Nation’s First International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History Established at BU

in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology
September 22nd, 1999

Contact: Shauna LaFauci, | slafauci@bu.edu

(Boston, Mass.) — Boston University has won a $750,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to establish the International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History, the first such center at an American university. Established jointly in the Departments of Archaeology and Anthropology at B.U., the Center will seek to promote a broad range of collaborative projects and outreach programs at a time when the pressures of change and modernization are threatening East Asia’s cultural resources and scholars’ ability to learn more about this key area of the world. The Center’s focus will include Central Asia, Siberia, Korea, Japan, China, and mainland Southeast Asia.

“There are huge areas of East and Southeast Asia that are very little known archaeologically, and it’s tantalizing to think about what lies ahead,” says Dr. Robert Murowchick, director of the new Center. “As new opportunities open up for real collaboration between Asian and Western scholars and students, our understanding of Asian cultural development will be greatly increased.”

For the past fifty years, language barriers, strong nationalistic movements, and strict government control of archaeological work has largely excluded Western archaeologists from active participation in research design and fieldwork. While foreign participation has long been encouraged in archaeological work in certain areas, such as Taiwan and Thailand, strict regulations in China and elsewhere have made it difficult for Western scholars and students to play an active role. That began to change in the early 1990s, when changes in China’s antiquities and archaeology regulations opened up new opportunities for collaborative projects there.

The first generation of joint projects, which included museum conservation training programs, regional archaeological surveys, and the excavation of Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age sites, has shown the potential for enormous benefits for both sides. East Asian researchers are learning modern Western methods of excavation, analysis, and interpretation, while Western scholars and students are drawing upon the enormously rich field experience of their East Asian colleagues. This increasingly close collaboration is allowing scholars to develop exciting new models of cultural development based on the East Asian data. “The coming decades are very bright indeed for students interested in Asian archaeology,” says Murowchick. “An undergraduate today could conceivably make the find of the century ten or twenty years down the road.”

The establishment of the new Center comes at a critical time, according to Murowchick, who sees the cultural heritage of the region at an important crossroad. “There is a new sense of urgency among scholars regarding archaeological work throughout East Asia because there is so much that threatens it: rapid urban expansion brings new roads, dams, highways, and apartment complexes, not to mention extensive illegal looting of sites and lack of funding for cultural preservation. Innumerable sites have already been lost, and many more are threatened. Entire ancient cities lie buried and may never be excavated.” At the same time, there are now multiple avenues for American and other Western students and scholars to work closely with the East Asian archaeological community. “With these unprecedented opportunities for collaborative field projects, we hope that a new awareness of the cultural riches of East Asia can be encouraged.”

The Center will pursue four interrelated goals: field research, publications, teaching and public outreach. Unlike many traditional academic centers, the Center will use its specialized library and broad network of affiliated scholars as an open resource for a wide spectrum of international scholars and students of archaeology, anthropology, history, art history, religion, and museum studies. It will also serve elementary and secondary school educators, the media, and the interested public.

Beyond its immediate role in archaeological research, the Center will nurture people-to-people relations at a time when diplomatic relations are sometimes strained. “In an era of global nationalism, people are turning to the past to validate current policies,” says Thomas Barfield, chairman of the anthropology department at B.U. “Unprecedented access to the East Asian archaeological sites as well as opportunities for dialogue with the finest scholars in this field will contribute to cultural understanding for the future.”

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