søndag 2. januar 2022

How a Swedish Geologist Kickstarted China’s Love of Archaeology

In October 1921, the Swedish geologist, archaeologist, and scholar Johan Gunnar Andersson led a small expedition into rural Henan province in northern China. By this point in his career, the 47-year-old Andersson was a well-known figure in international academic circles, in part due to his earlier participation in two Antarctic expeditions. In 1914, China’s newly formed Beiyang Government hired him as a mining consultant and tasked him with surveying China’s iron ore deposits. For the next few years, he juggled several geological expeditions along with his interests in paleontology and anthropology. His early investigations of the Zhoukoudian ruins near Beijing, for instance, would lead to the discovery of the “Peking Man” fossils.

It is for his work in Yangshao, however, that Andersson is best known today. As the head of a team that included Chinese geologist Yuan Fuli and Austrian paleontologist Otto Zdansky, Andersson spent two months excavating a Neolithic site near the Yellow River. The dig produced an abundance of painted pottery shards, one of which still bore the imprint of a grain of rice. In keeping with the conventions of Western archaeology, Andersson attributed the pottery to what he termed the “Yangshao culture,” which he believed was the distant ancestor of today’s Han Chinese.