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Archaeology in China

China, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, has a rich archaeological history that spans over 5,000 years. This blog post will provide a detailed overview of archaeology in China, including its history, key discoveries, and current state.

Archaeology in China

History of Archaeology in China

Archaeology in China has a long history that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), where early Chinese scholars began to study ancient ruins and artefacts. However, it was not until the early 20th century that archaeology became a formal discipline in China. In 1921, the first Chinese archaeological society, the Society for Research in Chinese Archaeology, was established, and the first major excavation was conducted at Anyang in Henan Province in 1928.

Key Discoveries

China’s rich archaeological history has led to numerous key discoveries that have significantly impacted our understanding of ancient 

Chinese civilization. Some of the most notable discoveries include:

  1. The Terracotta Army: Discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Xi’an, the Terracotta Army is a collection of over 8,000 life-sized terracotta figures of soldiers, horses, and chariots. The figures were buried with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him in the afterlife.
  2. The Oracle Bones: The oracle bones are inscribed ox bones or turtle shells that were used for divination during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC). They contain some of the earliest known examples of Chinese writing and provide valuable insights into ancient Chinese culture and society.
  3. The Sanxingdui Bronze Mask: Discovered in 1986 in Sichuan Province, the Sanxingdui Bronze Mask is a 4,000-year-old bronze mask that is thought to have been used for religious purposes. It is one of the most important discoveries of ancient Chinese art and has greatly influenced our understanding of early Chinese civilization.

Current State of Archaeology in China

Archaeology in China has come a long way since its early beginnings, and today it is a well-established discipline with a significant presence in the international community. China is home to numerous archaeological institutions and research centres, including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. These institutions conduct extensive research and excavations throughout the country and have made significant contributions to our understanding of ancient Chinese civilization

However, archaeology in China is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the preservation of archaeological sites and artefacts. As China continues to rapidly develop and urbanise, many archaeological sites are at risk of being destroyed or damaged. The Chinese government has taken steps to address this issue, such as enacting laws to protect cultural heritage sites and establishing a national cultural relics appraisal system.

Another challenge is the lack of transparency and access to archaeological data in China. While there have been efforts to increase transparency, such as the establishment of the National Cultural Heritage Administration in 2018, there is still a need for greater access to archaeological data and findings.


Archaeology in China is a rich and diverse field with a long history and numerous key discoveries. While there are challenges facing the discipline, China has made significant progress in preserving its cultural heritage and increasing transparency in archaeological research. As archaeologists continue to excavate and study ancient sites in China, we can expect to gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating civilization and its impact on the world.


  1. Fagan, B. M. (2012). Ancient civilizations. Routledge.
  2. Liu, L., & Chen, X. (2012). Archaeology of China

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