China > Mongolia #worldinterview #4

China > Mongolia

Interviewee: Erdene Myagmar

What is the relationship between politics and archaeology in Mongolia generally?

Government of Mongolia supports archaeology in Mongolia. By the Cultural heritage protection law of Mongolia, historical and cultural heritages in Mongolia are under legal protection of the state. Mongolian government and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science gives the permit for the excavation of archaeological sites.

How does archaeological administration contribute to academic archaeology where you are, and vice versa?

Archaeological expert committee in Mongolia keeps the right to control over the archaeological excavations conducted in the territory of Mongolia.

How does Mongolian Archaeology manages to face its transnational heritage (international collaborations with neighbouring nations, etc)?

Thousands of historical and cultural heritage sites are in the territory of Mongolia and many of them are of transnational interest. Mongolian archaeologists investigate these sites in collaboration with archaeologists from neighbouring nations- Russia and China. We can name many Mongolian-Russian and Mongolian-Chinese archaeological expeditions working on the archaeological sites from different historical periods in different parts of Mongolia for many years successfully. Mongolian archaeologists are also very interested to work on the archaeological sites in the neighbouring countries which are related to the histories of Mongolia’s nomadic people.

How does the peculiar ecological setting (grassland, desert, etc) and the relation between local communities and their land influence archaeological prospection, field archaeology, and the interpretation of archaeological findings?

Natural condition and ecological setting in Mongolia influence differently on the preservation of the archaeological sites.While extreme temperatures in the winter or summer, high seasonal and daily temperature fluctuation, wind and rain impact negatively on the preservation of the archaeological monuments, very dry climate condition in the steppe and desert, and permafrost condition in high mountainous areas facilitate very good preservation of the artefacts, specially from organic materials.

Field archaeology in Mongolia does also depend to some extent on the ecological setting. Because of the severe continental climate and very cold winter condition, archaeological fieldwork is possible only during warm seasons – in May, June, July, August and September. But the interpretation of the archaeological findings would not depend much on the ecological setting in Mongolia. Relation between local communities and their land does not much influence on the archaeological investigation.

About Erdene:

Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, National University of Mongolia.

Research interest: Anthropology of archaeological populations from Mongolia, Skeletal biology, Paleopathology.

Questions from Lia Wei in China.

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Japan > China #worldinterview #3

Japan > China

Interviewee: Lia Wei

What role does ‘world heritage’ play in local communities where you are?

Part of my effort while surveying and researching rock-cut sites in Southwest China was directed at challenging false information and demystifying the identity of the tomb builders, often made to appear more exotic than they probably were, for touristic purposes.

Touristic projects insist on disguising the sites as “barbarian” tombs. The danger of such attempts at the local level of heritage management is evident in the setting of the Qigedong site, where the height from ground of the caves has been enhanced by dangerously digging out the foot of the cliff, then hastily covered in cement, and a “barbarian-style” suspended bridge was added to access the site from the motor road across the river. Following this trend, the press newly disseminates the denomination “caves of the Lao people” (Lao dong僚洞), reflecting the efforts of county level institutions who wish to exoticize their local heritage. Ethnonyms associated with cliff tombs south of the Yangzi  River such as the Bo僰, the Lao僚, or wider families of ethnic groups such as the Pu僕, the Yue越, can all be included in the wider denomination “south-western barbarians”. Such attributions have led to strong claims in the context of nation-building and the writing of national histories in Southeast Asia, as well as in the context of patrimonialisation in the area where I conducted fieldwork.

Please share a strategy that you have developed to approach, consult, mitigate, and resolve a challenging issue in your community.

Creative practices in Archaeology are just starting to be investigated, and the 8th edition of the World Archaeological Congress (WAC8) has inaugurated a new section entitled ‘Art and Archaeology’, with several sessions dedicated to cross-fertilization between artistic practice and archaeology.In mainland China, public archaeology is being promoted as an instrument of vulgarization at an institutional level, but private or small scale enterprises that propose alternative narratives for archaeological material are almost nonexistent.

In parallel to my research on cliff burials, a collaboration with cultural geographer and artist Rupert Griffiths entitled “Site_Seal_Gesture” created the opportunity to question research methods, heritage and interpretation. The project departed from the idea of proposing alternative ways of to re-imagine unwanted heritage, or heritage considered “without value”, such as the cliff burials I was investigating south of the Yangzi River. The county-level archaeological administration of Banan district, Chongqing municipality, allowed the experimental replication of a life size rock-cut cave in sandstone. The experiment was set in a protected heritage area featuring a former residence of general Chiang-Kai shek. The archaeological administration agreed to lend us two of the stonemasons then working under their supervision on a restoration project.  The experiment lasted for two weeks and included sound recordings, interviews and two inscriptions were left in situ commenting the replicas. We were able to involve villagers neighbouring the rock-cut sites, migrant workers hired as masons on a local heritage restoration project, the local archaeological administration and future visitors to the heritage park in a piece of work that combined the needs of my research and a reflection on attitudes to the past in Chinese culture.

The study of art history and archaeology, as well as heritage and museum studies are rapidly blooming in Chinese academic institutions today. They face a situation where art academies are the places where theory, critique and the history of art are taught, while departments of history and archaeology have a privileged access to both sites and artefacts stored in museums. Attempts are made to build bridges between schools and departments, and fill the gap between art and archaeology. The idea of fine arts archaeology (meishukaogu 美术考古) is but one of the hybrid offshoot of these attempts. The rise of cultural heritage as a major is another potential disciplinary bridge.

What is the relationship between politics and archaeology in your community?

The archaeology of Chinese frontiers is a growing concern today, with the One Belt, One Road (Yi Dai Yi Lu一带一路) directives implemented by the current government. My research has been awarded by institutions that are traditionally concerned by the question of Chinese frontiers, such as the Chiang-Ching Kuo Foundation. However, it has also received strong logistic and financial support from academic institutions in mainland China that are increasingly committed to the study of frontiers, such as the Archaeology department in Renmin University. Recent research orientations promote transnational collaborations with Mongolian or Kazakh archaeologists for the study of sites located in Inner Mongolia or Xinjiang. The presence of international researchers and students in Chinese academic institutions, albeit in its incipient stage, could also lead to progress in a more multivalent view of frontiers.

Concomitantly to these transnational views, political and academic moods in mainland China are more than ever focused on imagining a future for Chinese national archaeology and national heritage, or the archaeology and cultural heritage of China as a nation. In the field of Historical Archaeology (or the archaeology of periods for which written history is available, which in China goes back to the early first millennium BC), a strengthening of methodologies with ‘Chinese characteristics’ is encouraged. This can be challenging when dealing with frontier areas, which are only partially integrated in historical discourse.

How does the archaeological administration contributes to archaeology as an academic discipline and vice versa in your community?

Much of my work in the field has been to share basic recording methods and techniques of lighting and photography, promote awareness of the cultural value of the sites, and exchange experience of the area and topic with local archaeological administrators. 

County-level and provincial-level archaeological offices or heritage centres are the prime referents when it comes to the middle ground between publications and the actual sites. While provincial-level institutions usually possess a higher level of expertise, and are in charge of excavations, their advice is often insufficient when it comes to rock-art or open-air sites at the local level: such unmovable sites remain accessible only through local guides. Therefore, collaborating with county-level archaeological administration is unavoidable. Each of these local offices has its own practice, its main duty being to compile forms on the sites and monitor changes. Long-term, locally hired members of staff possess an impressive gazetteer-like knowledge of the area: they are familiar with the geography of the area, its ethnography, and collaborate tightly with local villager communities who live next to the sites. Most of them, however, who led the 2nd national-level cultural relics survey back in the late eighties and often personally discovered or first recorded the sites, are now on the verge of retirement. Since data collected during earlier survey is usually not edited or updated, these local officers remain an essential reference, since no further work has been done on previously recorded locations during the 3rd and last national survey. Without an experienced officer available, the main source of data held by any official institution is the 3rd national level cultural relics survey forms, despite the impressive amount of newly discovered material since 2010. The national survey’s format is standard across counties and provinces: it contains GPS coordinates, a discursive description of sites, a map of immediate surroundings with contour lines at a resolution that would not be directly available for researchers otherwise, scaled CAD drawings of the digs or sites, and photographs.

To collaborate with local archaeological administrators, Chinese language remains a prerequisite, as well as establishing relationships with Chinese academic institutions.

About Lia:

I studied Calligraphy, Seal Carving and Landscape Painting at the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, and Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing (2007-2010). I took part in a collaborative experiment in contemporary ink painting – ‘Biface Graphy/Open Scroll’ (2009-2013) and in a China Ministry of Education funded research project on Buddhist epigraphy in Shandong Province – ‘Great Vacuity Buddha-King : Sutra Engravings and Visual Culture under the Northern Dynasties’ (2012-2016).

In 2010, I started my studies in Prehistory, Protohistory and Non-European Art and Archaeology at Brussels Free University, Belgium. After a MA in Religious Arts of Asia at SOAS, University of London, I am now conducting my PhD research on rock-cut burials along the Upper Yangzi River.

In 2014 and 2015, I lectured at the Art Theory department in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing, for a one-term BA class on the ‘History of Sinology : The Study of East Asian Art in the West’, and at the Archaeology department at Renmin University, Beijing, for a two-terms MA class on ‘Comparing Values in Cultural Heritage : Landscape, Identity and Authenticity’. I am currently teaching the MA class ‘Art and Archaeology of the Silk Road’ at SOAS.

My research focuses on rock-cut burials on the Han empire Southwest frontier. Inscriptions date the man-made caves and carvings South of the Yangzi to the end of the Eastern Han empire (late 2nd to 3rd century CE), a moment of transition in political geography and of reconfiguration among cultural identities.

Although technologically related to earlier rock-cut ensembles in the neighbouring Sichuan Plain and along the main course of the Yangzi, in the Three Gorges area, the caves and carvings produced in this frontier region demarcate themselves in terms of their location in the landscape, their layout and iconography.

Survey in the Qi River valley conducted in 2014-2015, which connects the Sichuan Plain and the Guizhou Plateau, is here combined with case study comparisons accross several other Southern tributaries of the Upper Yangzi from Southern Sichuan to Western Hubei. Several of the burial ensembles which had been misattributed to later periods and labelled as non-Han practices, are in fact datable by both epigraphy and iconography to the late 2nd century CE, but they retain their specificity.

My thesis investigates this specific tradition of handling the dead as highly visible statements rooted in local landscapes, opening a window in the thousand years’ long process of culture change in the area.

Questions from Yumiko Nakanishi in Japan

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“Excavating an Archives”… well, at the end of the day




Hello, All. I am happy to participate again in the third annual Day of Archaeology (2011, 2012).  Congratulations and a big THANK YOU to all of the other participants and volunteers!  The past few years have been a wonderful experience – I love seeing what other archaeologists are doing around the globe, as well as sharing my own work.

My name is Molly Swords and I am an historical archaeologist based out of Moscow, Idaho, and employed as a Cultural Resource Specialist III for SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA).  For the last few years, we have been processing on an enormous archaeological collection for the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).  This project has also led to a new partnership with the University of Idaho as I teach both Applied Cultural Resource Management and Issues in Heritage Management classes.

In keeping with my two previous day of archaeology posts- I’ve chosen to document what my day looked like today…

Kali D.V. Oliver and Theodore Charles, graduate students at the University of Idaho

Kali D.V. Oliver and Theodore Charles, graduate students at the University of Idaho

This morning, I had a lovely start to my day. I met two University of Idaho graduate students for an early morning coffee meeting.  We talked about progress on their thesis topics, upcoming conferences where they could present their work, and options to consider as avenues for archaeological publishing.

I dedicated a good portion of my morning and afternoon to editing a couple of technical reports and organizing artifacts for a museum exhibit.  The company that I work for, SWCA is putting together a museum exhibit at the Bonner Country Historical Museum on the Sandpoint Archaeological Project with the support of ITD.  This exhibit is a fantastic way to illustrate this amazing project to the local community and visitors to Sandpoint.  The museum exhibit should be open in mid-August; so, make sure to check it out if you are in the Lake Pend d’Oreille area!

At lunchtime, I decided to call Mary Anne Davis, the Associate State Archaeologist for the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). I wanted to check in with Mary Anne Davis about details for students presenting and the possibility of having a University of Idaho session at the Idaho Heritage Conference (September 25-27). Go Vandals!  This year is Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial (the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s signing of the congressional act creating the Idaho Territory). In celebration of this anniversary, folks and organizations around the state have been hosting events, including a very impressive Idaho Archaeological Month in May, and will continue to observe the sesquicentennial with the first ever Idaho Heritage Conference.  This conference is a partnership between of a number of organizations in Idaho (Idaho Archaeological Society, Idaho Heritage Trust, Idaho Association of Museums, Idaho State Historical Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Idaho), all of which will hold their annual meetings, preservations, training, and field trips together for this conference. Mary Anne and I also discussed having something similar to the Day of Archaeology during Idaho Archaeology Month next year.

AACC Stacks of Reference Resources

AACC Stacks of Reference Resources

AACC Comparative Collection

AACC Comparative Collection











The last part of my day was spent at the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC), housed at the Alfred W. Bower’s Laboratory of Anthropology at the University of Idaho.  I am doing some research on Overseas Chinese for a publication that I am currently writing.  If you do not know about the AACC yet, a volunteer coordinator and one of my archaeological heroes, Dr. Priscilla Wegars, runs it.  The collection houses around 27,500 entries in the database covering artifacts, documents, bibliography, and images.  This collection is such a wealth of information and Priscilla is such a treasure.  I wanted to spend some time going through the stacks of resources, including dissertations, theses, and gray literature, to help me shed more light on the Overseas Chinese in the American West.  In the span of 40 minutes, Priscilla provided me eleven amazing documents.  (Honestly, with Priscilla’s help it took about 10 minutes).  When I told Priscilla that I was going to “blog” about my day of archaeology and ending up at the archives she said that I was “excavating the archives.”

AACC Food Storage Jars, typically referred Ginger Jars

AACC Food Storage Jars, typically referred Ginger Jars

** I have included the link for the Asian American Comparative Collection Foundation at the University of Idaho, they are currently accepting donations in order to keep this world-renowned and heavily utilized collection available in the future**

All in all, it was a lovely Day of Archaeology.  If you want to follow me on twitter- for more archaeological tidbits- I’m anthrogirly.

AACC houses a variety of cultural materials including those from China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands (including Australia and New Zealand)

AACC houses a variety of cultural materials including those from China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands (including Australia and New Zealand)


Here are some links:

People that I would like to thank: SWCA, Mary Anne Davis, Priscilla Wegars, Kali D.V. Oliver, Theodore Charles, Mary Petrich-Guy, Jim Bard, Robert Weaver, and Mark Warner

AACC Alcohol Bottles. I thought I would end this post with a photographic toast!



Who is an Archaeologist?

Who is an archeologist? – This might seem an easy question and in some cases it might be, for example if you work as an archaeologist or if you have a degree in archaeology. Then again there are several trades that deal somewhat with archaeology, for example a guide at museum, an author or an journalist that write about archaeology, that doesn’t require an archaeological degree or that you’ve worked as an archaeologist. Others might have a degree in archaeology but has worked or intended to work as an archaeologist. The last six months I’ve been part of a work group for the Swedish Union DIK ( Link in Swedish) to set down ethical guidelines for archaeology. The work is not done but it’s been interesting to read other ethical guidelines, for example the EAA and the AAA and sit down and discuss ethical issues as well as issues’ concerning what is archaeology and who is an archaeologist.


A New Day

Morning in York. A new day. A day doing archaeology. Not that many would recognise it as archaeology. I’ll be going through a pile of references on engaging young people in archaeology to help complete a report for the CBA. Do most archaeologists spend most of their time digging? No! We spend most of our time reading.

Just read on the BBC News website that some pot sherds from Xianrendong in China have been dated to 20,000 BP. The oldest pottery yet discovered. That puts British Neolithic pots into perspective.

Also just received a nice photo of an Acheulian hand-axe from Prof. Bae in Korea to help illustrate an article I’ve written for the Young Archaeologist magazine. The hand-axes at the Jeongok-ri site are made of quartzite. It’s very hard and tough to knap – I tried when I was out there last month. I have my poor attempt at a my very own hand-axe on my desk as a paperweight.

Accessing Egyptian archaeology through a British Museum exhibition

As an Egyptologist, currently working at the British Museum, I’ve been involved in a number of archaeological digs, but most of my research life has been devoted to trying to make sense of what other people have dug up and trying to share it with a wider audience. And that’s what I’ve been busy doing today.

A lot more ancient material than people might imagine has been found and then relatively ignored in pursuit of new discoveries, and it’s not always shared with as many people as it could be. Part of the work of the curators at the British Museum, whom I have been lucky to join as part of the BM’s Future Curators programme, is trying to make sense of the archaeological legacy that has been left to us. Curators have many different responsibilities, including current fieldwork, but they also persevere in contributing research on the museum’s existing collections, which is made freely available to the public in an online database, online research catalogues, and online journals. Outside researchers are also gladly welcomed to work on the collections; there’s always more that can be learnt from the objects.

Most of what I’ve been working on today relates to a BM UK touring exhibition, Pharaoh: King of Egypt, which I’ve been highly involved in, that opened recently in Newcastle before it tours the country. The exhibition explores the ideals and realities of kingship in ancient Egypt, and, as part of the BM’s Partnership UK programme, allows objects from the national collection to tour to museums outside of London.

I started today with further research into the objects that are currently part of Pharaoh. Exhibitions shed light on objects both literally and figuratively, bringing them out of storage to be shared with thousands of curious people, as well as being an excellent prompt to pursue further research into them. My hands on research, examining the details on objects up close, has sadly already passed, and now I’m chained to the computer and library books, fleshing out the context. Today I finally got round to working on one of my favourite objects from the exhibition, the massive wooden tomb guardian statue from the tomb of Ramses I. It towers at about two metres high and through the conservation work done on it, we learned that it is surprising in its construction as it is made from native Egyptian sycamore wood rather than the imported cedar wood which was usually used for large objects. Making sense of the object also involves tracing its history back to its discovery by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817 and some subsequent misinterpretation in later publications!

Of course, as all archaeologists will understand, my research time didn’t last long, as administration, meetings, and other commitments took over. I worked on our slowly evolving project of making the Pharaoh website a better guide and online catalogue for the exhibition: today we added the exhibition themes to the website, which you can see here. Then we had a debriefing meeting to discuss what we learned during the installation of the exhibition at the Great North Museum: Hancock to help us better prepare for transporting and installing the objects in the subsequent venues around the UK. All sorts of things like scheduling, personnel, improved packing techniques, security, and providing contextual information and images were discussed.

Finally I also exchanged farewells with our visiting curators from Egypt and around the world, who were here for the past 6 weeks as part of the British Museum’s International Training Programme. I led a couple of sessions with the visiting Egyptian curators, as well as attending some of training sessions alongside the ITP participants, and I certainly learned as much from them as I was able to teach. On their last whole day here yesterday, they presented their ideas for future exhibitions based on some of the new approaches they’d learned from colleagues at the BM, partner museums, and each others. It was amazing to see presentations on exhibition concepts like the trade route between China & Europe or Somali wedding traditions, and given in partnerships such as Brazilian and Nigerian curators working together.

One can always learn more, whether from meeting new people or revisiting old objects, and continually asking questions is one of the most important tenets of archaeology.