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Discover Xuwen: the ancient departure port on maritime Silk Road

Updated: 2015-04-09

Archaeological excavations of maritime Silk Road sites

Discover Xuwen: the ancient departure port on maritime Silk Road

The expert group organized by the provincial government conducts field research on the ruins of the Xuwen Port on the maritime Silk Road in Han Dynasty. 

Archaeological findings also confirmed the record in history books. In the early 1960s, workers in the provincial, municipal and county-level heritage sector first found more than two hundred Han tombs. Most tombs are centered in Huafeng Ridge, Nanshan Town and Xuwen and others scattered in nearby port, Erqiao village, Nanshan village and so on. Decades later, more than one hundred tombs were found in Nasi village, Longtang town to the east and Dajing village, Xilian Town to the west, ranging fifty kilometers. The total number of excavated tombs till now has reached more than three hundred. There are a large variety of cultural relics in those tombs including imported goods overseas, such as pottery, ceramic beads, ironware, copper ware, silver and amber beads, agate beads, crystal beads, glass beads etc.. The most representative cultural excavations are those found in Erqiao Village, Nanwan Village and Shiwen Village in Nanshan Town.

In May, 1990, the experts group of the provincial archaeology department found “Wansui ” eaves tiles, which means long live, along the way from Erqiao Village to Shiwei Village, triggering a comprehensive search throughout the region. In February 1992, cirrus Ganoderma pattern eaves tiles were found in the North of Shiwei Village. Approved by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the provincial archaeology department and museums in Zhanjiang city, Maoming City, Gaozhou city, Xuwen County, Suixi County, Lianjiang County, Haikang County and Wuchuan County organized an archaeological team to explore in a large scale in Erqiao Village, Nanwan Village and Shiwei Village for nearly a month in December, 1993. Relics unearthed were mainly potteries, such as kettle, pots, earthen jars, basin, earthen bowls, bowls, lids, bases, ceramic rods, spinning pottery wheel and pottery net sinkers. Building materials unearthed are mainly eaves tiles made by Shengwen, a pottery decoration method, and semicircle-shaped tiles. There were also some Han bricks, eaves tiles and small stone building pieces.

In the ruins, archaeologists also found "Wansui" eaves tiles, turtle like and copper seal nose "Chengu private seal", Geometry seals bricks and inscription bricks with auspicious words such as “Yiguan”, “Dijunbaishi”, “Qumu” and “Tu” spade-shaped coin pattern.

The Han Dynasty ruins in Xuwen County is one of the ten architectural ruins discovered in Guangdong, one of four sites unearthed eaves tiles, and also one of two ruins unearthed “Wansui ” eaves tiles. Judging from the text on eaves tiles, we can not only know the construction time of the building, but also the name and location of the historical cities and palaces. For example, by the unearthed “Wansui” eaves tile in Guangzhou City, we can confirm the location of the palaces of Southern Yue Dynasty. And by the unearthed“Wansui” eaves tiles in Xuwen, we could confirm the location of Xuwen in Han dynasty, which is in the area of Erqiao Village, Nanwan Village and Shiwei Village.

Experts have undertook field visits and study for several times. As their research went further, they were sure that Xuwen is one of the port of origin of the maritime Silk Road in the Han Dynasty. The experts later promoted Xuwen as the port of origin of Marine Silk Road to be included in the research and development projects of Maritime Silk Road.

The discovery of the Han Dynasty ruins in Xuwen aroused widespread concern in academic circles. In June 2000, commissioned by the Advisory Office, Cultural Center and the Pearl River Culture Study Association of Guangdong provincial government, Huang Weizong, professor of Zhongshan University, led many famous literary historian, geographers, oceanographers, linguists, cultural experts, writers and reporter organized as the investigation group of the maritime Silk Road, to conduct research in Zhanjiang, Xuwen and Leizhou. The Panel visited Erqiao, Nanwan, Sandun and Huafeng Ridge to study the location and relics of Han Dynasty as well as the Han tomb group, and learned a lot of valuable and detailed information from the original written text.

In the symposium of the investigation group, experts in Xuwen studied some important cultural relics data about many living sites of Han Dynasty and “Wansui” eaves tiles and “Chengu private seal” found in Erqiao and Nanwan accumulated by the provincial Institute of Archaeology and other local cultural heritage workers for over ten years. With real relics as evidence, the group confirmed that today’s Xuwen is the Xuwen in Han Dynasty, and the Xuwen Port in Han——Taowang Port is today’s harbor near Erqiao Village, Shiwei Village and Nanwan Village.

Professor Gan Zijun, an oceanographer and director of the Academic Committee of the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Chen Lixin, an expert of Zhanjiang Port Authority proposed the theory of the South China Sea monsoon and atmospheric circulation, confirming Xuwen harbor’s favorable conditions for sailing.

All the documented historical data and cultural relics found all demonstrate that the Xuwen Harbor in Han Dynasty is today's Xuwen. And the specific location is in Erqiao Village, Nanwan Village and Shiwei Village.

Provincial government leaders required the Advisory’s Office to make the research and development of the Maritime Silk Road a key project and set up a provincial Maritime Silk Road research and development team, responsible for coordinating planning and organizing the project. Municipal government approved advocacy, protection, development and utilization of port of origin of the Maritime Silk Road, and commissioned Xuwen to establish a scientific research group.

In February 19, 2001, at the Fourth Session of the Ninth National People's Congress of Guangdong Province, the delegation of Zhanjiang City proposed the "Program on further strengthening the promotion, protection, development of the original port of maritime Silk Road and utilization of its culture as a tourism brand" to the convention , which drew the attention of senior officials of the provincial government. Later, experts in the Advisory Office, Cultural Center and the Pearl River Culture Study Association got in touch with Guangzhou and Quanzhou, and had consensus to jointly prepare an “Academic Symposium on China Southern Harbors and Marine Silk Road” and then make an application of declaring China Southern Harbors as World Culture Heritage to UNESCO.

In order to further investigate and demonstrate the maritime Silk Road being as world cultural heritage, and to provide more scientific position of this project, on Mar. 6 in 2002, the advisory office of Guangdong Provincial Government, the Research Institute of Culture and History and Zhujiang Culture Research Society composed a specialist delegation to Xuwen again, to conduct field investigation for the second time to the Xuwen Port in Leizhou Peninsula, the departure port of the ancient maritime Silk Road. These specialists and scholars held the following views:

1. It is recorded in Book of Han·Geographical that, the emissaries detached by Emperor Wu set sail from “Xuwen Hepu”. This is the first record of the maritime Silk Road in historical records. According to the related historical materials, Xuwen established the county in the sixth year of Yuanding in Han Dynasty (BC 111), and it belonged to Hepu Shire. In more than six hundred years from that time to the middle of Yongming in Qi Dynasty, it applied shire and county governing, and the government office was in the southwest of the present Xuwen County.

2. Through investigation into the ruins of Han Dynasty in Erqiao, Nanwan and Shiwei in Nanshan Town of Xuwen County, the archaeological research results can confirm that, this relics belongs to Han Dynasty, the era span is from the Western Han Dynasty to the Eastern Han Dynasty, the unearthed remains have building materials with rather standard, which have the features of government office as that time. It can be seen that here is the location of Xuwen County and Xuwen Port.

3. In places near the relics, villages like Huafeng, Haigang, Gangtou, Nagan and Ma Lian have rather numerous tombs of Han Dynasty; they distributes in groups, and there are tombs of ordinary civilian and tombs of civilian officials, and there are also large quantity of excavation. This reflects Han Dynasty’s social custom of “living in tribes, and burying in tribes”, which illustrates there are appreciable quantity of local residents and civilian officials with definite rank; that would be a powerful proof for seat of local government and port of Xuwen.

In conclusion, the peninsula cape in Xuwen Port that is in Erqiao, Nanwan and Shiwei in Nanshan Town of Xuwen County, is the one of the relics in the earliest departure port on the ancient maritime Silk Road.

In Nov, 2001, the advisory office and the house of culture in People’s Government of Guangdong Province combined with the specialists from People’s Government of Zhangjiang City, China Overseas Traffic History Seminar, China Cultural Relics Research Institute, the state bureau of cultural relics and scientific research institutions in universities etc, which were 88 people in all, conducted investigation in Xuwen; they visited the cultural relics exhibition of Maritime Silk Road in Guisheng academy of classical learning, Huajian Sugar Refinery on Guisheng Road in the west street in the city, the site clearing of Han tombs group in Nantan Park and the site of departure port in Maritime Silk Road. In the afternoon on Nov. 22, the academic seminar and forum between the Maritime Silk Road and China Southern Port was held in Xuwen. The host received 132 thesis , which were collected and published as the Proceedings on the Academic Seminar between the Maritime Silk Road and China Southern Port by Zhujiang Culture Research Society.

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