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Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 1998
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In what has become an annual event under the auspices of the State Cultural Relics Bureau, archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Peking University, the Institute of Palaeo-vertebratology and Palaeoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Museum of Chinese History, the Palace Museum and the Institute of Cultural Relics selected the top ten archaeological discoveries from among 460 excavations. In rough chronological order, those selected were:


1. The Palaeolithic Site in Yujiagou, Nihewan Basin, Yangyuan County, Hebei Province.


This site, which incorporates ten Paleolithic deposits in the heart of the Nihewan basin, located about 160 km west of Beijing, documents the transformation from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic in northern China. The most significant find was the identification of a continuous stratigraphic sequence of cultural remains at one deposit. The remains are dated from roughly the end of the Pleistocene to the mid-Holocene, i.e., from 6,000 to 600,000 years BP. In the lower part of the site are layers containing stoneware created between 8,000 and 14,000 years BP. Artifacts include stone microliths, hand-made ornaments, wedge-shaped cores, micro-blade cores, points and adzes. Scientists estimate that the yellowish-brown shards of the primitive earthenwares found at the site are around 10,000 years old. The upper part of the site, which has been dated to 5,000 to 8,000 years BP contains Neolithic artifacts.


2. A Neolithic Sacrificial Altar and Cemetery at Lingjiatan, Hanshan County, Anhui Province.


The remains of an ancient sacrificial altar, with characteristic red-burnt soil, together with 44 tombs, were uncovered by archaeologists during the excavation of 1,775 square meters at this site. The altar covers an area of 600 square meters and is roughly rectangular in shape with rounded corners. It was paved with a layer of pebbles and clay. Twenty-seven tombs housing stone implements were located on the western and southern edges of the altar, while the other 16 tombs were on the altar itself. Pottery funerary objects were also discovered. The most valuable finds are three large tombs at the southernmost tip of the altar, which contained a large number of jade artifacts in the shape of human figures, dragons, eagles, horns, discs, spades and huang. Carved in shallow bas-relief, the human figures are regarded as the earliest Neolithic figurines of their type found in China. The discovery of a whetstone at the site was also a first, and provided new information on jade production technology. The Lingjiatan jades demonstrate unprecedented hole-drilling techniques.


3. The Neolithic Site at Sanxingcun, Jintan County, Jiangsu Province.


This is an extensive and well-preserved Neolithic settlement site. Of the total area of nearly 100,00 square meters only 640 square meters have been excavated. More than 1,000 tombs, 55 garbage pits and four living floors were discovered. Surrounding the latter areas were hearths containing carbonized remains of cultivated rice. The tombs are oriented towards the north-east and were found with five or six funeral articles, mostly earthen pots. The tomb pits are small and contain only a single corpse in a supine extended position. There are also double burials and prone burials at the site. The skeletons are well-preserved. The great majority of the 4,000 artifacts found at this site were exquisitely made from bone, teeth, antlers, jade and clam shells. Among the finds are an unusual engraved plate, which is believed to have served a religious or shamanistic function, a ritual or heraldic stone axe, and an engraved pottery dou that is thought to be the earliest example of such a vessel found to date. The discovery of the site is significant for determining the origins of the Neolithic in the lower Yangtze River.


4. The Zhongba Site in Zhongxian County, Sichuan Province.


This site is valuable for revealing a sequence from the late Neolithic to the Xia and Shang dynasties in the Three Gorges area of Sichuan. The excavated area of 1,900 square meters has overlapping layers of Sanxingdui culture, earlier Laoguantai culture and Shaopengzui culture. For the first time, archaeologists discovered a cluster of 48 residential remains in the form of ground-based structures from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. In addition, 23 tombs built around the same time and five "dragon kilns" of the Han Dynasty were discovered. The kilns were relatively intact, and are the earliest examples of their type found in Sichuan.


5. The Xiajiadian Lower Layer Culture Stone City Site at Kangjiatun, Beipiao City, Liaoning Province.


This fortress site is important since it represents the first large-scale excavation of a Xiajiadian culture site. The Kangjiatun site covers 15,000 square meters, including the eastern and southern sections of the city wall measuring 180 meters in length, a city gate and two sections of the city moat. In the western part of the walled urban area were 14 stone henges built at different times and 19 dwelling foundations. More than 1,000 ceramic, stone and bone artifacts were unearthed at the site. The city was surrounded by a city wall, watchtowers and a buttress-like structure. Within the city walls, 17 stone fences divided the urban area into several compounds or neighborhoods, and in the center of each stood a circular structure.


6. The Yinshan Mausoleum of the King of the Yue State in Lanting Township, Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province.


This royal tomb or mausoleum was excavated by archaeologists from September 1996 to April 1998. The mausoleum is covered by a huge tumulus covering an area of more than 100,000 square meters, beneath which are timber structures, consisting of a front chamber, main chamber and rear chamber in addition to a long, broad sloping passageway leading to the outside. Forty-six meters in length, the passageway ends at the bottom of a 14-meter-long rectangular shaft pit which was excavated from the rock. The outer coffin was found in the main central chamber. All three chambers have pitched roofs propped up by extremely large wooden beams and cross sections. The 6.04-meter-long coffin, which was fashioned like a dugout canoe from a single tree trunk, was suspended in mid-air. Such a form of burial had never previously been discovered in China.


7. The Lijiaba Site in Yunyang County, Sichuan Province.


At this well preserved site archaeologists found 80 garbage pits dating from the Shang, Zhou and Ming periods. Six ancient dwellings are believed to have been built from the 5th century BC to the 6th century AD. The most important finds were 46 tombs dating from the Warring States to the Western Han Dynasty. These included sacrificial burials. A number of exquisite funeral objects were recovered from the tombs which had distinctive features of the Shu and Ba peoples.


8. The Eastern Han Granary in Yandongcun, Xin'an County, Henan Province.


Threatened by the waters of the Xiaolangdi Reservoir, this site covers nearly 6,000 square meters and includes the rectangular remains of what is believed to have been a warehouse of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The warehouse covers an area measuring 179 meters by 29 meters.


9. The Six Dynasties Clan Cemeteries in the Suburbs of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.


This excavation opened up six tombs belonging to noble families of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) located in the southern suburbs of Nanjing. The first three tombs belong to Gao Song, a powerful minister, while the other three belong to members of the powerful Wang clan. All six tombs were made of brick masonry. In each tomb chamber, archaeologists unearthed a brick coffin bed, lamp stands and candle niches, false windows and other fixtures. Most tombs consisted of a single chamber in a rectangular pit attached to a passageway. The finds from the Gao clan tombs are diverse and of exquisite workmanship. They include silver, copper, iron, jadeite, lacquer and ceramic objects, complete sets of jade pendants, jade sword handles and golden ornaments. A set of decorated jade swords and two sets of jade ornaments bound around the waist of the corpse were intact.


10. The Yue Kiln at the Shanglinhu-Silongkou Site in Silongcun, Cixi City, Zhejiang Province.


This excavated "dragon kiln" was in use from the Tang to the early Southern Song and is located at the Yueyao kiln site in Cixi, Zhejiang. The remains of a furnace and potters' workshop were the first such discoveries in the Yueyao kiln system south of the Yangtze River. Sky blue and moon white glazed porcelains were unearthed, including goblets, flasks, flower pots, jugs and pear-shaped vases. They feature a smooth and semi-transparent glazed surface. These pieces are believed to have been made in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and they have similarities with products of the official kilns in northern China of the time. One pot bears the mark "Guan", meaning official kiln.



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