Head of excavation project discusses China's archaeological teams working abroad

Updated 2017-04-06 10:30:42 Global Times

Remains of the Mingtepa workshops


Two excavators work to unearth a city wall at the Mingtepa site in Uzbekistan.


Pottery jar discovered at the Mingtepa site

In the southeastern part of the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan - once the site of the ancient kingdom known in Chinese as Dayuan - Chinese and Uzbekistan archaeologists are busily working together to dig up the secrets hidden beneath the ruins of the ancient city of Mingtepa.

Over the past five years, the joint archaeological team has made a number of major discoveries, including the discovery of the outer-city walls and the remains of the inner city's road system and workshops. These discoveries have revealed that “Mingtepa was not simply a provisional garrison fort for nomads, but a fully functional castle, the largest in the Ferghana Valley” over 2,000 years ago, according to a Xinhua News Agency report on January 10.

Although this is not China's only joint archaeological excavation project being carried out overseas, the project, started in 2012, is the first overseas joint excavation project led by national-level institutions.

Establishing a bond

“Many people asked me if this project was started due to the 'Belt and Road' initiative. The answer is 'no,'” Zhu Yanshi, director of the Department of Han to Tang Studies at the Institute of Archaeology under the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the project's Chinese team leader, told the Global Times on March 24. “It's just a coincidence.”

According to Zhu, exploration of historical sites along the ancient Silk Road has always been a major focus for Chinese archaeology. The Mingtepa project in particular got its start in 2010 when Wang Wei, former head of the CASS Institute of Archaeology, brought up the subject of the ancient city during a trip to the Archaeology Institute under the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan. This was three years before Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed the “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013. The two institutes signed an official agreement in 2011 and began excavation efforts the very next year.

Though the Mingtepa project wasn't initiated as part of the “Belt and Road” initiative, the Chinese government regards the project as the perfect example of how Chinese archaeology is now playing “an increasingly important role in China's cultural diplomacy,” Zhu noted.

Apart from the Mingtepa project, an increasing number of archaeological teams from China have been participating in joint excavation projects overseas over the past decade. These projects range from a dig in Copán, a Mayan archaeological site in western Honduras, to the Precinct of Montu, a part of the ruins of the Karnak temple complex in southern Egypt, and key sites at Sarnath in northeast India, the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon.

Zhu explained that this trend is the result of China's increasing economic strength and the country's archeological circle's growing interest in conducting exchanges with their foreign counterparts.

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