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The archaeology of China is researched intensively in the universities of the region and also attracts considerable international interest on account of the region's civilizations.



The practice of archaeology in China has been rooted in modern Chinese history. Modern Chinese archaeology really began in 1921. That year, the Yangshao Village sites in Henan were first excavated by Johan G. Andersson.[1] The intellectual and political reformers of the 1920s challenged the historicity of the legendary inventors of Chinese culture, such as Shennong, the divine farmer, and Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. At the same time, scientific study of the prehistoric period was being sponsored by Western archaeologists and paleoanthropologists. The establishment of the Academia Sinica (Chinese Academy of Sciences) in 1928 enabled Chinese scholars to study Chinese archaeology for themselves, but the eruption of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 made excavation difficult. That some researchers found themselves, with their collections, in Taiwan after 1949 and that much archaeology practiced in the People's Republic of China was reported within a Marxist framework further demonstrate archaeology's links to politics. The waning of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s meant the resumption of archaeological excavation and publication. A modernizing nation began to produce scholarship, increasingly informed by scientific analysis, in a quantity and quality commensurate with its size and its traditions of learning.

Archaeological periods

Archaeological sites

In the late 1920s, excavations at Anyang in eastern China established the existence of a prehistoric Chinese culture that could be identified with the Shang dynasty of early Chinese records.



What were identified as the oldest-known noodles were found in an earthen bowl at the 4,000-year-old site of Lajia on the Yellow River in China. The noodles, discovered by Maolin Ye of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and analyzed by Houyuan Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues, were 50 cm long and had been made with two strains of millet.[2]


  • The cave relics found at Dahe, Fuyuan County, Yunnan Province. This Paleolithic cave, under excavation since 2002, offers evidence of the cultural exchanges between the East and West, which happened earlier in southern China than in northern China. Experts believe that the finding also indicates the existence of different communication routes.
  • The Xiantouling Neolithic remains found at Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. The remains, which date back 6,000 to 7,000 years, provide an important criterion for archaeologists to divide historical periods during the 1,000 years at Pearl River Delta. They may also help solve the archaeological problems in Lingnan pre-history culture.
  • The Neolithic graves found at Xipo Village of Lingbao City, Henan Province. The excavation of the graves has advanced archaeologists’ understanding of the society and economy during the Middle Yangshao Culture (5000-3000 BC). During the fifth and sixth excavation conducted in 2005 and 2006, 34 tombs were found with a vast array of funerary objects. It was the first time that graves from the Middle Yangshao Culture were discovered in Lingbao, Henan Province.
  • The remains of a coconut shell mound at Gaoming, Foshan city, Guangdong Province. The late Neolithic site, dated back 4,500 years, is now known as China’s best preserved, most informative and representative coconut shell mound.
  • The relics of Shang Dynasty found at Gaohong, Liulin County, Shanxi Province. It is the first discovery of the late Shang Dynasty (c.16th century-11th century BC) bronze culture site in the Luliang Mountain region, Shanxi Province, where 20 ramming sites were found. The discovery is of great value to the study of the unique Luliangshan bronze culture.
  • Mound tombs found in Guanjiu Village, Pucheng County, Fujian Province. Mound tombs are considered one of the significant characters of Wuyue Culture during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and Warring States Period (475-221 BC). The mound tombs found at Guanjiu, Pucheng in 2006, were the first discovered in Fujian Province. Seventy-two bronze funerary articles were excavated from the tombs, making the excavation the biggest harvest of bronze items in Fujian archaeological history.
  • The graves of Warring States Period found at Majiayuan, Zhangjiachuan County, Gansu Province. The value of excavating the tombs, which had been stripped by robbers, lies in their special structure and the five chariots found inside (four in burial chambers and one in the tunnel). The heavily decorated chariots are a rare find for Chinese archaeologists.
  • The musical instruments pit of the Qin Dynasty found at Dabaozishan relics, Li County, Gansu Province. The discovery of the musical instruments pit may help unveil the identity of the main tomb’s owner, believed to be one of the kings of the Qin State. It also provides rare source materials for research into the rites and music system, the sacrifices system and the techniques of bronze casting and foundry of early Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).
  • The Shuangdun cemetery at Liu’an City, Anhui Province. The discovery of this tomb of the Han Dynasty (260 BC- AD 220) and the royal cemetery of the Liu’an Kingdom may help reveal secrets surrounding the period and is of great scientific, historical, and artistic value.
  • The remains of a water gate of Yuan Dynasty at Zhidanyuan, Shanghai. The Zhidanyuan water gate, located at the cross of Zhidan Road and Yanchang Road in Putuo District, Shanghai, has a history of 700 years. It has been confirmed to be a water facility of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Compared to similar relics, the Zhidanyuan water gate is the largest, most exquisite and well preserved.

Preservation of cultural relics

China has nearly 400,000 known unmovable cultural relics above- and underground. Since 1996, the State Council has listed 770 key historical and cultural sites under state protection, more than the total number of the past 40-odd years. The number of key historical and cultural sites under state protection is planned to reach key 1,800 in 2015. China has listed more than 7,000 historical and cultural sites under provincial protection, and over 60,000 under municipal and prefectural protection. The national database for the information of cultural relics is to be completed by 2015.

In the 1990s, China made significant investment toward protecting cultural relics. Special subsidies by the Central Government for the protection of cultural relics reached some 700 million yuan for about 1,000 projects. As a result, a large number of cultural relics have been saved from destruction. Major renovation of the 1,500-odd-year-old Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province began in February 2004.

In recent years, cultural relics have come under increasing legal protection. China has already participated in the four international treaties of preservation of cultural relics. The Law on Cultural Relics Protection was revised in October 2002 to institute regulations on the transfer and exchange of cultural relics for the first time. In 2003 the government publicized the Regulations on Enforcing the Law on Cultural Relics Protection, Provisional Rules on Administering the Auction of Cultural Relics, and the first special regulation on the protection of the Great Wall - Measures of Beijing Municipality for Administration of Protection of the Great Wall.

So far, the government has listed 101 national famous historical and cultural cities under key protection, and also more than 80 provincial ones. From 2001 to 2005, the government allocated some 15 million yuan annually for the protection of famous historical and cultural cities. The protection of these cities includes both the protection of the ancient buildings and historical sectors, and the preservation of the layout, features and traditional cultures of the ancient cities as well. A special law on the protection of famous historical and cultural cities is being drafted.

As a large traditional agricultural country, China has a large distribution of many ancient villages, a rare phenomenon in the world. The natural environments, as well as many relics of folk culture, art and handicrafts are well preserved in these villages. The cultural relics authority is planning a large protection project of ancient villages. In November 2003, the Ministry of Construction and the State Cultural Relics Bureau (under the Ministry of Culture) together released a new list that for the first time puts under protection historically and culturally famous towns and villages. The list includes 10 towns such as Jingsheng Town in Lingshi County, Shanxi Province, and 12 villages such as Chuandixia Village of Mentougou District of Beijing.



  1. ^ Fan, Ka-wai (2004). Review of the Web Sites for Chinese Archaeology.  
  2. ^ Houyuan Lu, Xiaoyan Yang, Maolin Ye, Kam-Biu Liu, Zhengkai Xia, Xiaoyan Ren, Linhai Cai, Naiqin Wu and Tung-Sheng Liu. "Culinary archaeology: Millet noodles in Late Neolithic China." Nature 437, 967-968 (13 October 2005). doi: 10.1038/437967a

Further reading

  • Chang, K.C. The Archeology of Ancient China (Yale U. Press, 1977)
  • Treistman, J.M., The Pre-History of China (David & Charles, 1972)

See also


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