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Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 1999

1. The Neolithic Site at Gaochengdun in Jiangyin, Jiangsu Province. 


This is a large-scale high terrace graveyard of the Liangzhu Culture, with rigorous layout and planning. An area of about 1,000 square meters has been excavated. In 1999, a total of 13 large and middle-sized tombs of the early and middle stages of the Liangzhu Culture were excavated and screened, from which a total of 155 pieces (sets) of various kinds of jade articles, and stone and pottery wares were unearthed. Within the cleared graveyard area of 400 square meters, the tombs were distributed in the form of a herringbone facing the northwest and northeast. The site is extensive. The No.13 tomb is so far the largest ever found of the Liangzhu Culture, and is one of the best preserved. Its scale and burial objects may indicate the high social position of the occupant. The few but high-quality jade articles used as burial objects may symbolize another type of funeral of the Liangzhu Culture.


The southern part of Jiangsu Province where Gaochengdun is located is a very important region on the Lake Taihu Culture rim. The discovery of the site shows that the position of the southern part of Jiangsu in the Liangzhu Culture cannot be neglected. It may represent another center similar to the important position of the Ningzhen and Shanghai Fuquanshan areas.


2. Relics at Wanfabozi of Tonghua, Jilin Province. 


The excavation covers an area of more than 6,000 square meters. The site has rich cultural accumulations, covering the period from the Neolithic Age to the Shang and Zhou, the periods of Spring and Autumn and the Warring States, the Western Han, the Wei and Jin and the Ming dynasties.


The burial forms are unique, including earth pit graves, stone coffins in earth pit graves, stone outer and inner coffins in earth pit tombs, tombs covered with a large stone, group of stone tombs with large stone cover, group of stone tombs, and group of stone tombs with steps and platform. Also found was a tomb containing 40 corpses, mostly women. The group of stone tombs and the group of stone tombs with steps and platform reflect a special style of funeral during the Koguryo period.


The six archaeological cultural remains classified during this excavation represent six new types of cultures. The remains of the Neolithic Age with distinct relationships between levels and positions are the first find in the southern part of Jilin Province. The find of a pottery li (cooking tripod with hollow legs) of the second stage of the Bronze Age disproved the conventional hypothesis of no li being used on the middle and upper reaches of the Yalu River. The unearthed third stage bronze short sword and the cast models show that the casting industry had appeared in the region during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. The fourth-stage trenches around mountains show that the site was a large village during the Western Han Dynasty. It is presumed that it dates from the early stage of the Koguryo period. The pottery wares of the fifth stage date from the middle and late stages of the Koguryo period, showing a blend of the Central Plains and local cultures. The division of stages of the remains linking the Koguryo culture with the local culture of the Bronze Age will have an important impact on the study of the Bronze Age in the Northeast Asia and the remains of the Koguryo period.


3. Large Graveyard at Yangfutou, Yunnan Province.


This graveyard covers a total area of more than 40,000 square meters, 10,700 square meters of which have so far been excavated. A total of 488 tombs of Yunnan culture and 36 Eastern Han tombs have been verified and examined.


The Yunnan culture tombs are divided into large, middle-sized and small ones. In the large and middle-sized ones, there are coffins. The funeral customs vary and some are unique. The overlapped burial tombs contain at most five layers of corpses. In addition, there are joint burial tombs, group burial tombs and accompanied burial tombs. The burial objects include bronze tools, weapons, farming tools, and large amounts of enamel, wooden, jade and stone articles, as well as silver and gold fittings, totaling about 4,000 pieces. Particularly, there are a large number of well-preserved weapons with enameled wooden handles, tools, farming implements and a set of enamel and wooden sculptures with varied shapes and colors. They are the first relics unearthed in Yunnan Province containing enamel and wooden articles. They also provide substantial data for the study of farming tools and the technique of connecting metal spearheads to wooden handles.


The graveyard clearly demonstrates the blending of Yunnan culture over a long period of time with Han culture, providing important evidence for the study of the influence on frontier regions exerted by the culture of the Dianchi Lake region and the Central Plains culture.


4. The Sui and Tang Grand Canal in Huaibei, Anhui Province.


Eight sunken ships of the Tang Dynasty and a stone wharf of the Song Dynasty were discovered on the south side of the original course of the Grand Canal. In 1999, three of the sunken ships were excavated. The No. 1 sunken ship was made of timber. It is in a rectangular form, and the bottom and stern of the ship remain in fairly good condition, with a complete rudder. On the crossbeam of the stern chamber there are three casements in which the handles of the rudder were placed for the change of direction. The No.2 ship is a dugout canoe made from a whole tree trunk. The No.3 ship consists of only half of the hull, with a section of the bottom attached to it.


The rectangular stone wharf is situated on the south bank of the canal. Its east and west sides were reinforced with rammed earth. It was a wharf for handling goods. This was the first discovery of a relic of construction on the Sui and Tang Grand Canal.


Liuzi County was an important town on the Tongji Water Channel during the periods of the Sui, Tang and Song. The excavation shows that the county had had a transient goods wharf and had been a large hub of commerce and travel.


A great number of valuable fine porcelain wares produced by various kilns of the Tang and Song were unearthed. The articles, in various shapes, are in good condition, and most of them are of the best quality. Particularly, the discovery of porcelain ware of the Liao Dynasty on the Grand Canal in the Huaibei, Anhui Province, will provide valuable materials for the study of communications during the Yuan and Song dynasties.


5. Mountain City at Wunushan, Liaoning Province.


An investigation and partial excavation of an area of about 500,000 square meters of the project of the boot-shaped mountain city have been made. Against a background of mountain cliffs, the city were guarded by stonewalls along the smooth and gentle curve of the mountain.


The city has three gates, and was divided into two sections, the part on the mountain and the part at the bottom. On the mountain, there is a watchtower, water reservoir, and barrack-like groups of buildings, as well as remains from the late Neolithic, Spring and Autumn, Warring States, Western and Eastern Han, Wei, Jin and Liao dynasties. About 1,000 pieces of various relics, including pottery wares, stone, porcelain, bronze and iron articles were unearthed. After the excavation, the dimension, layout and structure of the mountain city were verified, and the specialty of construction and execution method of the construction of the early mountain city of Koguryo were identified, which provides important evidence that the mountain city, or Qishenggu City might have been an early capital of Koguryo. This is a new find in the northeast area.


The Neolithic cultural remains, particularly the discovery of a group of sites and relics of the early Koguryo period, have provided new materials for dating the Koguryo culture in the region to an earlier period, for the establishment of the chronology of the ancient culture of the Huanren region and the study of its cultural genealogy.


6. The Yu Hong Tomb of the Sui Dynasty in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province.


The tomb is a single chamber grave built with bricks and with a sloping passage leading to it. It is a plain square with arched sides. The relics include a white marble coffin, octagonal white marble columns and a stone sculpture of the heads of people offering a sacrifice. The most valuable aspect is the relief patterns on the base and four sides of the coffin, with color or gilt painting. The decorative figurines, costumes, fittings, vessels, flowers and birds in the patterns bear a strong flavor of Central Asian culture.


This tomb is so far the only archaeological find in the Central Plains region that reflects Central Asian culture. It is also the only one to have been excavated in a scientific way and with an accurate chronological record. It is rich in relics and has been well preserved. It is of great significance in the study of the cultural exchanges between China and Western countries during the Northern Dynasties and the Sui Dynasty, studies of the Silk Road and studies of the history of Jinyang City.


7. The Central Capital City (Zhongdu) of the Yuan Dynasty in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province.


With a surveyed area of 300,000 square meters in Hebei Province, the ancient capital city was constructed with one inside city enclosed by an intermediate city and another outer city. The excavation site covers an area of 1,430 square meters. During the excavation, a platform of the central palace of the inside city, a superb palace gateway and a corner terrace structure of a special shape were found, and a great amount of valuable building components and materials including stone, ceramics, iron, bronze and wood were collected.


The foundation of the Yuan Dynasty city, two to three meters above the ground, and the specially styled rammed corner terraces in the inside city have provided evidence to identify the city structure and disposition, and the building layout. The survey shows that there were four gates in the inside city, three gates in the intermediate city, a waterway, and in the best preserved location of the outer city, remains of the ruined rammed terraces of a city wall about one meter high can be seen. In the three cities, ruins of buildings were also found, including the foundations of a group of I-patterned principal palace constructions with distinct central axial alignment and symmetric distribution of buildings. The unearthed high quality building materials and components include corner designs of exquisitely carved white marble heads (without horns) of dragons, glazed beasts and a relief dragon design on the tile-ends.


The discovery provides new and substantial evidence for the study of the capital of the Yuan Dynasty.


8. A Distillery in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.


The verified area covers 1,700 square meters, 280 square meters of which have been excavated. The exposed remains include three air-drying halls, eight wine cellars, four fermentation ranges, four ash pits and road foundations, wooden pillars and the foundations of distillation facilities. Large numbers of blue and white porcelain shards produced in the Ming and Qing dynasties were unearthed.



The discovery of the site disclosed the whole process of distilling and liquor production during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The site was composed of a wine shop in front and a brewing workshop in the rear. The air-drying halls, wine cellars, and the fermentation ranges were located in the rear. The road and pottery and porcelain food and drink vessels collected from beside the distillery are assumed to be from the wine shop facing the street.


The Shuijingjie Street Distillery (Quanxing Distillery) site was located by the original cellar of the Quanxing Distillery that is still in production today. From the underground accumulations of relics and the order of sequence of articles and objects, researchers have identified a chronological chain ranging from the Ming Dynasty to the present day, showing continuous production of liquor here for the past 500 years. This is the only example of winery production and business in ancient times ever found in China.


9. An Early Shang City Site in Jiaozuo, Henan Province. 


Excavated in 1999, the Shang relic at Fucheng of Jiaozuo, Henan Province covers an area of about 1,700 square meters. In the middle section of the site, an early city site of the Shang Dynasty with rammed foundations and house bases was also found.


The city was in the form of a square. Its extant western wall is about two meters high, 300 meters long and 4-8 meters wide. The remaining north city wall is about 300 meters long, and two to three meters high. The restored eastern wall is about 300 meters long. Only the underground trenches of foundations of the south wall remain. The foundation trenches, about 15 meters wide and 0.9 meters deep, were dug first, and then covered with planks and rammed tight with earth.


The No. 1 rammed foundation is located at the northeast section of the city, in the form of a rectangle, 70 meters long from south to north, and 40 meters wide from east to west. The site was divided into two compounds, in the center of which was the principal hall. Under the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 foundation sites, a layer of the Erlitou Stage Culture was overlapped. The unearthed pottery wares mainly include gray clay pottery, deep-bellied jars with round bottoms, round-bellied jars, molded-mouth jars and bigmouth wine vessels (zun), which are similar to their counterparts of the Erlitou Culture.


The Fucheng early Shang site is another important discovery following the discoveries of the Shang city sites at Zhengzhou and Yanshi in Henan Province. The new discovery is of significant academic value for the study of the early Shang culture in Henan Province, and the material culture and social life of the time.


10. The No.1 Han Tomb at Huxishan in Hunan Province. 


This is the second tomb of a marquis of the Han Dynasty excavated in Hunan area that had not been robbed, following the first Han tomb excavated at Changsha in the area. This tomb is a rectangular shaft pit, with a sloping passage to the grave. There are two side chambers, in the south and north respectively. The coffin is still well preserved. The burial objects were mostly placed in the four chambers and in the coffin, including the outer coffin.


The 500 unearthed objects include enamel wooden articles, pottery wares, bronze mirrors, jade seals, and bi (a round piece of jade with a hole in the center). Also, nearly 1,000 bamboo strips were found in the tomb. The articles were exquisitely produced with a great number of needle-incised patterns. The beautifully written characters on the bamboo strips are clear enough to read. Their contents involve four major categories, including books, homilies, general household register and cuisine. The last two are particularly important. The general household register recorded the number of households of various townships in the state of the Yuanling marquis in the Western Han Dynasty. The cuisine section records the materials and ingredients of various dishes and cooking methods, filling a gap in our knowledge of ancient cuisine.


The occupant of the tomb was Wu Yang, son of Wu Chen, king of Changsha. He was the first Yuan Ling marquis, having received the title in the first year of the reign of Gaohou (187 BC). He died in the second year of Houyuan of the reign of Emperor Wendi, which means that he had been on the throne for 25 years. The excavation of the tomb provides most valuable materials for the study of the history of that time.



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