OXFORD.- The Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology, Art and Culture, based in Oxford University’s School of Archaeology, has received its first major research award since its launch in October last year. The Leverhulme Trust has awarded a grant of almost half a million pounds for the research project ‘China and Inner Asia (1,000-200 BC): Interactions that changed China’.
The project, led by Dame Jessica Rawson, Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, will look at how the early Chinese societies made use of different foreign materials and technologies. Researchers will track how the Chinese, with their highly organised, relatively dense population, were able to react fast and on a large scale.
Bright red carnelian beads found in tombs of the early Chinese states (circa 850-650BC) are telling signs of major interactions between the Chinese elite of the day and the peoples further west in present-day Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Siberia. Nearest comparisons are fine beads found in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East in tombs of the third and second millennium BC.
Carnelian beads are not the only materials that the Chinese borrowed and then copied and developed in their own contexts. Faience beads, typical of Western Asia and not China, have been found in Chinese tombs alongside the carnelian and a new fashion for gold developed at the same time.
The project will focus on the continuous interactions between the highly populated Yellow River basin and the more marginal areas to the north and west of China. These sparsely inhabited areas were essential bridges between the early Chinese and the metal-rich Altai and Ural Mountains.
Extravagant use of bronze for casting food and wine vessels, the hundreds of chariots surviving in tombs and large scale iron foundries demonstrate the power of the Chinese to exploit innovation.
Professor Rawson said: ‘An understanding of these factors will enable a fuller appreciation of the ways in which China’s physical environment and geographical position have in the past affected and will continue today to affect, not only its technological, but also its social development.’
The research team, led by Professor Rawson, will follow the trail taken thousands of years ago to see how materials and technologies reached the Yellow River across the steppes and deserts of Eurasia. The Oxford team, together with researchers from the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, will examine exciting recent finds housed in provincial museums and at archaeological sites in China, Iraq, Iran and Central Asia as well as in the British Museum, London, to establish what the Chinese have borrowed and how they refashioned what they had gained from their Asian and Middle Eastern neighbours.