News FocusArchaeology in China

Bridging East and West

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Science  21 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5943, pp. 940-943
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_940

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Although far from the ancient centers of Chinese culture, some archaeologists believe that the remote region of Xinjiang in northwest China may hold the key to understanding early Chinese civilization because of its crucial role in trade. They argue that as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C.E., during the rise of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus civilizations, Xinjiang may have served as a critical bridge between East and West, funneling some combination of bronzemaking, wheat domestication, and other technologies toward the incipient Chinese culture. Those technologies may have helped jump-start Chinese urban life along the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. (see p. 930). That is a novel, even radical, idea among Chinese academics, many of whom still see Xinjiang as a distant region that enters history only when a unified China began to assert control in the early centuries B.C.E. Indeed, not so long ago, such discussion of outside influence on China's origins would have been at best frowned upon and at worst dangerous.