Recasting the past

By Wang Kaihao | China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-29 07:35
A turquoise-inlaid bronze plate with an animal mask pattern, which was unearthed from Erlitou site in 1984. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Modern technology and 60 years of historical analysis are shining fresh light on the earliest central dynasty of China, Wang Kaihao reports in Luoyang, Henan province.

Just as the ancient city of Troy is to Western civilization, the Xia Dynasty (c. 21st century-16th century BC), the first central dynasty in recorded Chinese history, is the stuff of legend in China.

Generations of archaeologists have attempted to prove its existence as more than a mere myth through a succession of excavations across the Central China Plain-a region generally regarded as the cradle of Chinese civilization.

But thanks to carbon dating at the ruins of the ancient capital that existed from 1750 to 1520 BC discovered at Erlitou in Luoyang, Henan province, fresh light is being cast on many of the puzzles archaeologists have struggled to solve over the years.

On Oct 20, the 164,000-square-meter Erlitou Relic Museum of the Xia Capital, which took 600 million yuan ($85 million) and 30 months to construct, opened to the public alongside a 700,000-square-meter archaeological ruins park.

They were welcomed by a large crowd of curious visitors eager to catch a glimpse of "earliest China", a term coined by Xu Hong, a researcher with the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in his books.

As the head of archaeological projects on the site since 1999, Xu has taken on the role of host at Erlitou. He also organized an international academic symposium at the museum to mark its opening. However, Xu's views don't necessarily follow the norms of academia, and he still does not fully agree with the name chosen for the new museum.

"Erlitou marks the earliest central kingdom in a vast territory within East Asia," Xu says. "But we have to retain a scientific approach. It's still premature to link the findings of the past 60 years, however significant, to a certain dynasty appearing in ancient historical documents."

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