| 8 February 2009
Researchers unearth more of China's ancient past
In the remote village of Yangshe on the banks of the Yellow River, Chinese archaeologists are little by little bringing an ancient culture back to life after nearly 3,000 years. The vast cemetery they are excavating belonged to the rulers of the Jin state, which is finally emerging in all its remarkable diversity in what is now northern China's Shanxi Province. It is a discovery that in most countries would excite the entire scholarly community, but in China it is just one in a string of startling finds.
"We are undergoing a golden age in archaeology in China that has lasted from the late 1980s until today," said Ji Kunzhang, a leading archaeologist at the Shanxi Archaeological Research Institute who oversaw the Yangshe dig. People such as Ji are in the process of excavating major finds throughout the nation that are helping to throw new light on what is arguably the world's oldest civilization. In just one example, in eastern Anhui Province, archaeologists at an ancient tomb site have dug up what is considered China's first carved jade pig. The 88-kilogram pig dates to Neolithic times and was found with hundreds of other jade objects.
At the Yangshe dig, the outstanding feature is a large pit containing 48 chariots and 105 horses that were buried with a Jin ruler particularly noted for his military campaigns during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1120-781 BCE). The find is the largest horse and chariot pit dating from the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600-256 BCE) so far found in China and predates the terracotta warrior tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang, by more than 600 years, Ji said.
Among the finds are ceremonial carriages exquisitely painted with red lacquer and which include finely crafted doors with bronze hinges. Armoured war carriages protected by bronze plates are also among the finds. "We believe the chariots and horses were the actual cavalry used in the military campaigns of the Jin leader," Ji said. "So far we have counted at least 105 horses, which we believe were drugged and buried alive as some of their heads were erect and others had their legs bound," he added.
The Jin cemetery was first discovered in 1992, but funding for major excavations only began in 1996. Since then all 19 tombs have been excavated with the dig of the largest horse and chariot pit alone taking four years, Ji said.
Coinciding with the discoveries, archaeologists in China are seeing funding on a scale they could only have dreamt of a few years ago. "The Museum of the State of Jin, which begins construction in March, will sit on top of the horse and chariot pit and is expected to be opened by 2010," he said. The 100-million-yuan (13-million-dollar) museum will house a treasure trove of bronze and jade artifacts from all 19 tombs of the early Jin rulers and their wives. "We're getting increasing funding from the state and more and more major excavations are occurring all over the nation," said Ji.
Sources: Agence France Press, The Daily Star (2 February 2009)
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