Beijing Municipal Cultural Heritage Bureau announced yesterday that one million scraps of broken porcelain, some of which may be up to 800 years old, were unearthed from a construction site in the capital in late July.
"It is very rare for a single pit to contain so many different types of porcelain, and the pieces seem to have come from at least seven ancient kilns, including Jingdezhen, Junyao and Dehua," said Zhu Zhigang, the Beijing Academy of Cultural Heritage Studies researcher who led the excavation.
The discovery has raised some puzzling questions for archaeologists, such as the origins of the pit itself and the long-lost techniques used in making the porcelain, according to the academy.
Yu Ping, an expert in porcelain studies, said most pieces in the pit were made during the early and middle period of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and some could date back as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368).
"Their glaze and painted patterns are very delicate and vary quite a lot, which provides a lot of material for research," said Yu, also the deputy director of the cultural heritage bureau.
Standing in front of over 1,000 boxes containing the excavated pieces, she added: "To reassemble complete sets from the numerous scraps will be very hard. We need much more investigation and study to solve these puzzles, especially how the pit came into being."
According to Zhu, the pit -- 7.8 meters long, 5 meters wide and 4.3 meters deep -- was found during a construction project in Xicheng District's Maojiawan area, located in what was the northwest corner of the imperial city in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
"The discovery of the pit also provides us with important clues to the development of Beijing," Zhu said, who also took part in excavations at several Olympic construction venues, where more than 1,000 sets of earthenware, goldware, porcelain and jadeware have also been unearthed.
According to the Law on Cultural Relics Protection, archaeological investigation and excavation must be done before a major construction project is carried out.
(China Daily September 1, 2005)