Yochana Storch: Archaeological expedition to China complementing academic knowledge (blog 1)

Expedition members undergo training in tagging and baggingApril 4, 2013: Last December was a good month for me. I received final notice that I had completed all the requirements of my BA program in East Asian studies and political science, and had been accepted to an archaeology expedition to China. This is my first visit to China since a brief trip to Beijing about a year before I began studying at the Hebrew University — it’s been great to finally complement academic knowledge with a bit of personal experience.

The expedition is being led by Prof. Gideon Shelach of the University’s Dept. of East Asian Studies and Chair of the Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies, and includes students from both the East Asian Studies Department and the Institute of Archaeology.  Our expedition is the second session of a large-scale project to conduct a comprehensive survey of about 300 square kilometers in the Fuxin area of Liaoning province in North East China.

For the past week, we’ve been collecting samples of pottery, stone tools and raw materials, which will be cataloged and dated. Prof. Shelach hopes that the new data based on the findings of our survey and possible future excavations will enable us to better understand the process of sedentarism and agriculture, both among the most fundamental developments in human history.

But first, we had to make our way from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to the North East of China.

As direct flights to Beijing are scarce, we had to make a connection through Zurich airport, where our expedition faced its first crisis when everyone seriously considered deserting and absconding with our meager funds into the Swiss countryside. We had already packed for cold weather and rough terrain, and it seemed like a promising plan until we realized that the cost of living is Switzerland is a bit out of reach for the average Hebrew University graduate student. Having rededicated ourselves to the task of bettering our understanding of mankind’s transition to agriculture, we left the land of overpriced coffee (first cultivated in Ethiopia) and chocolate (first cultivated in Meso America) behind and pressed on to Beijing, where we made a brief sightseeing side-tour.

As we headed further north by plane and bus, it became apparent that we were in for a unique experience — snow! Twice in one year (the first being back home in Jerusalem)! As we left a local museum with our equipment, the snow was already sticking to the ground. I suppose that one of the nice things about growing up and living in Jerusalem — where snow is far from an annual occurrence — is that snow becomes a source of endless wonder and fascination. Sadly, as I began to play and take pictures, I realized that I was losing my already precarious street cred with our Chinese colleagues, so I did my best to appear nonchalant while happily stomping and crunching along.

By evening the snow cover was so thick we knew that ground visibility would be zero the next day. Since everyone ignored my advice that we learn from the Chinese Empire and overcome nature by first clearing the snow by hand and then commencing our survey work, our first day was dedicated to briefings and training on the GPS system that is essential to our research.

The next day (Passover eve), visibility was good enough to start working. We teamed up and went into the field, walking the grid, collecting artifacts, tagging and bagging. We’re an enthusiastic bunch and managed to get in a good day’s work despite the less-than-ideal conditions of snow, mud and the occasional gorge. By the time we got back to the hotel and cleaned up, we were too tired to conduct a full Seder, and decided to make do with a quick ‘Shehecheyanu’ to mark the start of Passover.

Yochana Storch, 26, is a graduate student in East Asian studies at the Hebrew University. She is from Jerusalem; she completed her army service as a sergeant of operations,

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