Washington, March 4 : An international team of archaeologists have used a method known as regional settlement pattern survey to develop a multifarious overview of an important but understudied region along the northeastern coast of China.
Working from the past 13 years, the team consists of archaeologists from the Field Museum in the US and Shandong University in China.
Regional settlement pattern survey involves walking systematically over a large landscape to find traces of archaeological sites on the surface of the ground. This field procedure can yield a holistic, integrated view of how settlement has shifted in a region over the course of history.
Now, this method is being used to develop a diverse overview of a region along the northeastern coast of China.
By the time the project is completed, the archaeologists expect to have walked systematically over 1,500 square kilometers around the coastal city of Rizhao in Shandong Province.
According to Dr. Anne Underhill from Field Museum, "The team has walked over every kind of terrain possible, including farms and orchards, towns and forested hills."
"The method is very effective," said Linda Nicholas, Adjunct Curator of Anthropology, Field Museum.
"We discover and map many ancient sites on a daily basis. Because so few of these sites will ever be excavated, the survey maps become the only permanent record of most ancient settlements in a region," she added.
Over the years and centuries, human activities such as plowing and construction and natural processes such as erosion bring many ancient artifacts to the surface of the ground.
Survey crews look for such evidence by walking in the late fall or early winter when crops have been harvested, increasing the visibility of objects.
According to Underhill, "The large-scale organization of culture can only be understood by revealing the overall layout of settlements in a region and comparing their sizes."
"Then one can begin to analyze other aspects of regional organization such as population density, distances between sites, and distances to water sources, all of which can reveal information about economics, trade, interactions, and other factors," she added.
"Regional survey data are one key to understanding and comparing the rise of early Chinese civilization, both from one part of China to another as well as with other global regions," said Dr. Gary Feinman, Curator of Mesoamerican Anthropology, Field Museum.
Till now, the survey has found that the agricultural colonization of the region occurred primarily during the later half of the Neolithic period. This was rapidly followed by the development of a four-tiered settlement hierarchy with two primary centers during the Early Longshan.
The archaeologists conclude that the region was not merely a marginal backwater throughout its history.