It’s one thing to see history on display behind a museum glass and another to experience it right beneath the soles of your hiking shoes.
My husband has always told me China is a magical place. And among the “magical” things about his native country is, naturally, its amazing 5,000 years of history. Over the years that I’ve been together with John — first as his girlfriend, then as his wife — I’ve heard him gush with pride about how China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. And why wouldn’t he? If I came from a country with a continuous culture that stretched back thousands of years, I’d be proud of it too.
We’re both history and culture buffs, so naturally we’ve visited lots of museums on our travels across China, often in awe of the beauty and craftmanship of artifacts that are thousands of years old.
But I never believed we would ever find a piece of China’s history right in John’s humble little village in the countryside.
While exploring a ridge trail that cut across patches of bracken ferns, bamboo and satintail grasses on a hilltop, we suddenly came upon a clearing on the hilltop — and a historical marker carved into a slab of marble. That landmark designated the fertile ground beneath our feet the site of an ancient civilization that flourished 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.
That’s right. Four to five thousand years ago!
I couldn’t believe we found this on our hike! I surveyed the clearing around us, covered in mugwort, clover and other small weeds. Nothing about the geography could have told us we would stumble upon an ancient site on this ridgetop. And then I wondered, what was it like back then? How did these people live? Were any of the stones around the area evidence of their civilization as well?
But the other side of the marker provided no introduction or description for the culture, beyond that it was an ancient site dated to China’s Neolithic age.
I also wondered about what it meant for John and his past. Were these people among John’s ancestors? The idea thrilled me for a moment, even if we had no way to confirm it.
Later, when my husband looked up the site online, we learned that archaeologists had discovered a cache of broken pieces of ancient pottery at the site, including the legs of ding vessels, and suggested it was a part of Zhejiang’s Liangzhu culture.
When I saw an online photograph of the site’s scattered pottery fragments, each like a lost puzzle piece, I knew the find would only stand as footnote in China’s ancient history. Since the archaeologists already unearthed the major artifacts on the site, there wasn’t much to see there, apart from the landmark the government left behind. Meanwhile, friends and family in the village didn’t even know about it, and nothing about that hillside nor its trail even suggested that a fantastic find lay hidden beneath the trees and bushes.
Still, it felt magical all the same to know that a small part of China’s ancient history sat right in our backyard.
Have you ever stumbled upon a historical or ancient site?