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Investigating Technological Changes Along the Proto Silk Road in Northwest China.

Presenter: Prof. Rowan K. Flad, Harvard University
Date: Friday, October 13, 2017
Time: 3:30pm
Location: Massry Center for Business B010

Rowan K. Flad is the John E. Hudson Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. He holds an A.B. from the University of Chicago and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. At Harvard he has served as the Archaeology Program Director, Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Department Chair for the Department of Anthropology and the Chair of the Standing Committe on Archaeology, and is an affiliated faculty member of the Inner Asian and Altaic Studies Department. He also serves on the academic board (and was a founding board member) of the Institute for Field Research and serves on the founding board of the Esherick-Ye Family Foundation. His research is focused on the emergence and development of complex society during the late Neolithic period and the Bronze Age in China. This work incorporates interests in diachronic change in production processes and technology, the intersection between ritual activity and production, the role of animals in early Chinese society - particularly their use in sacrifice and divination, and the processes involved in social change in general. He has conducted excavations at a salt production site in the eastern Sichuan Basin, regional archaeological survey in the Chengdu region focusing on prehistoric settlement patterns and social evolution, and currently directs an international collaborative survey and excavation project in the Tao River Valley in Gansu. This project focuses on technological change in various domains and investigates the formation processes of community interaction involved in the development of the Proto-Silk Road. Current research and writing projects focus on several aspects of social complexity including: specialized production and technology, the anthropology of value, mortuary analysis, archaeological landscapes, interregional interaction, cultural transmission, and animal and plant domestication.

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[Abstract] 

Around 4000 years ago a series of changes in subsistence and craft technologies conspired to radically transform material culture and human lives along the “proto-Silk Road” in Northwest China. The most significant changes occurred during the Qijia Culture period (ca. 4200-3600 calBP). Bronze metallurgy became increasingly important, ceramic technology underwent radical changes, and new crops and animals moved in from the west and north. These changes laid the foundation for the Chinese Bronze Age. The Tao River valley is a major tributary to the Yellow River and is located at the confluence of the historical networks of interaction and exchange that comprise the “Silk Roads,” which include connections through the Hexi Corridor to Central Asia, as well as the “Southern Silk Road” involving connections along the eastern fringes of the Tibetan Plateau south towards Southeast Asia. The river valley is rich in sites dating to the entire sequence of regional archaeological cultures that comprise the prehistoric chronology in the region: Yangshao culture (ca. 7000-5000 BP); Majiayao, Bansan and Machang “Painted-pottery” cultures (ca. 5200-4000 BP); Qijia culture; and the post-Qijia, Xindian (3600-2600 BP) and Siwa (ca. 3300-2500 BP) cultures. Furthermore, the type sites for many of these cultural traditions, including Majiayao, Qijia, Xindian and Siwa, are all found along this river. The Tao River Archaeological Project (TRAP) explores fundamental questions about the nature of technology and technological change and the relationships between technological and social change in this region. The project builds on extensive preliminary work from 2012-2015 and involves further survey and excavations in 2016 and 2017.