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Translation - English Excavations at the site of Dalaidian, Hebi City, Henan: Archaeology Separated by More Than Half a Century
Journalist: Du Jiefang
Figure 1: A Western Zhou Dynasty grave
Figure 2: Animal bones used as grave goods
Figure 3: A bronze dagger-axe and arrowhead buried as grave goods
We hadn't gone very far from Hebi urban district in Henan province when the vehicle stopped. After looking around, I discovered that we were in a sparsely populated village. When a stone stele entered our view, we knew that we had reached the western edge of the archaeological site at Dalaidian. If it is said that, "the hidden gems of the court are large, the hidden gems of the town are medium, and the hidden gems of the fields are small," then Dalaidian can be regarded as a "medium gem". In the shadows of Hebi's high-rise buildings, the fact that it has been preserved seems remarkable. Dalaidian was discovered as early as 1932, when archaeology was only recently come to China. Because it is a prehistoric archaeological site discovered during the early period of archaeology in China, with strata belonging to the Yangshao, Longshan, Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou cultures, Dalaidian initially received a lot of attention in archaeological circles. Moreover, in the eyes of many archaeologists, it has further significance in the fact that it was one of the first Chinese-led excavations – Dalaidian is a milestone in archaeological history.
One of China's Earliest Archaeological Excavation Projects
At the beginning of the 20th century, after archaeology was imported to China, the Institute of History and Philology of the Academia Sinica carried out China's earliest archaeological work in the north of Henan province. This included the 1932 excavations of Dalaidian by Yin Da. During this time, archaeologists excavated 36 test trenches, with a total excavated area of 230m2.The artefacts found included stone implements (knives, axes and shovels), ceramic items (vases, plates, jars, basins, bowls and loom-weights), bone artefacts (needles and awls), shell items (knives, shovels and sickles), as well as artefacts with no clear application that were made from horn. It is worth mentioning that excavated ceramics included the coloured pottery of the Yangshao Culture, as well as blackware from the Longshan Culture and greyware of the Shang Dynasty. The Yangshao and Longshan cultures formed before the Xia Dynasty had even appeared, several thousand years ago. The discovery of Dalaidian, consequently, was undoubtedly of considerable importance to research on these two cultures. However, as the conditions at the time were difficult, the first excavations were not carried out on a large scale and the remains excavated were extremely limited. As a result, many questions are yet to be resolved.
Re-excavated after More Than Half a Century
After the test trenches were filled, the site at Dalaidian slept silently for more than half a century. In 2009, the National Museum, Palace Museum and Henan Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute formed a joint archaeological team. They first conducted a systematic regional survey of the Qi river basin. After a superficial examination of the Guandaogou section at Dalaidian, the site welcomed its second archaeological excavations.
Archaeological research has shown that Dalaidian forms a typical high terrace, approximately 4-6m high. Within the 121.5m2 exploration area, archaeologists discovered 116 ash pits, 24 pounded earth mounds associated with houses, 9 graves and 3 areas of human activity.
On the basis of the distribution of surface relics and cross-sections, the extent of the site - roughly 300,000m2 - is far greater than the extent determined by the 1932 excavations. When combined with the results of the survey conducted on the Qi river basin, archaeologists have suggested that Dalaidian was a large-scale central settlement, particularly during the periods of the Longshan Culture, Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynasty.
A Relatively High-Level Central Settlement
According to Dr. Guo Mingjian from the National Museum, the Western Zhou was one of two most prosperous periods for Dalaidian. The majority of remains excavated this time have been storage pits from the middle Western Zhou and graves from the middle to late Western Zhou.
The ash pits from the middle Western Zhou are standardised circular pits or pouch-shaped pits. Some pits still have structural remains of wooden boards inside - their function was probably to store grain or other items. A lot of deer antlers, bone tools and shell items were excavated from these pits, as well as a large number of grinding stones and bronze scraping implements. Guo Mingjian says that, "they have something to do with manufacturing bone tools."
During these excavations, 8 graves from the middle to late Western Zhou period were discovered. "There are certain differences between the specifications and grave goods of these burials, but overall they are similar: the grave pit is generally quite deep; they have one outer and one inner coffin; the grave goods are mainly one jar and one gui vessel; and there is generally cowrie money in all burials. Of course, each grave has its own characteristics. For instance, the bronze dagger-axe and arrowhead in M2, the large number of crania in M3, the bone artefacts in M8 and the sacrificial burial alongside M4 - the bones were disarticulated, so the individual possibly died by dismemberment or was attacked. These aspects illustrate that the positions and professions of each grave's main occupant were all different," says Guo Mingjian. In addition, these graves generally have a strong scent of the Shang, as the floors of the graves all have pits near to waist of the occupant. There are sacrificial dog bones in these pits, as well as the grave fill. Archaeologists surmise that the people in these graves may have been Shang migrants during the period of the Western Zhou.
In addition, oracle bones, primitive porcelain, bronze slag and excrement have been found in the Western Zhou ash pits. Archaeologists surmise that, "their excavation illustrates that Dalaidian was a relatively high-level central settlement during the Western Zhou."
The period of the Longshan Culture is the other period when the remains at Dalaidian become quite abundant. The excavations exposed a house and ash pits from this period. Combined with the work done on the eastern Guandaogou section in 2011, archaeologists believe that the results of this excavation show that Dalaidian was a large-scale central settlement during the Longshan period. During the 1932 excavations, Yin Da found 9 houses, indicated by white ash on the surface, in the Guandaogou section - they excavated two of these. In 2011, archaeologists explored the Guandaogou section again, discovering 60 ash pits and 10 areas of pounded earth mounds that are thought to be related to houses. Guo Mingjian says that, "according to the clues we currently have, these houses and pounded earth belong to the Longshan period."
Not only that but the architectural remains at Dalaidian also verify that it was not just any kind of settlement. "These houses come in many different types: many are built at ground-level, but there are also some that are built below ground-level; there are circular houses, but also square houses; there are some with white ash on the floors and also some with hard earth or burnt earth floors. Moreover, the workmanship of many of these houses is exquisite. Many of the house floors and postholes underwent careful processing. Some of them may have used children to lay the foundations. These houses are at different levels in the site, showing that the site was in use across a long time. On these different levels, aside from the houses, there are some areas where the hard earth used for outdoor activities survives." Guo Mingjian explains.
The Key is How to Preserve This
Because of the particular archaeological significance of Dalaidian, the government of Hebi City has been actively researching a protection plan to better protect it. To this end, they joined up with the Chinese Heritage Society to invite experts on cultural relics to participate in a discussion forum called "Protecting the Ruins at Dalaidian". At the forum, experts and scholars reached a consensus. They believe that, as there are many excavated artefacts and remains from Dalaidian and the cultural layers are very thick, the site possesses great archaeological significance. Consequently, a protection plan must be formulated for Dalaidian as quickly as possible. This should actively utilise the experiences of outside archaeologists, but not copy them. The plan should be incorporated into the construction plan for the entirety of Hebi City and its countryside, in order to accurately manage the relationship between site protection and town development - making ancient culture and modern development more harmonious. Archaeologists must sufficiently excavate the value of sites and re-evaluate the content of displays, on the basis of evidence - this will exhibit the superiority they can achieve.
(Photos provided by the archaeological team at Dalaidian)
Years of translation experience: 7. Registered at ProZ.com: Apr 2015.