June 2010

This is a brilliant field school. I am having so much fun here already, and I’ve been here for four days. So far we are still getting primed in the city of Xi’an, which is near the site that we’ll be excavating. We’ve been doing a lot of basic stuff on Neolithic-Han dynasty Chinese archaeology and some theory/method stuff. We visited the pottery and osteology labs here today and they were SO AWESOME. There are 5 Chinese students in my course, and we have the greatest conversations. I learn so much from them about their methods, archaeological words in Mandarin and their history, which they know infinitely better than I. We have some really engaging conversations about tool use, jade types, prestige items, kilns, mapping terminology, etc. We have class in the mornings usually and then go out to a museum or a site near here. Xi’an and the greater province of Shaanxi has so much history it is incredible. There has been continuous occupation of the area since the paleolithic, and it feels like there are more museums than modern inhabitants.

I can’t wait to get out to the field! I’ve been doing a lot of reading about pottery, excavation and the Neolithic in general. Relatively speaking, I wasnt all that excited about the Neolithic until we got down to the nitty gritty of pottery lips and decorations today. I am so excited to get to work! We go out on Saturday and we start work on Monday. I can’t wait!

So I have been here at the compound for a full day now. In part its a huge change to enter dorm-style living on the edge of a village where you cant drink the freezing cold water. In other ways, I kind of jumped in easily since I have been here a few summers in a row now and am familiar with the routine.

It is still early in the season, so there are only about 7 of us right now. The pottery girls, me (the registrar this year), and the field supervisor. Things are nice and casual so far since the excavating hasn’t started. In the meantime, my big job is to get all my work up and operating seamlessly by the time everyone else arrives and the digging starts.

My sleep schedule is still blessed with jet-lag and the anti-malarial is giving me vivid dreams that turn into hallucinations when they dont go away after I wake up. Other than that, everything is right on track 🙂


Or so the Party likes to say.

I’ve been in China for almost three weeks, but living in Shanghai. Shanghai doesn’t really have any archaeology, but it does have an interesting history as a treaty port.

We took a side trip to Beijing/Xi’an, which are the current and former capitals of what we know now as China. Beijing was a lot of really cool stuff– the Eastern Qing tombs, where 5 of the 9 Qing emperors (including my favorite and least favorite Qing rulers) are buried. They have really intense burial sites. The Qing were Manchus from Northeastern China and are not ethnically Han Chinese (what we think of as “Chinese”) and were Lamaists (Tibetan Buddhists) who adopted Chinese ritual and religion to help them consolidate power over their Han subjects. This led to a really cool amalgamation of traditions in their burial chambers. Very traditional Chinese architecture and imagery, the traditional gated layout, but inside the subterranean tombs there is Tibetan script and Buddhas all over the place.

I also got to climb the Wall at a remote, untouristy location. What a feat of man that Wall is. The structure and terrain it follows is pretty intense. My knee has the bruise to show for it too.

In Xi’an, I was able to live my dream from 6th grade, which was to visit the terracotta warriors of Qin ShiHuang. 8,000 warriors with different expressions on their faces. It was amazing to see, if a little disappointing because I couldnt really interact with the artifacts themselves (not touch, just see them up close). You walk around the pits from 15″ up, though I would have loved to come face-to-face with the warriors themselves and really inspect them. More interesting than the warriors themselves was a little side exhibit on the workers and the tools, houses, pottery  and torture devices used on/by them. Of course, this gains considerably less attention than the warriors, which are the UNESCO site of course, but is probably just a little more exciting for me. Creates a connection, you know? Also they had line drawings to provide context, which was also cool. Note: The Warriors are NOT the tomb itself. They are just the “foyer”. The actual tomb of Qin ShiHuang, who was the first emperor of unified China in 221 BC and built the first Great Wall, is an artificial hill that hasnt been excavated for a couple reasons (disrespect, technology, governmental reservations, etc).

I’ll try to update more when I get out to the field in a couple weeks near Xi’an again. Woo!

~Sarah Butler