Knife and fork found in first emperor's tomb

By John Sexton
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, April 1, 2010
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Early finds from the excavation of the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuang (259 BCE - 210 BCE) have yielded a surprising find - a knife and fork.

Archaeologists conducting the dig - which has until now been carried out with little publicity - said that the knife and fork were among the grave goods of the emperor, bore his personal crest, and were clearly intended for his use in the afterlife.

Experts were surprised by the find since until now it was believed that the use of chopsticks had been universal in China since the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BCE). The earliest known example is a pair of bronze chopsticks dating from 1200 BCE discovered near Anyang in Henan province. But it now seems that among the ruling circles of the Qin Dynasty – the first to establish a unitary Chinese state - knives and forks may have been in common use.

The Romans were known to have used forks, but the earliest known examples date from around 200 CE, roughly 400 years after the death of China's first emperor. They were not in common use in Europe until the 10th Century CE.

Professor Du Yude of the Institute of Advanced Culinary Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told that the find raises the possibility that the favored Western eating implements were in fact invented in China.

"Like so many other everyday artifacts" he said "they turn out to have their origins in China's glorious and creative civilization."

In fact the idea that China invented the knife and fork is not new, having been first put forward by the distinguished historian of Chinese science Professor Joseph Needham. Needham's monumental work Science and Civilization in China refers to early examples of forks made from bone.

But the knife and fork in Qin Shihuang's tomb are made of metal and are of "surprisingly modern design" according to Ye Caidu - one of the archeologists who is taking part in the dig.

Experts are puzzling as to why the Chinese invention conquered the Western world but failed to catch on in China.

Professor Du thinks he has the answer. "Knives and forks are so damned complicated to use," he said. The American method of first cutting up one's food, then swapping the fork from the left hand to the right hand to eat, is "just plain stupid," he added.

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