All-woman archaeological team digs up history in Chongqing

Updated: Mar 20, 2023 China Daily Print
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Archaeologist Yan Ni.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Archaeologist Yan Ni was glad of the recent rain, as it made the soil softer, allowing her and her teammates to unearth relics with greater ease.

"Since last year, the drought has made the soil at the excavation site hard and difficult to explore. With this rain, the upcoming work will be much easier," she says.

With short hair and tanned skin, Yan is the leader of the women's archaeological team at the institute of cultural relics and archaeology in Southwest China's Chongqing.

Established in 2012, the all-woman team has carried out more than 10 excavation projects and organized field work on more than 10 cultural relic investigations and exploration projects over the past decade.

Due to the physical nature of field work, archaeologists were mostly male. But in recent years, more female archaeologists have become involved in field work.

After lunch, Zhu Xuelian, a 46-year-old team member, sat at a computer and carefully drew an image of a pottery object with complex ornamentation.

Zhu says that the team's work covers a wide range of tasks, including field excavation, scientific and technological archaeology, artifact restoration and drawing.

"Archaeological drawing is an important link in the collation of archaeological data, and one needs to be able to withstand loneliness," says Zhu, adding that once she is immersed in her work, she can sit at the computer all day. "If I need to draw complicated objects, I can only complete two objects a day."

In the course of a year, the team members can spend more than 200 days doing archaeological work in the field, spending the rest of the time studying their achievements and writing reports.

"Excavation is the most basic part of archaeological work," says Zhu. "Follow-up research work, such as restoration and drawing, should be carried out to release research results to the public, which can bring cultural relics to life."

During major excavation work, the teammates eat and live together, learn from each other and continuously improve. The original nine members of the team have grown into experts in their respective fields.

Ma Xiaojiao, who joined in 2011, and Li Feng, who has worked there since 2014, are engaged in plant archaeology and animal archaeology, respectively, filling their institutes' gap in researchers in those fields.

"We nine can now independently lead the team to conduct investigations and excavations, and some people are also training their own apprentices," says Yan.

The Chongqing authorities have recently initiated a field archaeology training course in the city, featuring more than 10 staff working in related fields, with more than half of the participants being female.

Xiang Jinglu, a "post-90s "employee at the museum of Chongqing's Fuling district, says she feels refreshed every day. "I have never been in the field before. But now, I can be in charge of an excavation project under the guidance of teachers during this field training. I am so excited," she says.

"When I first started the job, there were fewer female archaeologists in our institute, but nowadays, there are new women joining every year. China has attached great importance to archaeological work, and it is foreseeable that more women who love archaeology, and love field work, will join us in the future," Yan says.

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