A painting of Kublai Khan, as he would have appeared in the 1260s. This is actually a posthumous that was made shortly after his death in February 1294, by a Nepalese artist and astronomer

An Ancient Rice Field and a Lost Palace: Archaeologists Get a Double Dose of Luck in China

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Archaeologists working in China have been pretty lucky recently. One of the discoveries they have made may be the oldest wet rice field in the world. Another is the possible location of the imperial palace of the Yuan dynasty -  a mystery which has stumped archaeologists for years.

The rice field was found by the Neolithic ruins of Hanjing in Sihong county of East China's Jiangsu province in November 2015. China Daily said that when a group of scholars met in late April they declared the find as the oldest of its kind in the world. Lin Liugen, head of the archaeology institute, said that Chinese people began rice cultivation about 10,000 years ago and carbonized rice from those early days has been found, but paddy remnants are “quite rare.”

The field covers less than 100 square meters (1076.39 sq. ft.) and was divided into parts with different shapes, each of which covering less than 10 square meters (107.64 sq. ft.) The researchers also found “carbonized rice that was confirmed to have grown more than 8,000 years ago based on carbon dating, as well as evidence that the soil was repeatedly planted with rice.” [Via China Daily]

Lin told China daily that the findings are significant for research into the origins of rice farming in China.

A modern rice field in China

A modern rice field in China. ( Public Domain )

The second interesting discovery comes in the form of 600-year-old relics from the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The artifacts were found buried in the heart of the Forbidden City. Heritage Daily reports that the finds were made during maintenance work at the historic site. Apparently the broken tiles and pieces of porcelain were unearthed last year but notice only comes now that the researchers have had time to appraise and date the artifacts.

Li Ji, head of the Archaeology Department at the museum’s affiliated academic research institute, said “These three layers [Qing, Ming, and Yuan] of relics indicate how layouts for buildings changed through time.”

But he also told the press that the large amount of urban construction in the Ming Dynasty explains much of why no Yuan relics were found before. He explained, “Our fieldwork shows that almost all previous construction foundations were cleared out when the Forbidden City was built, to provide impeccable detail for the new palaces.”

Forbidden City (Beijing, China)

Forbidden City (Beijing, China) (Michael McDonough/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

The head of the Archaeology Department stressed that no “large-scale archaeological work” will be completed on the relics to increase the chances of survival for other ancient architectural elements. “It’s like playing puzzles,” he said. “We begin small-area excavations in different spots, and can obtain a panoramic view through comparative studies.”

According to The Straits Times , this discovery “is believed to have solved one of the great mysteries of antiquity in Beijing - the site of the imperial palace of the Yuan Dynasty established by Kublai Khan in the 13th century.”

Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, was the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. He differed from many of the previous rulers “by ruling through an administrative apparatus that respected and embraced the local customs of conquered peoples, rather than by might alone.” His ability to suppress the Song Dynasty of southern China also made him “the first Mongol to rule over the entire country and led to a long period of prosperity for the empire.” [Via Biography.com]

A painting of Kublai Khan, as he would have appeared in the 1260s. This is actually a posthumous that was made shortly after his death in February 1294, by a Nepalese artist and astronomer.

A painting of Kublai Khan, as he would have appeared in the 1260s. This is actually a posthumous that was made shortly after his death in February 1294, by a Nepalese artist and astronomer. ( Public Domain )

Featured Image: The northeast corner of the Forbidden City, Beijing. ( CC BY SA 3.0 ) Example of Rice Paddy Terraces in Yangshuo, China. ( McKay Savage/CC BY 2.0 )

By Alicia McDermott

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