Villagers in Hunan fall in love with archaeology

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When the villagers heard that the archaeological excavation was drawing to a close, they brought a variety of foods to the site, hoping to prepare a lavish farewell meal for the members of the archaeological team, having spent the previous half year with them.

At the Guantian relics site in Sangzhi County in central China's Hunan Province, archaeologists have found a large-scale ancient ironware production and processing workshop dating back to the Han and Jin dynasties (202 B.C.- 420 A.D.).

"Since 2015, the Guantian site has been excavated three times," said Mo Linheng, head of the archaeological team. Mo added that because there was so much work to do in the field, the archaeologists had hired a group of villagers who lived nearby to assist them with the work. After learning the basics of archaeology, the villagers took part in the excavation process.

Once the sun went down, locals and archaeologists huddled to discuss their experiences during the excavation.

"I participated in all three excavations!" a villager named Zhu Jiafa said in a toast to each member of the archaeological team.

"At first, I just wanted to make money to support my family, but then I fell in love with archaeology!" said 59-year-old Zhu, who expressed his thanks to the archaeologists. "Thank you for helping me learn more about my hometown. The land where I was born and raised has so many 'treasures,' I am so proud!"

So far, about 3,300 square meters of the site have been excavated, and iron objects including knives and metallurgical remains such as copper ingots have been unearthed.

"Every time I unearthed a new artifact, I felt so excited," said a villager named Chen Guinian.

She clearly recalled the first time she had uncovered a precious relic. "When I yelled with excitement, everyone ran to observe." At that time, Chen found a pot containing more than 20 coins under the supervision of an archaeological team.

"I have been a farmer my entire life, and soil used to be the most common thing I saw. After participating in archaeological work, though, I feel a newfound appreciation for the soil!" Chen said, adding that cultural relics imparted a further significance to the soil.

"When I found an artifact, I would imagine how the ancient people used it. It's really fascinating!" she said.

The villagers engaged in archaeological excavations must crouch for a considerable amount of time in the field, even in hot weather.

"The villagers were really committed to their work," said Xiao Hang, a Ph.D. student at Sichuan University, also a member of the team. Xiao said the findings at the relics site filled a gap in the study of iron smelting in the Wuling Mountains area during the Han and Jin dynasties.

For the villagers, however, what affected them most was their increased understanding of their local culture, as well as their pride in the culture.

"The villagers are near the archaeological remains, and once they develop professional techniques and skills, they can assist with digs and help as guardians of cultural relics," said Mo.

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