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7 January 2006
New lights on origin of Chinese civilization

After five years of intensive study, researchers engaged in a grand archaeological project have drawn an outline of the Chinese society 3,500 to 4,500 years ago, the most important period that researchers believe is closely related to the origin of ancient Chinese civilization. China launched the archaeological project in 2001, aiming to seek the origin of ancient Chinese civilization.
     Researchers try to find answers to such questions as whether Huangdi and Yandi, two legendary ancestors of the Chinese nation, really existed in history, and whether there were any Chinese characters even older than the inscriptions on animal bones and tortoise shells discovered in the famous Yin Ruins, which date back to over 3,000 years.
     Wang Wei, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the first stage of the project has just concluded, while the second and the third stage will last another ten years. During the past five years, archaeologists designated six major sites of cultural heritage - the Neolithic Xipo Site in Lingbao County, Wangchenggang Site in Dengfeng, Xinzhai Site in Xinmi County, Erlitou Site in Yanshi County and Dashigu Site in Zhengzhou, all in central Henan Province, and the Taosi Site in Xiangfen, in neighboring Shanxi Province. The six sites were all large-scale towns in prehistoric China, and provided material crucial to the study of social structures and the emergence of the early states in the mysterious 1,000 years before the Shang Dynasty (1,600 BCE-1,100 BCE), said Wang.
     Research into the Taosi Site shows that the differentiation of social classes in ancient China can be dated back to 2,300 BCE. And the notion of state sovereignty also emerged at that time, said Wang. More than 1,000 tombs have been excavated at the site, and a large number of funerary objects were found in about 10 percent of the tombs, which researchers believe belonged to those from the highest social estate. Magnetic prospecting technologies were used to probe relics of an ancient city, covering an area of 3 million square meters, at Taosi. Archaeologists have found remains of a bloody war, which destroyed the city about 4,100 years ago.
     At the Erlitou Site in Henan Province, archaeologists found the earliest palace complex ever discovered in China. Many Chinese scholars believe that Erlitou is the site of the capital of the Xia Dynasty (2,100 BCE-1,600 BCE), China's first dynasty. The palace complex has a clear central line as all large structures and roads are distributed evenly at either side of the line. The design created a model for later dynasties in designing their capital, experts say.
     Recent archaeological discoveries show that there were many advanced cultures at the valleys of several major rivers in China about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. The civilization in central China, though not the most developed at beginning, absorbed the cultures in the surrounding areas, forming the splendid Chinese civilization, said Wang. In the coming five years, the research will be expanded from central China to valleys of the Yangtze, Yellow, Liaohe and Huaihe rivers, covering the period from 4,000 BC to 770 BC. More than 1,000 researchers from over 20 branches of learning will participate in the project, Wang added.

Source: Peole's Daily Online (2 January 2006)

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