
  3. ^ a b Fraser & Haber 1986, p. 227.
  4. ^ Fairbank & Goldman 2006, p. 33.
  5. ^ "专家评出"中国20世纪100项考古大发现"". Sohu (in Chinese). March 30, 2001.
  6. ^ "20世纪中国100项考古大发现" (in Chinese). Fudan University. March 30, 2009.
  7. ^ Marwick, Ben; Li, Bo; Yue, Hu. "New dates for ancient stone tools in China point to local invention of complex technology". The Conversation. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  8. ^ Barras, Colin. "Complex stone tools in China may re-write our species' ancient history". New Scientist. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  9. ^ Community, Nature Portfolio Ecology & Evolution (November 19, 2018). "Late Middle Pleistocene Levallois stone-tool technology in Southwest China". Nature Portfolio Ecology & Evolution Community. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  10. ^ Li, Feng; Li, Yinghua; Gao, Xing; L Kuhn, Steven; Boëda, Eric; W Olsen, John (November 1, 2019). "A refutation of reported Levallois technology from Guanyindong Cave in south China". National Science Review. 6 (6): 1094–1096. doi:10.1093/nsr/nwz115. ISSN 2095-5138. PMC 8291448. PMID 34691983.
  11. ^ China archaeology and art digest, Volume 3, Issue 4. Art Text (HK) Ltd. 2000. p. 354. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  12. ^ Houyuan Lu, Xiaoyan Yang, Maolin Ye, Kam-Biu Liu, Zhengkai Xia, Xiaoyan Ren, Linhai Cai, Naiqin Wu and Tung-Sheng Liu. "Culinary archaeology: Millet noodles in Late Neolithic China." Nature 437, 967-968 (13 October 2005). doi:10.1038/437967a
  13. ^ 郑滨 (2021). "中国考古学进程之". 炎黄地理. 6: 9-14.


Further reading[edit]