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Johan Gunnar Andersson

Johan Gunnar Andersson
Born July 3, 1874
Died October 29, 1960
Nationality Swedish
Fields archaeology
Alma mater Uppsala University
Known for Chinese archaeology

Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874-1960), Swedish archaeologist, paleontologist and geologist, closely associated with the beginnings of Chinese archaeology in the 1920s. His Chinese name was An Tesheng (安特生).

After studies at Uppsala University, and research in the polar regions, Andersson served as Director of Sweden's National Geological Survey.

He participated in the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901 to 1903.

In 1914 he was invited to China as mining adviser to the Chinese government. His affiliation was with China's National Geological Survey (Dizhi diaochasuo) which was organized and led by the extraordinary Chinese scholar Ding Wenjiang (V.K. Ting). During this time, Andersson helped train China’s first generation of geologists, and also made numerous discoveries of iron ore and other mining resources, as well as discoveries in geology and paleontology.

Andersson paid his first visit to Zhoukoudian in 1918 drawn to an area called Chicken-bone Hill by locals who have misidentified the rodent fossils that are found in abundance there.[1] He returned in 1921 and was lead by local quarrymen to Dragon Bone Hill where he identified quartz that was not local to the area. Realising that this may indicate the presence of prehistoric man he set his assistant, Otto Zdansky, to work excavating. Zdansky returned for further excavations in 1923 and a great deal of material was shipped to Uppsala for analysis. Eventually in 1926, on the occasion of a visit by the Swedish Prince to Beijing, Andersson announced the discovery of two human teeth. These are later identified as being the first finds of Peking Man.[2]

In collaboration with Chinese colleagues such as Yuan Fuli and others, he then discovered prehistoric Neolithic remains in central China’s Henan Province, along the Yellow River. The remains were named Yangshao culture after the village where they were first excavated, in 1921.

In the following years, 1923-24, Andersson, in his capacity as a staff member of China's National Geological Survey, conducted archaeological excavations in the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai, again in collaboration with Chinese colleagues, and published numerous books and scientific papers on Chinese archaeology, many in the Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, which he founded and launched in 1929. Andersson's most well-known popular book on his time in China is Den gula jordens barn, 1932, translated into several languages, including English (as Children of the Yellow Earth, 1934, reprinted 1973), Japanese, and Korean.

In 1926, Andersson founded the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, Sweden (in Swedish: Östasiatiska museet), a national museum established to house the Swedish part of the collections from these first-ever scientific archaeological excavations in China. Andersson served as the director of the MFEA until he was succeeded in 1939 by the famous Swedish Sinologist Bernhard Karlgren.

Selections of the Swedish portion of the materials is on display at the MFEA in a new permanent exhibit launched 2004. The Chinese part of the Andersson collections, according to a bilateral Sino-Swedish agreement, was returned by him to the Chinese government in seven shipments, 1927-1936. A Chinese exhibit with these objects was mounted at the new National Geological Survey complex in Nanjing, where Andersson saw them in 1937, the last time they were reported seen by anyone. The last documentary evidence of these objects was a 1948 Visitors Guide to the Geological Survey museum in Nanjing, which listed Andersson's Yangshao artefacts among the exhibits.

The objects were thought to be irretrievably lost in the civil war that followed, until 2002. After major renovations at the Geological Museum of China, the successor to the Geological Survey's museum, staff found three crates of ceramic vessels and fragments while re-organising items in storage. Following contact with the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska Museet) in Stockholm, it was confirmed that these were indeed part of Andersson's excavations. In 2006, these objects featured in an exhibition at the Geological Museum on the occasion of its 90th anniversary, celebrating the lives and work of Andersson and its other founders.


  1. ^ "The Peking Man World Heritage Site at Zhoukoudian". UNESCO. Retrieved April 20, 2008. "In February 1918, Johann Gunnar Andersson, a famous Swedish geologist and archaeologist, was told that there were some fossils at what was called Chicken-bone Hill near Zhoukoudian. He was then serving as an adviser on mineral affairs in the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce of the Chinese Government. He showed much interest and, in the following month, made a survey at the hill where a lot of rodent fossil was collected. The rodent fossil was taken as chicken bones by local people and the Chicken-bone Hill was so named. The latter is nominated later as Locality 6 of the Peking Man Site. This discovery of the locality is not so important, but the survey led to a series of investigations in the region."  
  2. ^ "The Peking Man World Heritage Site at Zhoukoudian". UNESCO. Retrieved April 20, 2008. "In 1921, when Andersson and Otto Zdansky, an Austrian palaeontologist, made another survey at Zhoukoudian, local people informed them that there were more fossils on Dragon Bone Hill. They started an excavation and found some animal fossils and quartz fragments. The excavation brought along the discovery of two human-like teeth. One of them was an upper molar. It was found during the excavation. Another one was an unerupted lower premolar. It was found while preparing the fossil at the Institute of Palaeontology of Upsala University in Sweden. One year later, they continued the excavation at the locality. At the welcome ceremony for the Swedish Prince's visit to China on the 22nd of October in 1926, Andersson announced the discovery of two teeth of early man from Zhoukoudian. The news astonished the scientific world since at that time there had not been any discovery of any such ancient human fossil in China nor any other country in Asia."  
  • Fiskesjö, Magnus and Chen Xingcan. China before China: Johan Gunnar Andersson, Ding Wenjiang, and the Discovery of China's Prehistory. Stockholm: Östasiatiska museet, 2004. ISBN 91-970616-3-8.

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