HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL NEWS BRIEFS
PREHISTORIC CULTURES ON ISLAND OFF GUANGDONG DELINEATED
On 12 September 2005, Xinhua News Agency reported that archaeologists have unearthed material dating back 8,000 years on Nan'ao Island off the coast of north-eastern Guangdong province. More than 380 artefacts were found at three sites previously classified as belonging to the Xiangshan microlithic and Dongkengzi Shang-Zhou cultures. This new microlithic material is believed to date from only one or two millennia after it is believed Nan'ao was part of an Ice Age "land bridge" connecting the Chinese mainland with Taiwan. This material also represents the oldest human remains found in the Guangdong-Guangxi region of China, apart from Maba Man.
EVIDENCE OF FIRE USE FOUND IN SICHUAN CAVE
The first evidence of the use of fire by ancient humans in the Sichuan region was unearthed recently by archaeologists excavating a cave site in the northern part of the province. On 4 September 2005, archaeologists told reporters from Sichuan Daily News that the material they had unearthed in the Yanyun cave, comprising animal fossils and several stone tools, came from the fifth or deepest layer at the site and they tentatively dated it to 10,000 years BP.
TOMB OF MING DYNASTY WET NURSE UNEARTHED
On 6 September 2005 archaeologists from the Changsha Municipal Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute called a press conference announcing the preliminary results of their excavation of three unusually shaped Ming dynasty tombs located at Mayishan ("Ant Mountain") in Wangcheng, near Changsha. Finds included timber figurines, bronze chopstick holders and lacquer combs. The tombs aroused great interest because of their unconventional forms believed to have religious significance: one is a circular stone pagoda; one, a brick structure resembling a cross: and the third, a round vertical well. The round pagoda shaped tomb was found to contain a lacquer receptacle with a Taoist apocryphal work inside it.
Archaeologists entered the pagoda shaped tomb through a 250 cm thick door constructed from twelve rows of blue bricks, and discovered the remains of three tomb epitaphs littering the floor of the main chamber, making it clear that the tomb had been ransacked. The inscriptions on the epitaphs revealed that the tomb might possibly belong to Zhang Miaoshou, the wet nurse of Zhu Hui, Prince Gu, 19th son of the founder of the Ming dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang. Prince Gu committed suicide after the failure of an unsuccessful plot to depose the Yongle Emperor.
In the side rooms to the east and west of the main chamber there are some human remains scattered around coffin material, and this archaeological evidence will be subjected to DNA analysis. The burial seems to combine Buddhist and Taoist conventions, which will be of interest to those researching early Ming religious history.
EIGHTY-THREE SITES FOUND IN WENQUAN, XINJIANG
Xinhua News Agency reported on 7 September that a joint survey by the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute and the Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture Cultural Relics Management Department had resulted in the discovery of more than 83 new cultural relics sites in Wenquan county, bringing the total number of identified sites there to more than 220. Nine of these sites are rock art sites, while 31 were tomb groups.
PEKING UNIVERSITY EXCAVATION AT ZHOUGONGMIAO TO CONTINUE
It was formally announced on 3 September that the Shaanxi provincial cultural relics departments had received State Administration of Cultural Heritage approval for a new season of excavation at the Zhougongmiao site in Qishan county to proceed. The excavation will again be conducted by a joint team comprising archaeologists from the Archaeology and Museology School of Peking University and the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute.
LARGE PROTO-SHANG GRAVEYARD FOUND IN HENAN
On 1 September the Henan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute announced the first discovery of a large proto-Shang cemetery site in Liuzhuang village, part of the administrative jurisdiction of Hebi municipality. Although the site was identified as early as 1932, it has only been excavated since the end of June this year by a team comprised of more than 40 archaeologists drawn from Zhengzhou, Shandong and Henan universities. An area of 5900 sq m was examined, and 256 graves uncovered.
PLAN FOR SALVAGE OF SONG DYNASTY SHIP ANNOUNCED
Marine archaeology has benefited from the interest in ancient Chinese ocean exploration aroused by the publicity surrounding the sexcentenary celebrations of the maiden voyage of Zheng He's flotillas to the Indian Ocean and east Africa (see China Heritage Newsletter#2, "Shipping News" in "Articles"). Zhang Wei, director of the Underwater Archaeology Centre at China's National Museum, told Xinhua on 25 August that archaeologists had now drawn up a plan for the excavation of the ship, dubbed Nanhai 1, which sank approximately 800 years ago.
The wreck is located in the waters of the Pearl River delta, off Hailing Island near Yangjiang in Guangdong province, at a depth of more than 20 m. The ship is more than 25 m long, making it the largest cargo vessel of the Song dynasty discovered to date. Rather than use the traditional archaeological technique of first removing all objects, including the celadon and other porcelain, from the vessel and then salvaging the boat itself, the archaeological team will construct a large steel frame and bodily raise the ship and all its contents together with the surrounding silt. The silt surrounding the boat is so fine it makes excavation using standard marine archaeological procedures very difficult. Zhang points out that the technique has not previously been attempted anywhere in the world. This expensive proposal is still being assessed by SACH (State Administration of Cultural Heritage).
LARGE CERAMIC PIT FOUND IN BEIJING
On 1 September, Mei Ninghua, director of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Administration, announced at a press conference that workers digging a large pit in the vicinity of the north-eastern corner of the Ming dynasty Imperial City wall had uncovered a large pit containing more than 100,000 porcelain shards, sufficient to fill more than 1,200 packing cases. The workers were laying heating pipes for the Central Documentation Institute (Zhongyang Wenxian Yanjiushi) at Maojiawan when the find was made. This is the largest store of Ming dynasty porcelain discovered to date, and its origins are a mystery. Most of the porcelain was fired in civilian kilns. Although some of the shards are pre-Ming in date, most belong to the early and mid Ming dynasty.
TANG-TUBO TOMBS DISCOVERED IN QAIDAM BASIN
An archaeological survey in July-August 2005 of an area of the Qaidam Basin in Dulan county, Qinghai province, uncovered several hundred previously unknown tombs of the Tubo (Tibetan) polity, contemporary with the Tang dynasty. The discoveries were announced on 31 August by Xu Xinguo, director of the Qinghai Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute. The existence of many of these tombs was long suspected by Xu Xinguo, but this survey, undertaken in conjunction with Haixi Mongol Autonomous Prefecture Ethnic Museum, confirms his long-held views. The remains of an ancient city in the Mangya district were also revealed in the course of the survey.
OLDEST BUTTON FOUND IN CHINA
On 26 August 2005, Shanghai's Xinmin Evening News reported that archaeologists in Lintao county, Gansu province, had discovered what they claim to be the oldest button found to date in China. The thick yellow pottery button, measuring 2.5 cm across and having two small holes through its centre, was found among Qijia cultural material estimated to be approximately 4,600 years old.
ANCIENT COPPER MINE FOUND IN GUIZHOU
A spokesman for the Guizhou Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute told Xinhua News Agency on 22 August that in the course of surveying an area in Weining about to be flooded by a new dam, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a group of ancient mine shafts in Shatian village, Yutian township. A total of eight mines over a 300 sq m area were identified. Most shafts went to a depth of 100-200 m and some had side tunnels. Near the mine shafts, piles of copper slag were found, together with shards of Song dynasty pottery.
SECOND MAUSOLUEM OF DAXIA EMPEROR FOUND
Archaeologists of the Chongqing Municipal Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute in Sichuan may have discovered a second mausoleum of Ming Yuzhen, Emperor of the Daxia, in the Zhucheng district of the city, the deputy leader of the excavation, Lin Bizhong, told a press conference on 17 August 2005. Ming Yuzhen led one of the peasant armies that brought down the Mongol Yuan dynasty and in 1363 proclaimed himself Emperor of the Daxia in Chongqing. In 1982, another tomb, also identified as belonging to Ming Yuzhen, was found in the Jiangbei district of the city. Historians have long doubted records which state that the short-lived ruler had a number of tombs.
OFFICIAL TILE KILN OF TANG DYNASTY DISCOVERED IN LUOYANG
A large government kiln that produced tiles and bricks in the Tang dynasty was discovered in Luoyang, participants at a press conference called by the Luoyang Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau were told on 16 August 2005. Six firing areas with a total of 18 kilns were discovered. The largest firing area measures 31 m in length and 21 m across, and comprises a total of ten kilns. The production facility produced building materials for imperial government use, and in compliance with an ordinance of 731 recorded in Tang hui yao was located outside the city residential area.
WESTERN ZHOU SACRIFICIAL BURIAL PIT FOUND IN ZHEJIANG
On 16 August the Zhejiang Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute announced the discovery of five sacrificial burial pits dated to the Western Zhou dynasty in Dongyang in that province. The pits contained human skeletal material, one of the pits containing six complete skeletons. The buried persons were either slaves or prisoners of war, condemned to follow their master to his grave. The graves also contained sacrificial grave offerings, including proto-porcelain ritual wares, and jade beads. The pits were located in what is interpreted to have been a cemetery for aristocrats.
ANCIENT BOAT FOUND IN PENGLAI, SHANDONG
On 12 August archaeologists announced the discovery of the remains of a Yuan dynasty boat more than 600 years old at the ancient Dengzhou harbour site in Penglai, Shandong province. The boat measures more than 20 m in length. In 1984 in Penglai archaeologists discovered another wreck, which was a 28 m long Yuan dynasty warship.
9,000 YEAR OLD STONE CARVED HEAD FOUND IN ZHEJIANG
Archaeologists, who had been excavating large neolithic storage pits at the Xiaohuangshan site in Chengzhou, Zhejiang province, since March 2005, told a press conference in mid August that among the material they had unearthed was a carved stone human head, dated to 9,000 years ago. Grain processing tools and hunting equipment found at the site indicate the existence of a mixed economy contemporary with that at the Hemudu site.
SEARCH FOR GRAVE OF LIU BEI GOES ON
At the beginning of August, cultural bureau officials in Chongqing municipality announced that they had given permission for an excavation of a potential location of the tomb of Liu Bei to proceed at the end of this year. A longstanding controversy has surrounded the location of the grave of Liu Bei, one of the heroes of the ancient novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Sites in Chengdu and Chongqing have been suggested by historians and archaeologists as possible grave sites The theory that the tomb was located in the grounds of the Temple of the Martial Marquis, as Liu Bei was known, in Chengdu was long opposed by the late Guo Moruo, a dominant figure in Chinese archaeology until the mid 1970s. Guo believed the grave was located at a site in Fengjie, now part of Chongqing municipality. Those who barrack for Chongqing are hoping that the excavation at year's end of the site in Fengjie, location of the former Kuizhou Hotel, will resolve the long-standing controversy in their favour.
2,200-YEAR-OLD TOMBS UNEARTHED IN SHANXI
Archaeologists with the Yangquan City Cultural Heritage Administration of Shanxi province told a press conference on 27 July that they had discovered a total of seven tombs, ranging in age from 1,000 years to 2,200 years, in Xiguan village in Yuxian county. The tombs include five from the Warring States period (475-221BCE), one from the Han dynasty (206 BCE-CE220) and one dating from the Tang dynasty (618- 907).
Well preserved skeletons and pottery items were recovered from the tombs of the Warring States period, while in the Tang dynasty tomb archaeologists unearthed a number of funerary objects, including a bronze knife, iron scissors, an iron oven, iron mirrors, copper cash and sancai tricolour glazed pottery.
MING DYNASTY STONE BUDDHA STATUES DISCOVERED IN CHONGQING
On 25 July 2005, it was reported that 400 stone Buddha statues were discovered in the course of a field survey of a ruined Ming dynasty temple in Liangping county, Chongqing municipality. Ranging from 20cm to 2m in height, the stone Buddha figures are severely damaged, but some traces of carving are still visible. The find is regarded as being of great significance for research on the customs, religion and architecture of the Ming period.
HUMAN FINGERPRINTS FOUND ON ANCIENT POTTERY
Fingerprints have been identified on seven pottery pieces unearthed at a 3,600 year old site in Wannian county, Jiangxi province, it was reported on 20 July 2005. Researchers examining the items at the local museum made the discovery, described in the press as having anthropological, sociological and medical significance.
NANYUE INSCRIBED SLIPS FOUND IN GUANGZHOU
People's Daily reported on 10 July that more than 100 inscribed wooden slips of the Nanyue kingdom had been unearthed at the site of the royal palace of the kingdom in Guangzhou. These are part of the king's archive and they shed light on the running of the royal household. Although "Nanyue zhuan" in Sima Qian's Shi ji has long been regarded as the earliest written source for information on the Nanyue kingdom, established in 203BCE, historians now have an earlier textual source, predating Sima Qian's account by 80 years.
EXCAVATING TOMBS OF QIN SHIHUANG AND WU ZETIAN AGAIN UNDER DISCUSSION
Zhang Bai, vice-director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), announced at a press conference on 5 July that although proposals to excavate the tombs of Emperor Qin Shihuang and Empress Wu Zetian had recently been discussed, the government did not yet have the technology to enable this to be done without the risk of damaging the tombs which do not appear to have been plundered or tampered with since they were first sealed. His remarks were supported by Sun Qingyun, mayor of Xi'an, Shaanxi province. In the past, officials from Shaanxi have lobbied the central government persistently to give approval for archaeological excavations of these two promising mausoleums to proceed.
OVER 200 ARTEFACTS UNEARTHED IN THREE GORGES AREA
Archaeologists from the Yichang Museum in Hubei province announced on 6 June the discovery in Zigui county, Hubei province, of more than 200 artefacts. The finds were unearthed during the ongoing salvage excavation being conducted as the waters rise in the Three Gorges Dam catchment area. Unearthed items were found in tombs spanning the period from the Han dynasty (220 BCE – CE 26) to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Items included a garlic-shaped bronze pot, an 18 cm wide jade, and two Han dynasty pots, all considered rare in this area, as well as more typical wares.
TWO 800-YEAR-OLD HUMAN SKELETONS DISCOVERED IN SHANXI
On 27 June 2005, Xinhua reported the discovery in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, of a Jin or Yuan dynasty tomb containing two well-preserved skeletons, along with other funeral objects. The hexagonal tomb contains no inscriptions, but on the basis of the black glaze porcelain found in the tomb, as well as the frescoes, is estimated to be between 720 and 800 years old. The tomb was excavated by the Taiyuan Municipal Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.
THREE 2,000-YEAR-OLD TOMBS UNEARTHED IN CHONGQING
A salvage excavation, necessitated by highway construction in Zhongxiang county, Chongqing municipality, resulted in the discovery of three Han dynasty tombs, according to a Xinhua News Agency report of 23 June 2005. Archaeologists speculated that one of the tombs, dubbed M3, which measures 3.8 m in length and 1.75 m in width, might be that of a noble, because it contained more than 60 proto-celadon wares, including a series of rarely seen figurines dancing or playing various ancient musical instruments, and a long iron sword.
ANCIENT HUMAN REMAINS FOUND NEAR BEIJING
Archaeologists may have identified another home of ancient Peking Man 35km from Zhoukoudian in Xitaiping village near Shidu, a tourist destination in the Fangshan district of Beijing. What may be the remains of human teeth were found in conjunction with a large number of primitive animal fossils and what may be evidence of the use of fire. Xinhua News Agency reported on 23 June 2005 that the fossils were found in a cave at a distance of 1,000 m inside the entrance.
A preliminary examination by palaeontologists of the fossils indicated that these remains are approximately 100,000 years old, making them earlier than the Zhoukoudian Upper Cave Man and much later than Peking Man. Remains of ash were also identified as a large cooking pit, but palaeontologist Lan Lizhi, according to Xinhua, has refuted claims that this is evidence of the human use of fire, arguing that an ash belt alone does not necessarily indicate human existence, because a forest fire can leave similar remains in the archaeological record. (See also "The Renewed Search for Peking Man" in "Articles" in this issue.)
PALAEOLITHIC ERA SITES UNEARTHED
On 13 June 2005, Xinhua News Agency reported that archaeologists working in Jixian county, in the far west of Tianjin municipality, have identified and cleared 27 palaeolithic sites since the beginning of the year, uncovering nearly 1,000 stone tools. Chen Yong, head of Tianjin's Cultural Heritage Protection Centre, said the excavated items can be identified as belonging to periods ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 years BP. Use marks are evident on some of the flint and quartzite tools, which include scrapers, awls and shovelling tools. The sites all belonged to the late palaeolithic era, and some were from the mesolithic era, the transitional phase between palaeolithic and neolithic eras.