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Shaanxi Archaeology Museum displays Chinese civilization

LU HANG | 2022-05-12 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

The restoration of cultural relics displayed in the Shaanxi Archaeology Museum in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, April 29 Photo: CFP 

The Shaanxi Archaeology Museum opened to the public on a trial basis on April 28. This is a new move and progress for Shaanxi, a major province for cultural relics, to make cultural relics “alive” and carry forward the refined traditional Chinese culture. 
Archeological museums 
In recent years, a batch of specialized archaeological museums have emerged, such as the Chinese Archaeological Museum at the Chinese Academy of History, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University, and the Archaeological Museum in Luoyang. Such museums are complementary to museums of history and museums of sites, with advanced design concepts and innovative new museum formats that combine scientific research with exhibition. They display authentic ancient human relics, interpret the methods and process for exploring ancient civilizations, and improve the public’s archaeological awareness and knowledge. 
The permanent exhibition at the Shaanxi Archaeology Museum is a basic display of Shaanxi archaeological history, which is divided into four sections: archaeological process, cultural pedigree, archaeological discovery, and the preservation technology of cultural relics. Involving 138 projects and displaying 4,218 groups of a total of 5,215 cultural relics, the museum mirrors the history and future of Chinese archaeology with the occurrence and development of Shaanxi archaeology. 
According to Sun Zhouyong, president of the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology and curator of the Shaanxi Archaeology Museum, over the years, the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology has organized and carried out thousands of archaeological excavation projects of different scales, including prehistoric sites such as the Longyadong Cave site in Luonan County, the Lijiacun site in Xixiang County, the Longgangsi site in Nanzheng, Hanzhong City, and the Kangjia site in Lintong, Xi’an City. Meanwhile, projects have involved historical sites such as the Zhouyuan site in Fufeng County, the site of the Qin State capital Yongcheng in Fengxiang County, the Qin State and Qin Dynasty (221–207 BCE) capital site of Xianyang in Xianyang City, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in Xi’an, the Qindong Mausoleum in Xi’an, and the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220) Yangling Mausoleum of Emperor Jingdi in Xianyang. More than 180,000 pieces (sets) of cultural relics have been unearthed, including gold and silver ware, bronzeware, jadeware, silk cloth, etc. 
As a large-scale historical archaeology museum, the Chinese Archaeological Museum is the first museum named after archaeology in China, whose exhibits are primarily archaeological excavations along with precious ancient books and archival documents. Threaded by the disciplinary development of archaeology, the Chinese Archaeological Museum features a “stockroom-style display and immersive experiences” and displays the process, techniques and methods, research ideas, and achievements of archaeological work, condensing the historical formation and development of Chinese civilization and a unified multi-ethnic country spanning over 5,000 years. 
The difference between archaeological museums, general history museums, and site museums lies in that their exhibits are unearthed and discovered by archeologists instead of collected objects. Using the disciplinary logic of archaeology and the language of museums, archeological museums rest on China’s archaeological achievements and draw a “genetic map” of Chinese civilization featuring pluralistic integration and inclusiveness. 
Exhibition areas 
While showing the birth of Chinese archaeology, the “archaeological process” section of the Shaanxi Archaeology Museum highlights the beginning of Shaanxi archaeology, namely, the Doujitai site in Baoji City in the 1930s, as well as the consequent mature Chinese archaeological typology. The section systematically arranges Shaanxi archaeological projects and achievements since the PRC’s founding in 1949. This includes the work at famous historical sites such as the Banpo site, the Zhouyuan bronzeware in cellar storage, and the terracotta warriors and horses pits in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. 
According to different time ranges, the “cultural pedigree” section shows the cultural pedigree of archaeology within Shaanxi Province in chronological order. The cultural characteristics and representative remains are arranged in order, from the origin of homo sapiens and the exchange and migration of hominids, to the distribution range, cultural characteristics, and representative sites of various archeological cultural types in the Yangshao era (c. 5000 BP), Longshan era (c. 4000 BP), and the Xia (c. 21th–16th century BCE) and Shang (c. 16th–11th century BCE) dynasties, and to the division of pre-Zhou cultural types before the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 16th century–771 BCE). 
The “archaeological discovery” section introduces archaeological discoveries in Shaanxi in different periods in chronological order, including the Lantian Man, the Banpo site, the Zhouyuan site in Baoji, terracotta warriors and horses in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, the Famen Temple, the Han Dynasty Yangling Mausoleum, and others. In addition, it presents nearly 30 archaeological sites that have been ranked among the annual “China’s Top 10 New Archaeological Discoveries” since 1990, including the Shimao site in Shenmu County, the Lushanmao site in Yan’an City, the Yangguanzhai site in Gaoling County, the Zhougongmiao site in Baoji, and mausoleums of the Han and Tang (618–907) dynasties. 
The display area for “cultural relics preservation technology” shows the substantial progress of scientific and technological archaeology in cultural relic protection from seven units—the development stage of Shaanxi cultural relics protection, the protection and restoration of ceramics and crafting technology studies, the protection and restoration of bronzeware and scientific research, microscopic excavation in laboratories, mural protection, restoration and research, the protection and restoration of textile cultural relics unearthed in the Famen Temple, and the protection and restoration research of northern lacquerware. 
According to Chen Xingcan, a Member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and director of the Institute of Archaeology at CASS, archaeological museums rely on archaeological excavation and research institutions, and integrate the functions of scientific excavation–protection and usage–exhibition and interpretation. They take out unearthed relics from warehouses that have gone through field archaeology, scientific survey, and excavation, smoothing the whole chain of archaeological excavations, protection, research, interpretation, display, and transmission. Through each cultural relic and each site, the development of Chinese archaeology is outlined to show Chinese civilization’s overall attribute of pluralistic integration and inclusiveness, building a bridge between the archaeological knowledge system and the public, and enabling the sharing of a century of modern archaeological achievements with the public.