Pottery from Chenghe Neolithic site in Hubei province, 5,000 years ago.
Ten newly discovered heritage sites that span much of known history, from the Paleolithic Era to the late 19th century, were recognized when a list known as the "Oscars of Chinese Archaeology" was released on Friday.
The list — China's Top 10 New Archaeological Discoveries of 2018 — witnessed the growth, glory and struggles of Chinese civilization, as well as its frequent overseas contacts.
Included are relics that date from over 20,000 years ago in Guangdong province to the wreckage of a modern warship sunk in 1894. Awardees were picked by a panel of judges comprising 21 top-tier experts from academic institutions, universities and museums nationwide.
Among the key findings of 2018 is the earliest evidence of humans' use of coal, dating to 3,500 years ago, in a river valley in Ili, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. That is about 1,000 years before people were believed to have first used coal.
"Abundant relics of copper and iron metallurgy were also unearthed from the site," said Yu Zhiyong, a Xinjiang archaeologist. "They've provided significant references for similar studies all across the Eurasian grasslands."
At the Lushanmao site in Yan'an, Shaanxi province, many breakthrough discoveries were made at the ruins of a city from 4,500 years ago covering more than 2 million square meters. The remains of a courtyard and terraces there are considered prototypes of Chinese palaces and ancestral temples, according to Chen Honghai, an archaeology professor at Northwest University in Xi'an.
Some of the discoveries are from much more recent times.
Jingyuan, an armored cruiser from the Beiyang Fleet, which became the most powerful of the four modernized Chinese navies in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), once represented the nation's collective dream of possessing an up-to-date, powerful force on the seas. Still, the Jingyuan was sunk and the fleet destroyed in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the ship remained underwater until its wreckage was finally identified last year.
The ship was built in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland). It is one of the earliest examples of German armored cruisers. Apart from the emotional importance of the warship for the Chinese people, the discovery was crucial for studies of world naval history, said Chai Xiaoming, director of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage.
In another discovery of martial significance, the Fanjiayan site in Chongqing shows how the famous Diaoyu Fortress helped defend against the Mongol army for 36 years before the fall of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). The location is considered to have witnessed a turning point in world history because Mongke Khan, the fourth supreme khan of the Mongol Empire, died during the siege of the fortress, and the westward expansion of Mongol army into Europe halted.
Also at that site, the rarely seen remains of a local government from that dynasty were found.
Nevertheless, evidence of friendship and cultural communications in ancient times also was present among the new discoveries.
The Qingtang site in Guangdong province shows signs of communication between East Asia and Southeast Asia from 25,000 years to 10,000 years ago.
At Liujiawa, in Shaanxi province, people of different ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds were found to be buried in the same graveyard from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC). Many musical instruments also were excavated.
In Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province, evidence was found of a flourishing port from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Temple remains there have led archaeologists to suspect it was where Chinese monk Jianzhen set off on his sixth voyage to propagate Buddhism in Japan.
The Top 10 award is considered the country's most prestigious recognition of archaeological achievement. The first such awards were bestowed in 1990, and the event has been held annually since then.
"It will greatly improve the public's consciousness of the need for protection of these sites," said Li Boqian, a professor at Peking University and a leading expert on the judges' panel.
He said that at one of the locations — Jiuwutou site in Shanxi province — four out of five major tombs containing exquisite bronze ware from the Shang Dynasty (c.16th to 11th century BC) were once hit by grave robbers.
In the past, many archaeological excavations in China were "passive", meaning they were either used to rescue relics from sites had been disturbed by thieves or to prepare areas for infrastructure construction, said Song Xinchao, deputy director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration.
However, he said archaeological work has become more "positive", as demonstrated by some entries on the list.
In Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, the ruins of an imperial city from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), was unearthed on the location of an Olympic village being built for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The construction plan was adjusted for the discovery, and many protective measures have been taken on the site, Song said.
"The archaeological site will probably become a major attraction at the Olympic Village," Song said.
According to Wang Wei, head of the Society of Chinese Archaeology, the new discoveries showed that Chinese archaeologists' researching methods had also improved.
"We can see our archaeologists more often using approaches of the natural sciences and high-tech investigative measures," he said. "The public may place greater emphasis on what is unearthed, but it means even more for us to have new ideas and mindsets for studies."