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Huge ancient porcelain pit discovered
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-09-01 05:56

About 1 million scraps of broken porcelain, some of which may be up to 800 years old, were unearthed recently from an enormous pit in downtown Beijing, the Beijing Municipal Cultural Heritage Bureau announced yesterday.

However, the discovery has raised some puzzling questions for archaeologists, such as the origins of the pit itself and the long-lost techniques used in making the porcelain, according to the Beijing Academy of Cultural Heritage Studies.

"It is very rare that a single pit contains so many different types of porcelain, and that the pieces seem to have come from at least seven ancient kilns, such as the famous Jingdezhen, Junyao and Dehua Kilns," said Zhu Zhigang, the academy researcher who led the excavation.

Yu Ping, an expert in porcelain studies, said most pieces in the pit were made during the early and middle period of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Some are said to date back as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368).

"Their glaze and painted patterns are very delicate and vary quite a lot, which provides a lot of material for research," said Yu, who is also the deputy director of the cultural heritage bureau.

Standing in front of more than 1,000 boxes piled high containing the excavated scraps, she added: "To reassemble a complete porcelain set from the numerous scraps will be very hard. We need much more investigation and study to solve these puzzles, especially how the pit came into being."

According to Zhu, the "treasure bowl" 7.8 metres long, 5 metres wide and 4.3 metres deep was found in late July during a construction project in Maojiawan, located in the northwest corner of the imperial city of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

"The discovery of the pit also provides us with important clues on the evolution of ancient Beijing," Zhu said. Zhu, who also took part in archaeological excavations at several Olympic construction venues, said more than 1,000 sets of priceless relics including earthenware, goldware, porcelain and jadeware have also been unearthed there.

According to the Law on Cultural Relics Protection, archaeological investigation and excavation must be done before a major construction project is carried out.

"We have undertaken excavation at eight Olympic venues, including the Wukesong Cultural and Sports Centre, the Olympic Village and the National Stadium," Zhu said.

"The total excavation area is more than 1.1 million square metres, and we have unearthed more than 450 ancient graves so far, dating from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) all the way back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24)."

Mei Ninghua, director of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Heritage Bureau, said that as massive construction projects are being carried out around the 3,000-year-old city, archaeological workers will have unprecedented opportunities for additional finds, but also face challenges salvaging the relics.

"It is very encouraging that the construction sector can team up with the cultural heritage protection departments to preserve ancient treasures," Mei said. "These are the common wealth of all human beings."

(China Daily 09/01/2005 page2)

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