SHI YU/CHINA DAILY
19 archaeological sites gain national-level park designation
With its long history and prosperous culture, China has a rich cultural heritage, including historical villages, time-honored brands and, critically, ancient sites.
While many may not appear to be special on the surface, they can yield finds that are culturally significant as a result of archaeological excavation.
At a national conference on cultural heritage in Beijing on Jan 5, authorities announced that archaeologists had carried out 254 active excavations last year. An important question posed during the conference was how to protect and make use of the sites after excavation.
"They often cover a large area and can easily fall foul of construction or farming. Therefore, they require well-planned protection," said He Yun'ao, a professor at the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Relics at Nanjing University in Jiangsu province. "Also, we need to make people understand the need for protection, to show the sites' cultural connotations and value to the public."
He also mentioned that in the past, sites were often backfilled after excavation, and the cultural artifacts unearthed were moved to storehouses or museums. But now, the idea of preserving the excavations and transforming archaeological ruins into parks is flourishing.
"Archaeological parks can help enrich cultural knowledge by displaying both the sites and their artifacts," He said. "Building support facilities and adding landscaping can turn them into tourist attractions, so that the cultural heritage that had been sleeping underground is shared in modern times."
In December, the National Cultural Heritage Administration announced its fourth list of national-level archaeological parks. Nineteen were added to the list, which was initially launched in 2010, bringing the total number to 55.
Those added to the new list include sites dating as far back as the Paleolithic era, and right up to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). They include ancient settlements, kilns, mines, tombs and temples, and can be found in city centers, suburbs, villages and the Gobi Desert.
"The 19 parks are all doing well in terms of management and operation, archaeological studies and protection efforts, and their displays of cultural artifacts and explanations," the list said. "They each are protected and explored in ways suited to local conditions, are integrated into local development and stand out among their counterparts for their special situations and innovations."
In particular, the Erlitou Archaeological Site Park in Yanshi district, Luoyang city, Henan province, has attracted a lot of attention since the National Cultural Heritage Administration announced new findings at the site in September. It is widely believed to have been the capital toward the end of the Xia Dynasty (c.21st century-16th century BC), the first dynasty in traditional Chinese historiography. Erlitou was among the parks added to the fourth list.
The site plays an important role in the study of early China and the culture of the Xia Dynasty. The latest studies suggest the people of the era built a grid city, with intersecting roads creating square divisions used for residential, commercial and other purposes. The roads provide important clues for studying the Xia economic system, their socioeconomic development and crafts, as well as rituals performed during the period.
According to Lin Yongwei, who is leading development efforts at Erlitou, the first stage of construction around the core area was completed in 2019, and other projects, including landscape improvements, have received approval.
"Besides the museum, we have finished key projects that showcase the ancient course of the Luohe River, workshops that made turquoise and cast bronze, aristocratic tombs, crisscrossing roads and a market area," Lin said.
Moreover, a management system has been implemented, legislative measures to protect the site were enacted last year and publicity for the site has been enhanced, according to Yu Jie, director of the Luoyang Cultural Heritage Administration.
Another highlight on the list is the Liao Shangjing ruins, which are the remains of the Shangjing (upper capital) city of the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) in Baarin Left Banner, a county-level administrative division in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
Established by the nomadic Khitan minority, the Liao dominated a vast swathe of northern China for over 200 years. As the imperial family maintained their ancestral habit of moving according to the climate — a custom known as nabo — they built five capitals, and Shangjing served as the dynasty's political, cultural and economic center.
Recent archaeological research has identified the city's central east-west axis, revealed the location and scale of the residence of Liao emperors, and unearthed more than 20,000 precious cultural artifacts such as Buddhist statues and fragments of tablets inscribed in Khitan, according to Dong Xinlin, head of the Liao Shangjing archaeological team.
The Liao Shangjing Park now includes a museum, a tourist service center, an exhibition of the emperors' residence, a Liao cultural display area and an archaeological discovery activity area that combines research, education and leisure.
"The local government attaches great importance to this project. Our archaeological work has laid a good foundation, and the site has been properly preserved," Dong said. "I believe that the park's addition to the list will improve protection, leading to the possibility of applying to become a world cultural heritage site."
The creation of archaeological parks has drawn hordes of tourists. The then 36 national-level archaeological ruins parks received about 40 million people per year on average during the period of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).
He Yun'ao said there is no contradiction between protection and exploitation.
"The more progress scholars make, the more appealing cultural artifacts and sites are to tourists, and their visits bring in more income to better protect the sites," He said. "In this way, local governments, archaeological researchers and local people all benefit. It's a win-win solution."
Last December, a further 32 archaeological parks were added to the project-approval list, which means they meet the basic conditions to become national-level parks but need further improvements before they can be added to the official list.
Additions to both lists are not necessarily permanent and improperly managed parks can also be removed.