Rice kernels discovered in the archaeological site of Yuchanyan in Daoxian County, Yongzhou
With a history of several thousand years, central China's Hunan Province boasts a large number of cultural relics. The Hunan Provincial Museum in the provincial capital of Changsha alone houses more than 180,000 ancient artifacts. According to Yu Yanjiao, a researcher with the museum, there are four "must-knows" about Hunan's cultural heritage.
Birthplace of rice
Hunan's climate and soil are eminently suitable for the growth of rice. In 1995, four rice kernels dating back over 10,000 years were discovered in the archaeological site of Yuchanyan in Daoxian County, Yongzhou, which indicates that wild rice has been grown in the region since ancient times.
Archaeological discoveries indicate that there are multiple locations in which wild rice used to be grown in Hunan. In 1988, a large quantity of rice husks mixed in with broken pottery pieces were found in the Pengtoushan Site in Lixian County, Changde City. These rice husks were identified to date back 9,000 years. In 1995, nearly 10,000 carbonized rice husks dating back to around 8,000 years ago were unearthed in the Bashidang Site in Lixian.
One year later, a paddy field was discovered in the Chengtoushan Site in Lixian, which was estimated to date back 6,500 years and has been identified as the world's earliest known paddy field. In 2006, a great number of carbonized rice husks and complete sets of irrigation systems dating back about 4,000 years were found in the Jijiaocheng Site in Lixian. In 2004, another six rice kernels dating back over 10,000 years were discovered in the Yuchanyan Site by a joint research team comprising both Chinese and U.S. archaeologists.
All these archaeological findings have led experts to the conclusion that rice cultivation may have started in Hunan.
The bronze era
Min Fanglei housed by the Hunan Provincial Museum
Since the 1930s, bronze wares of the Shang and Zhou dynasties (16th century-256 B.C.) have been unearthed one after another in the archaeological site of Tanheli in Ningxiang County, Changsha, including the well-known Four-Sheep Wine Vessel.
Most of the bronze wares unearthed in Hunan are large in size, exemplified by the Min Fanglei, a 63.6-cm-high ritual wine vessel that is housed by the Hunan Provincial Museum. The vessel derives its name from the eight-character inscription on its lid, which states that a man named Min Tianquan created this wine vessel for his father.
"The bronze wares excavated in Hunan distinguish themselves by shapes and designs, represented by those shaped like animals, such as wine vessels molded in the shapes of pigs, elephants and oxen," Yu said.
"These vessels bear the imprints of the tribal cultures of Hunan," she added.
A plain silk gauze garment unearthed from a Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 24) tomb in Mawangdui, Changsha, which is made of the earliest and thinnest silk fabric in China
The excavation of the three Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 24) tombs in Mawangdui, Changsha, from 1972 to 1974 stunned the rest of the world.
Over 3,000 artifacts were excavated from the tombs. Among the artifacts discovered were over 700 lacquer ware items; plain silk gauze garments, which are made of the earliest and thinnest silk fabric in China; the earliest and most complete book of prescriptions in China; two archaeological treatises, which are among the oldest in the world; as well as a topographic map and a map of garrison forces, which represent milestones in the history of graphic design.
Bamboo strips dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.), which were unearthed in Longshan County in 2002
The most famous finding has been the body of the wife of the imperial fiefdom's ruler, Xin Zhui, also known as Lady Dai. She died at the age of 50 sometime between 178 and 145 B.C. The incredible level of postmortem preservation of her remains has made her a living legend in death, and most scientists and museum patrons agree that this mysterious mummy leaves her Egyptian counterparts for dead.
As much of the corpse's DNA has remained intact, scientists may be able to clone her in the future.
The bamboo strips originated from Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-221 B.C.) or even earlier, and the production of such strips thrived during Qin and Han (221 B.C.-A.D. 220) dynasties.
"Hunan has the largest number of bamboo strips unearthed in China, and they span the widest periods and cover the most expansive fields," Yu said.
The more than 36,000 pieces of bamboo strips unearthed from an abandoned ancient well in Liye Village, Longshan County, in 2002 have shed light on the centralized political system of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.).
The Qin Dynasty is the earliest example of a centralized feudal system of governance in China. However, there had been very few historical records on its administrative system until the aforementioned discovery.
In 1996, a batch of bamboo strips inscribed with characters that date back to the third century were unearthed at a construction site near the May First Square in Changsha.
The bamboo strips, numbering more than 100,000 pieces, are the largest excavation of relics of their kind so far. They have provided important references for studying the laws and regulations regarding the land ownership, tax, and legal systems of the region, which was part of the short-lived Wu Kingdom of the Three Kingdoms period (220-280).
Copyedited by Eric Daly