My Life as an Archaeologist

Article excerpt

My life as an archaeologist

WHEN I entered Beijing University in 1973 to study archaeology, a whole new world opened up for me. I received a rigorous training in how to excavate and carry out archaeological surveys. Our teachers taught us not only how to unearth specific parts of ancient ruins but also principles of excavation work on large archaeological sites. As fieldwork I took part in the excavation of the Qin Dynasty E-fang Palace Ruins in Shanxi, of Stone Age ruins at Hong Hua Tao in the middle reaches of the Yangtse River, and worked on the site of the ancient capital of Qi City State of the Spring and Autumn period in Linzi, Shandong Province. Looking back now, I realize that these ruins where we beginners were allowed to work were not of the greatest importance, and yet working on a real archaeological site gave me practical experience and awakened in me a deep interest in my studies.

Apart from fieldwork, we also studied classical Chinese, ancient Chinese characters, the ancient history of China, major archaeological themes from each period of Chinese history, photography, cartography, the history of ancient architecture, the history of the different nationalities, philosophy and political science.

When I graduated in 1976, I was assigned to work in the Science and Technology Research Institute for Relics Protection affiliated to the State Relics Administration Bureau. The Institute is chiefly concerned with the conservation of all kinds of historical remains using modern technology, and the preservation and maintenance of ancient monuments. Along with some other staff members I was given the job of launching a brand-new subject: seismological archaeology. (First of all, we archaeologists working along the Yangtse River provided hydrological data relating to the last 2,000 years as reference material for the construction of hydrological projects. We thus opened up another new branch of science, hydrological archaeology).

In 1976, an earthquake in Hebei Province literally flattened the city of Tangsham. Hundreds of thousands of people were injured or lost their lives, and the after-shocks threatened the safety of Beijing and another greaty city, Tianjin. What were the possibilities that Beijing would be devastated by an earthquake in the very near future? This was a question of nationwide concern.

Research into earthquakes must be based on an examination of the earliest possible historical documents. In this respect China is fortunate because all over the country there are documents and steles from ancient times bearing records of seismic activities. Together with the many ancient monuments which have survived earthquakes, these were valuable materials for us to study. The varying degrees of damage sustained by ancient monuments in different parts of Tangshan due to differences in the magnitudes of the earthquakes provided evidence which we were able to process scientifically. Seismological archaeology had begun.

Between 1976 and 1979, my colleagues and I travelled extensively in disaster-hit Tanghshan, on both sides of the Great Wall in northern China, in Beijing and Tianjin, and completed our research. The results of our efforts were compiled in a book entitled "Seismic Archaeology in Beijing" which has won wide acclaim from our fellow professionals. From this experience I learned about the many-sidedness of archaeology and its close links with other branches of science.

In 1979 I took a graduate course in the history of the Yuan Dynasty at the Academy of Social Sciences. This opened a new page in my archaeological career and ended my work in seismic archaeology. …