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Archaeologists urged to step up cooperation

By WANG KAIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-13 08:38
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An international forum opened at the Palace Museum in Beijing, also known as the Forbidden City, on Tuesday to call for closer global cooperation of archaeology in the face of challenges brought about by COVID-19.

The Taihe Forum-named after Taihe Dian (the Hall of Supreme Harmony), the highest-level former imperial architecture in the Forbidden City-was launched in 2016 to highlight the values of ancient civilizations and their inspiration for today's development. The two-day fifth edition of the forum has the theme "civilization exchange and mutual learning from the perspective of archaeology".

Dozens of top archaeologists have gathered for the forum, co-organized by the museum and the Forbidden City Cultural Heritage Conservation Foundation. Scholars from 10 countries including Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Vietnam, also joined the forum via video link.

"Upholding equality and respect, we should work together to explore in greater depth the origins and development of civilizations, as well as their exchange and cooperation," Wang Xudong, director of the Palace Museum, said at the forum.

In a prerecorded speech for the forum, Shahbaz Khan, director of UNESCO's Beijing office, said, "As new forms of intolerance, rejection and distress are gaining momentum in many parts of the world, more than ever before, we need a dialogue between civilizations to safeguard culture and heritage."

He said he expected those at the forum to contribute to building consensus on the conservation of archaeological heritage and preservation of cultural diversity.

This year marks the centenary of the discovery of the Yangshao site, dating back over 5,000 years, in Henan province. That milestone excavation in 1921, led by Swedish scholar Johan Gunnar Andersson, is generally seen as the beginning of modern archaeology of China.

"Modern archaeology was introduced to China from abroad, and Chinese archaeologists have gained many experiences and research methodologies in the following decades through cross-border communication," Wang Wei, president of the Archaeological Society of China, said at the forum.

"And Chinese scholars also contributed many new ideas to the world's archaeology by actively participating in such cooperation."

According to the National Cultural Heritage Administration, from 2016 to 2019, Chinese archaeologists joined 36 cross-border research programs in 21 foreign countries, ranging from projects on ancient Egyptian and Mayan civilizations to those in neighboring countries and West Asia that were highly inspirational for studies on Silk Road and Sino-foreign communication throughout history.

"Archaeology becomes an impetus to promote exchange in the humanities, and the mutual trust among those academics also brings people-to-people connectivity," said Hu Bing, deputy director of the administration.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made cross-border physical contact difficult for archaeologists. Hu said that made the Taihe Forum a precious platform in the context of the pandemic for international archaeologists to have academic exchanges and share their most recent studies. He said such studies can offer references for cross-cultural dialogue today.

For example, Wang Wei pointed out that cultural communication across the Eurasian grassland started long before trade via the Silk Road began around 2,000 years ago. He said archaeological evidence showed metallurgical technology and the raising of cattle came to China from West Asia about 5,000 years ago, and the growing of millet, a key part of agriculture, spread westward from China during roughly the same period.

"Many early-stage civilizations went through a long period of time when development was relatively slow," Wang Wei said. "However, their development often leapt when absorbing cultural elements from others. In China, for example, a brilliant bronze civilization soon boomed after metallurgy was ushered in.

"So communication has played a key role in the prosperity of civilizations."

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