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National top 10 archaeological finds of 2022 unveiled

Author  :  BAN XIAOYUE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2023-04-14

On March 28, a press conference was held in Beijing to unveil the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2022. The selected projects showcase China’s achievements in prehistoric archaeology, Xia (c. 2070–1600 BCE), Shang (1600–1046 BCE) and Zhou (1046–256 BCE) archaeology, and historical dynasty archaeology in recent years.

Prehistoric archaeology

Prehistoric eras have always been a primary concern in the archaeological community. It is reported that seven of the 22 finalists focus on prehistoric eras.

The fossil designated as “No.3 Skull of Yunxian Man,” which was found at the Xuetang Liangzi site in Shiyan, Hubei Province, in May 2022, is the most intact Homo erectus specimen of its age found in inland Eurasia so far. It retains important and rare anatomical features of humans at this stage of evolution.

At an ancient hominid site in Zhaojiaxuyao Village, Linzi, Shandong Province, dating back to 15,000 to 11,000 years ago, burned daub fragments [representing remains of residential structures] found in the accretion of the alluvial fan of the Zihe River are the only such specimens ever discovered in the world. It is key proof of human beings using fire for landscape management, reflecting a significant leap of the ancients from adapting to nature to transforming it.

The Bicun relics site, unearthed in Lyuliang, Shanxi Province, has an absolute age between 2200 and 1700 BCE, and it’s the largest prehistoric city site discovered on the east bank of the Shanxi-Shaanxi Grand Canyon. The discovery has revealed for the first time the architectural layout of the core area of stone-built northern cities during the Longshan Culture period, showing a relatively clear concept of the central axis and symmetrical design.

Xia, Shang, and Zhou era

Marked by great social changes in Chinese history, the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties were critical periods for the formation and development of Chinese civilization. For more than 20 years, China’s Xia, Shang, and Zhou archeology has continuously made new breakthroughs.

The Erlitou relics site in Yanshi, Henan Province, is the earliest large-scale capital city with a clear plan in China’s Bronze Age. The grid of streets and walls on either side, which were newly discovered in 2022, implied that the city was planned in layers, with the palace complex in the center, and guarded by dignitaries. It had a multi-network pattern of people living in separate areas with walls outside each area as well as the integration of residential and burial zones. This is a major breakthrough in the archaeology of urban layout in Erlitou.

Archaeological excavations at the Shang royal tomb area and surrounding relics at the Yin Ruins in Anyang, Henan, determined the scope of the mausoleum area, and pushed up the time of the appearance of trenches surrounding royal tombs from the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BCE) to the late Shang Dynasty. These discoveries will fuel studies of the mausoleum system, as well as Shang’s culture and history.

After the establishment of the Zhou Dynasty, some Yin people moved to Xunyi, Shaanxi Province, which was witnessed by the Xitou relics site in Xianyang, Shaanxi. The site is currently the largest one dating back to the Shang and Zhou dynasties ever discovered in the Jinghe River Basin. A city site of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046–771 BCE) with an area of about 800,000 square meters has been discovered, along with ditch tombs and large advanced tombs outside the city.

Archaeology of historical dynasties

Civilizations become richer and more colorful through exchanges and mutual learning. Selected projects, such as the Dasongshan tomb site in Guizhou Province, are vivid cases of civilizational exchanges since the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BCE–220 CE).

At the Dasongshan site, over 4,000 cultural relics were unearthed from a total of 2,192 graves dating from the Jin (265–420) to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The discovery has, for the first time, helped establish a complete development sequence of tombs from Jin to Ming in central Guizhou, and provided a chronological scale for historical dynasty archaeology of the province.

Northeast China has also seen impressive achievements in frontier archaeology in recent years, as exemplified by the Gucheng Village temple site located in Hunchun, Jilin Province. The No.1 Temple at this site is the first Goguryeo Buddhist temple discovered in China. The unearthed tile inscription “made in June of the Year of Renzi” has provided crucial evidence for the study of Buddhism’s eastward spread from the states of Former Yan, Later Yan, and Northern Yan during the Sixteenth Kingdoms Period (303–439) to Goguryeo. The No. 2 Temple is the first comprehensively revealed high-level Buddhist temple of the Bohai Kingdom, a non-Han ethnic state within China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), offering important materials for the study of the layout, architectural assembly, and architectural structure of high-level Buddhist temples in the Tang Dynasty.

Zhouqiao Bridge in Dongjing [modern-day Kaifeng in Henan Province], capital of China’s Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127), used to be a landmark at the junction of Yujie Street–a major road on the central axis of Dongjing–and the Bianhe River section of the Grand Canal. It was buried by silt after the Yellow River flooded in late Ming. By the end of 2022, 4,400 square meters of the Ruins of Zhouqiao Bridge and the Bianhe River site nearby had been excavated, with 117 artifacts and relics from different dynasties unearthed, including watercourses, hydraulic facilities, and parts of the bridge, filling the gap in the heritage of the Dongjing section of the Grand Canal.

The highly developed handicraft industry of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) boosted foreign trade. The discovery of the Shuomen ancient port site in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, has brought alive the hustle and bustle of the Maritime Silk Road in the Song and Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties. So far, main remains include architectural relics related to the ancient city’s water and land gates, eight docks, two shipwrecks, and 10 tons of Song and Yuan porcelain pieces.

Editor: Yu Hui

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