Archaeological excavations in China in modern times have occurred since the late 19th century, often organized by non-Chinese expeditions who took advantage of the tumultous times and unregulated situation in many regions. Also and famously, the beginning of the consecutive finds of the so-called oracle bone inscriptions at Anyang can be traced back to the years after 1899. So in many senses, Chinese archaeology is older than a century. However, the 1920s mark another kind of beginning for the discipline, as this was the decade that saw many of the most epochal finds in China, framed by the discovery of the Neolithic Yangshao ceramic complex in 1921 and that of the homo erectus pekinensis in 1929 and including the decades-long first fully Chinese-led modern excavation at Anyang from 1928 onward. Therefore, rather than taking the exact year of the “birth of Chinese archaeology” too seriously, we are happy to use this historical background as a convenient reason to celebrate the really astounding results that this discipline has achieved so far and especially in recent times. This should serve as both an introduction to specialists of non-Chinese archaeologies as well as to non-archaeological specialists on China. And it should serve as a forum for specialists on Chinese archaeology to talk about the latest developments in the field and think together about solutions for some of the more vexing and fascinating problems the field is facing right now. The topics, most of which have a certain provocative edge or focus on unsolved questions, have been chosen with the latter consideration in mind. (Enno Giele, Heidelberg University)
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May 21, 2021
Paola Demattè (Rhode Island School of Design):Neolithic and Bronze Age evidence for the origins of Chinese writing
The earliest glottographic Chinese writing (i.e., writing that directly reflects language) discovered so far dates from the 14th–13th c. BCE. Much earlier, some reaching back as far as the 7th or 6th millennium but mostly from the 3rd millennium BCE, we find different types of mostly single, but regionally distinct signs or symbols scratched or brushed with color on bone, stone, and other materials. The talk discusses how far these can be addressed as writing and what circumstantial evidence may connect them to the later glottographic tradition.
May 28, 2021
Melinda Yang (University of Richmond):A genetic history of humans in East Asia since 10,000 years ago
This talk will give an overview of the benefits and difficulties of sampling ancient DNA in ancient humans of East Asia. It will focus particularly on ancient humans from northern and southern China from the last 10,000 years, and highlight questions that analysis of genome-wide data from these successfully sequenced individuals have allowed us to address. The talk will also dive into the statistical analyses that have allowed examination of population structure and admixture across Asia amongst past populations.
June 11, 2021
[abgesagt / cancelled] Jing Zhichun (University of British Columbia):Early urbanism at Great Settlement Shang
Based on recent archaeological findings together with isotope analyses of human remains, this talk will discuss the social dynamics of urbanization at Great Settlement Shang, the capital of last nine Shang kings (ca. 1200–1045 BCE). It could be argued that the early phases at Great Settlement Shang exhibit far greater variability and diversity in forms and styles of artifacts and buildings than the later phases, suggesting a significant degree of heterogeneity of material culture and population at the beginnings of urbanization, and a trend toward becoming more and more simplified, standardized, and legible as moving to the end of the dynasty.
June 25, 2021
Camilla Sturm (Barnard College):Crafting community along the Yangzi: Charting interaction networks in late Neolithic walled towns
Discoveries of the so-called “walled towns” of the Middle Yangzi River region have fostered the perception of these late Neolithic communities as separate – maybe even hostile – social units. This study directly challenges this view by following the making and movement of utilitarian pottery within and between walled towns. Drawing on geochemical and technical ceramic data, this paper highlights the striking stability and deep interconnectedness of potters, pottery technologies, and pottery users across the region.
July 9, 2021
Jianjun Mei (The Needham Research Institute):A Study of Bronze Bells of the Western Zhou Period Recovered in Yichang, Hubei
Eleven bronze bells were recovered at the Wanfunao site in Yichang, Hubei Province, in 2012, and dated to the Western Zhou period (11th–8th centuries BC). Scientific analysis of these bells has revealed some unexpected results, especially that four of the bells contain significant arsenic content. It is very unusual for the Western Zhou bronze bells to be made of Cu-Sn-As or Cu-Sn-As-Sb alloys, showing a stark contrast with the usual bronze bells, which are mostly made of Cu-Sn-Pb alloys. One bronze bell has been revealed to contain high radiogenic lead, a feature of many bronze objects of the late Shang period (13th–11th centuries BC), suggesting the possibility that Shang bronze objects may have been melted down in order to cast the bronze bell concerned. These discoveries are significant for our understanding of how bronze production and consumption were organized and controlled during the late Western Zhou period (9th–8th centuries BC). The emergence of diverse alloys in the region could imply the decline of the monopoly of bronze production by the central workshop controlled by the Zhou kings.
July 23, 2021
Enno Giele (Heidelberg University):The archaeological concept of “Iron Age” and the case of China
European and Near Eastern archaeology is dominated by the three-fold periodization of stone, bronze, and iron ages, each of which does (or should) not simply denote the arrival of a certain material in the archaeological record but is associated with specific stages of socio-economic development. In China, only the concepts of stone and bronze ages have firmly taken hold in the academic (and popular) discourse, “iron age” is used comparatively rarely and if so, mainly for peripheral areas. The talk discusses the possible reason for this phenomenon as well as strengths and weaknesses of the concept in its potentially global or at least Eurasian application.