Global Times: Scholars call for interdisciplinary collaboration for research into origins of Chinese civilization

CHENGDU, China, June 12, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Chinese scholars and experts in the field of archaeology are calling for more interdisciplinary collaborative efforts to strengthen research into the origins of Chinese civilization as they gathered over the weekend in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province to celebrate China’s National Cultural and Natural Heritage Day which fell on Saturday.

Aside from the events held in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, and the host city of the day, over 7,200 cultural events were held across the country to mark the day that focuses on cherishing cultural heritage and strengthening cultural self-confidence. 

Chen Xingcan, head of the Institute of Archaeology of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has unveiled that the age of the Sanxingdui archaeological site in Sichuan has been narrowed down after more than 200 carbon samples were collected and studied. 

The radiocarbon dating data suggests that burials at the site took place roughly around the end of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600BC-1046BC) and the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-256BC), Chen said, noting there is a high probability that these events took place between 1120BC and 1016BC. 

The Sanxingdui Museum, located in Chengdu’s neighboring Guanghan, will temporarily close from June 20 to prepare exhibitions for the new museum, which is scheduled to be inaugurated on July 28 when Chengdu hosts the Summer Universiade. 

Scientific inspirations

Su Bomin, director of the Dunhuang Research Institute, said microbial infections, salt damage, and aging of applied protective materials are threatening the conservation of tomb murals.

After conducting research on Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220) tombs in Dahuting, Central China’s Henan Province and two mausoleums from the Later Tang Dynasty (923-936) in East China’s Jiangsu Province, the institute has developed irradiation and air sterilization devices as well as mural protection materials with self-sterilization capabilities to cope with threats and damage. 

He also noted that the institute is developing hybrid composite reinforcement materials for ground layers as well as materials for rapid solidification, and reinforcement of pigment layers for murals in damp conditions.

Ancient proteomics technology has been used to study the diets of prehistoric populations, as was the case for studies of the ancient populations living on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, said Professor Lü Hongliang with the Center for Archaeological Sciences of Sichuan University. 

“Protein evidence extracted from dental calculus indicates that the consumption of dairy products was an important cultural adaptation,” Lü said. 

“This provides a new perspective for understanding the mechanisms of high-altitude adaptation, the relationship between prehistoric humans and their environment, as well as social development.”

The importance of underwater archaeology was also underlined at the event. 

“Due to the lack of exploration methods, deep-sea archaeology is still in its infancy, with vast unexplored deep-sea regions and numerous potential underwater cultural relics awaiting discovery,” said Xu Gaofei, an engineer with the Institute of Deep-Sea Science and Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Xu’s team has developed specialized Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) for deep-sea archaeology with the aim to develop a detection device capable of operating at depths of up to 1,000 meters, serving deep-sea archaeological exploration.

Additionally, the team has conducted research on key technologies such as autonomous identification of underwater cultural targets, enhancing the level of intelligence in underwater archaeological operations.

Digitalization efforts

The digitalization of cultural relics remains an issue that deserves continuous exploration, especially for fragile artifacts such as ancient paper, which digitalization is vital to ensure their survival.

Chen Gang, a professor with the Department of Cultural Heritage and Museology, Fudan University, said his team has developed a specimen library and database for paper-based relics. 

“Equipment such as ultra-high-resolution microscopic observation systems have been developed, which has raised the level of recognition technology for paper-based cultural relics,” he said. 

Li Li, vice chief of the China Academy of Cultural Heritage, said a visualization management platform for grotto temples has been constructed using three-dimensional laser scanning technology that can help monitor the conditions inside grotto temples.

Wan Liang, a professor with the Faculty of Intelligence and Computing, Tianjin University, has established a platform using cutting-edge blockchain technology to ensure the vitality of digital cultural heritage.

“Digital representations of immovable cultural relics such as cave murals, and movable cultural relics like bronze artifacts can ensure their longevity online,” Wan told the Global Times. 

By using blockchain, the platform enables real-time tracking and tracing of online data usage and provides copyright identification for offline data, she noted, effectively addressing the question of who used what data and when.

Based on these technical solutions, the project has integrated software and hardware platforms and technologies into the digital asset management platforms of the Dunhuang Academy and Hunan Museum.

The scholars have high esteem for their campaigns, as they believe what they are doing is not a one-time effort. 

“The work is extremely important and cannot be completed in just three or five years. The results we have achieved so far are not achieved by the efforts made in just the past two or three years, they are the culmination of over 100 years of Chinese archaeology, focused mainly on the study of the origins of Chinese civilization,” said Chen Xingcan. 

“It is difficult to imagine that we could solve significant problems within three to five years, or even within two decades. I believe this is a long-term issue that will require continued funding in the future. Even if we do not receive funding, we will still need to pursue research.”