Summary of Science Magazine Correspondent's Interview with the Scientific and Archeological Center of the Institute of Archaeology, CASS
On May 22nd, 2009, American Science Magazine correspondent Mr. Andrew visited the Scientific and Archeological Center at the Institute of Archaeology of the China Academy of Social Sciences to conduct an interview. In compliance with the orders of the institute's chairman, the Scientific Center accepted the interview. The staff of the Scientific Center introduced him to the present conditions and research trends of Chinese science and archeology, as well as the institute's own achievements in recent years; at the same time, Mr. Andrew interviewed and exchanged information with a number of the Scientific Center's staff regarding questions of interest.
The chairman of the Scientific Center, Dr. Yuan Jing, introduced Mr. Andrew to the present conditions and the results of his own research on faunal studies. Yuan Jing discussed the need to establish methods for determining a "domestic" animal in researching the origins of China's ancient domestic animals; through many years of research and tests, Yuan Jing established a complete set of standards for determining a "domestic" animal, for the first time in China. At the same time, Yuan Jing also introduced the relevant archaeological discoveries regarding the husbandry of ancient domestic animals such as swine, cattle, sheep and dogs. In addition, Yuan Jing also briefly explained two historical patterns that he has identified regarding the origins of China's ancient domestic animals.
Dr. Zhao Zhijun introduced Mr. Andrew to the important archaeological discoveries in China in the past ten years, as well as the latest research on the origins of Chinese agriculture, especially as regards research on the origins of rice cultivation, and new discoveries of the plants important to northern dry farming, as well as the new thoughts and new academic discussion inspired by these discoveries. Immediately after, Zhao Zhijun discussed new developments in the cultural exchange of archaeological research between China and the West. He primarily introduced current research on the route and time period of wheat's spread to the East, as well as related exploration of the contact and exchanges between Eastern and Western culture on the Great Eurasian Plains, prior to the establishment of the Silk Road.
Qi Wuyun first briefly introduced the concept, research content, methodology and other important, resolvable issues of environmental archaeology; second, she presented on the laboratories that the Archaeological Center possesses and plans to build, as well as his own comprehensive research tasks and achievements in the field of environmental archaeology.
Wang Zenglin introduced the Institute of Archaeology's analysis of the activation of neutrons in ceramics, and presented on his analysis of many earthenware relics, such as pieces from the Guchengzhai site of Henan province and two settlements of Erlitou culture; through his research, he discovered that the craft and raw or semi-finished materials of pieces from within the city of Guchengzhai site and outside the site were different; the excavated white pottery from the two Erlitou sites were also produced in different places.
Zhao Chunyan introduced the results of the chemical analysis of the accumulated soil inside pottery containers excavated from the Shang dynasty tomb No.54 of Yinxu site, Anyang. Through this research, one can deduce that one of the earthenware jars contained meats, while the others contained plants. This program of research also established methods for the chemical analysis of the accumulated dirt within excavated pottery containers, making it possible to determine the composition and elements of the remnants within the containers; proceeding to the next step, one can deduce the daily usage of the container, its function in being buried with the dead, and the composition of the diet followed by the people of the time; one can also provide a basis for other related questions. In addition, Zhao Chunyan also presented on the results of chemical analysis of the human bones excavated from tomb no. 54. The results show that there may have been differences between the diet of the tomb's occupant and that of those who were buried with the dead; there may have also been differences in diet amongst the burial companions.
Wang Shuzhi presented on the important research achievements in China's study of the chronology of tree growth rings. Through examination of tree disks and cores, she established the age of a 1316-year-old cypress from Dulan County in Qinghai province, as well as the age of a 2332-year-old cypress from the Delingha region in Qinghai. Wang Shuzhi also introduced her research on wood and charcoal from 48 different archaeological sites; her research shows that during the Longshan period, the climate was fairly warm and damp, though each site had its own individual climate patterns; in addition, she showed that the climate during the early Erlitou period was more congenial to human settlement than during the later period.
Wang Minghui then introduced Mr. Andrew to the present conditions and main research content of the Chinese field of physical anthropology, and briefly presented on his own achievements in recent years. Wang Minghui and Mr. Andrew also discussed the latter's interest in research on the human remains from the Lajia site, ancient techniques of skull surgery, and the practice of manually reshaping the skull; they also discussed plans for an upcoming archaeological DNA laboratory.
Liu Yu presented on the casting techniques of Shang dynasty bronze-ware, particularly the complicated art of distinguishing between various patterns, and conducted a brief comparison of Shang dynasty bronze-ware and the craftsmanship of Erlitou bronze-ware. Liu Yu also introduced several newly discovered early pieces of bronze-ware, focusing particularly on the significance of the gear-shaped arsenic copper items excavated from the Taosi site to our understanding of China's early metal-working techniques.
Wang Hui demonstrated to Mr. Andrew the marked changes that have occurred in the configuration of the rivers in the Central Plains region since the New Epoch. These types of changes are key to understanding the myth of "The Great Flood," as well as the displacement of settlement centers. He also asserted that when the cultures of different regions face environmental challenges, the end result is not necessarily utter failure: research shows that some ancient societies succeeded in dealing with the effects of sudden environmental disasters. He emphasized the idea that discrepancies in forms of environmental impact and the diversity of human-populated regions should be a focal point in research efforts.
As an American reporter, Mr. Andrew was also interested in the personal history and research experiences of some of the research workers. He was extremely interested in Zhao Zhijun's experiences while studying in the U.S. for ten years, and asked several questions related to this topic; he also discussed the particular characteristics of the academic atmosphere, the costs of scientific research, research ideologies, and various other aspects of academic culture in the U.S. and China. Zhao Zhijun sincerely answered the sensitive questions that the reporter posed, discussed his feelings and realizations after he returned to China; along with his experiences in scientific research over the past ten years, he also spoke of China's national power, economic strength, and the dynamic changes in, and developing situation of support for academic archaeological research.
Due to the fact that the personnel responsible for the remote sensory, prospecting and carbon-dating equipment weren't on site, the latter did not participate in the interview process.
The interview continued for the entire day. Through interviews and discussion, Mr. Andrew obtained a full understanding of the present conditions of the archaeological field in China and the research capabilities of the Institute of Archaeology. Mr. Andrew opined that, among similar institutes, the Scientific and Archaeological Center of the IA CASS involved itself with the broadest range of scientific and archaeological disciplines and produced the most diverse research results, thus providing it with the fundamental prerequisites for becoming a global organization. This interview represents the first time that the Scientific and Archaeological Center had introduced its own research achievements to the foreign mainstream media in entirety; for the most part, the staff used English to present on their research, indicating that they've gradually begun to possess the linguistic ability to exchange information with foreign colleagues and others with an interest in archaeological research: this is a basic skill required for the Chinese archaeological field to go global. The staff of the Scientific Center universally believe that, through this interview, they inevitably enhanced European and American media as well as the general public's understanding of China's archaeological field, strongly promoting the gradual globalization of Chinese archaeology.
Drafted by Wang Minghui
Translated by Carissa Fletcher