Guangming Daily | Tracing the Origin of Archaeology and Yin Ruins — dialogue with Professor Tang Jigen of Southern University of Science and Technology
Guangming Daily, Reporter: Cui Zhijian, Editor: Shi Jia | 10/29/2018

Reporter: What significant achievements have China’s archaeology achieved in recent years?

Tang Jigen: In recent years, Chinese archaeology has made important achievements in prehistoric and historic periods.

In recent years, there have been quite a few important discoveries in prehistoric times. Especially worth mentioning is a series of ancient city sites from 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, such as Liangzhu Ancient City (from 4300 to 5300 years ago), Shijie Ancient City (from 3800 to 4300 years ago), Taosi Ancient City (from 3900 to 4300 years ago) and the ancient city of Shijiahe (from 4000 to 4600 years ago). These ancient cities have provided extremely important information for studying early Chinese history. Some of these city sites have even had hidden connections with ancient legends, which once again triggered the call for “going out of the ancient times.”

The most striking of the archaeological discoveries of the Bronze Age was the excavation of a large number of “old countries,” such as the Shu Kingdom of Shaanxi, the Ba State of Shanxi, and the Zeng State of Hubei.

The archaeological finds after the Qin and Han Dynasties were equally fruitful. There was the discovery of a large number of important sites and tombs in various places, such as the ancient bridges of the Han Dynasty on the Weihe River in Shaanxi and the newly built Haiyue Hou Tombs in Jiangxi.

In addition to archaeological discoveries, the academic research has been equally fruitful. Archaeological and cultural sequences have been further improved, and thematic studies have been launched, which has filled in some gaps in certain archaeological works. For example, the newly published Archaeological Report of Eastern Henan described the burial environment, and settlement distribution pattern of the ancient human remains in eastern Henan before the Han Dynasty. This established an archaeological, cultural sequence from the prehistoric Yangshao culture to the Yueshi culture period in the eastern Henan region.

The cultural stages of each set of relics confirm the old city of the Song Dynasty, which was founded in the Western Zhou Dynasty. It proves that the city was used in the Spring and Autumn Period (including the period of Xianggong in the Song Dynasty) and the Warring States Period to the Han Dynasty. The report also publishes, for the first time, the Song people’s cemeteries in Shangqiu during the Spring and Autumn Period and the civilian cemeteries from the Warring States Period to the early Western Han Dynasty after the fall of the Song Dynasty.

With the idea of ​​”maintaining the dignity of cultural heritage, integrating cultural heritage protection into social and economic development, and letting cultural heritage protect the people,” a large number of national archaeological sites have emerged throughout the country, and the protection of cultural relics has been highly valued.

Reporter: Why does the excavation of the Yin Ruins mark the birth of Chinese archaeology? What kind of relationship do they have?

Tang Jigen: The excavation of the Yin Ruins from 1928 was not the earliest field archaeological work in China. From the late 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, a large number of Western missionaries, explorers, and sinologists inspected sites and collected antiquities in North and Northwest China. In 1921, Western scholars even had excavations in Yangshao Village, Dianchi, Henan, and Zhoukou, Fangshan, Beijing. In 1926, Chinese scholars Li Ji and Yuan Fuli also carried out excavation work in Xiyin Village, Xiaxian County, Shanxi Province. However, this early field work (including the excavation of Xiyin Village) were funded by foreign academic groups, and foreign scholars dominated both the excavation and the work ideas. In addition, these excavations, without exception, did not collect relics in natural strata. Thus, these are only the work of the gestation, or preparation stage, before the true birth of Chinese archaeology.

Unlike previous field excavations, the excavation of Yin Ruins is the result of Chinese scholars’ active acceptance of modern archaeology. Its planners and organizers are official academic institutions of China. Due to the discovery of oracle bone inscriptions, the site of the excavation of Yin Ruins was influenced by the inscriptions. Therefore, the inscriptions were marked with a strong purpose of proving history. The excavation of the Yin Ruins is continuous fieldwork. The main excavation hosts have been trained in the West, providing sufficient time conditions and academic conditions for the field archaeology to land in China. More importantly, archaeological stratigraphy is the most important archaeological method developed in the Yin Ruins.

The origin of Chinese Archaeology and scientific excavation of Yin Ruins is shown in the following aspects: First, the excavation of Yin Ruins marks the birth of Chinese archaeology, so the excavation of Yin Ruins is the starting point of Chinese archaeology. Second, the scientific excavation of the Yin Ruins has made Chinese archaeology a deep “war of proof,” which has made Chinese archaeology always subject to history. The excavation of the Yin Ruins was influenced by the Golden Stones. Before the excavation, Chinese scholars already knew that the Yin Ruins were the land of the Shang Dynasty. Therefore, the archaeological work of the Yin Ruins began to some extent from the “war history.” Thirdly, the excavation of the Yin Ruins provides us with the farthest known point, and the development of Chinese archaeology starts from the archaeology of the Yin Ruins. Yinxu is both the basis for the search for the Xia Dynasty and for the exploration of Chinese civilization. Fourth, the excavation of the Yin Ruins has contributed to the “stratigraphy” of the development of Chinese archaeology, which is the most important method in archaeology. Fifth, the excavation of Yin Ruins has trained teams and talents for the further development of Chinese archaeology. Sixth, the excavation of the Yin Ruins is the beginning of Chinese public archaeology. As early as the excavation in 1930, society has been widely concerned with the excavation results of the Yin Ruins. In the “Ta Kung Pao” from March 8 to 31, 1930, “The Excavation of the Yin Ruins” was serialized. The unearthed cultural relics excavated in the Yin Ruins were exhibited to the society many times. Seventh, the excavation of the Yin Ruins gave birth to China’s first official “Antiquities Preservation Law.”

Reporter: What did Chinese archaeology bring to the scientific excavation of Yinxu?

Tang Jigen: The excavation of Yin Ruins marked the birth of Chinese archaeology. However, during the excavation of Yin Ruins, especially in the late period of the excavation, the overall atmosphere of Chinese Archaeology, in turn, has had an important impact on the excavation of Yin Ruins. This impact has continued the status of Yin Ruins as a beacon tracing back to Chinese civilization.

This effect was first manifested in the “Yinxu Culture Stage,” benefiting from the overall progress of Chinese archaeology. The typology of objects in Chinese archaeology was not born in Yin Ruins but summed up in the practice of archaeological work in Baoji and Luoyang. It was with the help of the “Stone of Other Mountains” of the typology of objects that Yin Ruins successfully realized the “cultural division” in the early 1960s. Second, with the reform and opening up of China, modern archaeological theories and methods entered China again. Regional archaeological surveys were originally developed in the United States. In 1996, Chinese scholars applied these methods to their archaeological work of the Yinxu. They obtained important archaeological achievements, including the discovery of Yubei Mall. Thirdly, the protection and utilization of the Yinxu site is also the result of the overall progress of Chinese archaeology. Influenced by the concept of international cultural heritage protection, Yinxu declared success in the World Cultural Heritage in 2006.

2018, 10-29
By Guangming Daily, Reporter: Cui Zhijian, Editor: Shi Jia

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