03/29 Yuwei Zhou

Ph.D. Student, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

“Was There a Clan Cemetery in Yinxu:
A Spatial and Statistical Approach to Mortuary Practices in the Guojiazhuang Cemetery

Time: Wednesday, March 29, 3:30-5:00 pm CT

Location: LaSalle Banks Room at the Oriental Institute

Please note the unusual time and location

★Co-Sponsored by Interdisciplinary Archaeology Workshop★

Abstract: Excavated in 1928, the site of Yinxu in Henan, China marks one of the greatest finds in Chinese archaeology. In addition to being the first scientific excavation in China, Yinxu is identified to be the last capital of the Shang dynasty, a period that is believed to be the start of Chinese civilization and the foundation of the Chinese patrimonial political system. The excavation of Yinxu has yielded impressive finds, inducing a palace complex, a royal cemetery, several residential areas, cemeteries, paved roads, canal systems, craft production workshops, and thousands of inscribed bones (also called oracle bone inscriptions) that mark the earliest evidence of writing system in China. Abundant archaeological and textual sources concerning Yinxu make it a focal point for interdisciplinary study and discussion. In 1979, the publication of nearly 1000 burials at the Western Locus cemetery had an extremely influential impact on the method and theory of burial analysis in Yinxu. This report divided the cemetery into eight clusters based primarily on spatial proximity, but also on tomb orientations, burial styles, and burial goods, arguing that each group represents the cemetery of a clan, and the Western locus was a public cemetery for at least eight clans. Such a practice of tomb grouping (muzang fenqu 墓葬分區) was soon adopted in the analysis of other cemeteries in Yinxu, all of which were consequently determined to reflect clan structures. Today, despite minor skepticism on the validity of the tomb grouping methodology, the archaeologically-confirmed clan-based nature of the late Shang society has made its way into various Chinese archaeology textbooks.

This paper discusses the problem with the current tomb grouping methodology and calls into question the concept of “clan cemetery” in Yinxu through a case study of the Guojiazhuang cemetery. It uses computational tools to examine the statistical reliability of the previously proposed grouping methods regarding this cemetery. This paper then proposes an alternative way to understand the Guojiazhuang cemetery through a spatial-temporal and statistical approach.

Presenter: Yuwei Zhou is a Ph.D. student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the archaeology and paleography of Bronze Age China. She is interested in combining archaeology with computational tools such as statistical, geospatial, and network analysis to investigate regional and local interactions.

Yuwei Zhou

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