Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FEATURES - By Kelum Bandara

A team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists from Shang­hai Mu­seum in China re­cently con­ducted an ex­ca­va­tion mis­sion in Sri Lanka to find links with the an­cient silk route. It hap­pened at a time when China had launched its Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI) based on the an­cient silk route to im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity with the rest of the world. Sri Lanka is among the coun­tries that pledged co­op­er­a­tion with BRI.

Chen Jie, who led the five-mem­ber team, in an in­ter­view with Daily Mirror speaks about the mis­sion and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds made. He also sheds light on Sri Lanka’s po­si­tion­ing on the an­cient silk route. Ex­cerpts:

Q How do you see the po­si­tion­ing of Sri Lanka in the an­cient silk route?

The Mar­itime Silk Route starts from Chi­nese coastal ports, ex­tend­ing through South­east Asian coun­tries to the In­dian Ocean, Red sea and then Europe and even East Africa. It has con­structed an in­ter­na­tional net­work for trade and cul­tural ex­changes, pro­mot­ing the de­vel­op­ment of coun­tries along the route. Lo­cated at the heart of the In­dian Ocean and right in the mid­dle of the sea route be­tween the East and the West, Sri Lanka has played a piv­otal role in the mar­itime trade. Links be­tween Sri Lanka and China can be traced back to over 2000 years ago. In the 5th cen­tury, em­i­nent Chi­nese monk Fa Xian

spent two years in Sri Lanka study­ing Bud­dhism. From the 6th cen­tury on, ex­changes be­tween the two coun­tries have be­come more and more fre­quent. No­tably in the 15th cen­tury, Zheng He’s fleet made sev­eral stops in Sri Lanka dur­ing his voy­ages. Peo­ple from both sides ex­panded trade and en­hanced friend­ship. The trilin­gual in­scrip­tion which was found in Galle in 1911 is im­por­tant ev­i­dence of this mile­stone.

From 2018 on, the Sino-lanka Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Pro­ject has been launched through co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Cen­tral Cul­tural Fund and the Shang­hai Mu­seum. A joint ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team has been de­ployed to ex­plore the eco­nomic, cul­tural and re­li­gious ex­changes among dif­fer­ent coun­tries through ex­ca­va­tion and re­search of the sites and relics re­lated to the Mar­itime Silk Route in Sri Lanka.

Q What did you dis­cover dur­ing ex­ca­va­tions?

Dur­ing Au­gust and Septem­ber this year, the Sino-lanka Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team started its first mis­sion in Jaffna, the im­por­tant port city in North­ern Sri Lanka. The Al­laip­pitti site in Kayts was ex­ca­vated while a test-trench was dug in­side the Kayts Fort. There are im­por­tant find­ings, es­pe­cially in the Al­laip­pitti site. Quite a num­ber of Chi­nese ce­ram­ics were found, pro­vid­ing sig­nif­i­cant ev­i­dence of the trade links be­tween Sri Lanka and China.

The ex­ca­vated arte­facts are mainly Chi­nese ce­ram­ics, ac­com­pa­nied by a few lo­cal and South­east or South Asian pot­tery. The Chi­nese ware can be dated to the sec­ond half of the 11th cen­tury and early 12th cen­tury, in the late North­ern Song dy­nasty in China.

The ma­jor­ity of Chi­nese ware was pro­duced in the coastal ar­eas of Guang­dong and Fu­jian prov­inces. The most iden­ti­fi­able pieces are prod­ucts from Chaozhou and Xi­cun kilns in Guang­dong, while a small num­ber of sherds are from Yaozhou kiln in North­ern China. In the late Song pe­riod, Guangzhou sur­passed ports in Zhe­jiang and Fu­jian prov­inces and be­came the most im­por­tant port for over­seas trade, which def­i­nitely led to the boost of the Xi­cun and Chaozhou kilns for ex­port porce­lain.

These ex­ca­vated wares will cer­tainly shed light on the re­searches of mar­itime routes, trade net­work as well as the links be­tween Sri Lanka and China.

Q What is the spe­cial rea­son for you to un­der­take your work in Jaffna?

Jaffna is an im­por­tant port in North­ern Sri Lanka. It is ad­ja­cent to the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent and is an im­por­tant chan­nel for early sea routes. In the past ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, many Chi­nese types of porce­lain were found in Jaffna, so this area is an im­por­tant place to un­der­stand the early Si­nolanka re­la­tions.

Q How can the two coun­tries co­op­er­ate with each other to pre­serve the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal her­itage?

Cul­tural her­itage is an his­tor­i­cal trea­sure left by hu­mans in the past. These her­itages are im­por­tant ma­te­rial to un­der­stand the in­ter­re­la­tion­ships of early hu­man civ­i­liza­tions, so it is first nec­es­sary to recog­nise their his­tor­i­cal val­ues through re­search.

With the con­struc­tion of the city and de­vel­op­ment of the econ­omy, some cul­tural her­itages are in dan­ger of se­ri­ous dam­age. If we do not strengthen the pro­tec­tion of cul­tural her­itage, we will lose them and our me­mories of his­tory for­ever. There­fore, we should cher­ish and care for them to­gether.

In re­cent years, China has ac­cu­mu­lated a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in the pro­tec­tion of cul­tural her­itage. If pos­si­ble, the two coun­tries can co­op­er­ate in the pro­tec­tion of cul­tural relics, the use of cul­tural her­itage and mu­seum man­age­ment to pre­serve the her­itage of hu­man civ­i­liza­tion.

Q What are the ar­eas for fur­ther ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­plo­rations?

Sri Lanka is an is­land with many im­por­tant ports along the coast and a large num­ber of re­mains as­so­ci­ated with the Mar­itime Silk Road. The joint ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team will study the theme of the Mar­itime Silk Road and carry out ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and ex­ca­va­tions of rel­e­vant port ar­eas. In ad­di­tion to Jaffna, ar­eas that may work in the fu­ture in­clude Trin­co­ma­lee and Galle.

Q How do you look at the Bud­dhist lin­eage be­tween Sri Lanka and China?

Links be­tween Sri Lanka and China can be traced backed to over 2000 years ago. This fact is not only based on the records of lit­er­a­ture, but also con­firmed by ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find­ings. Not only in the ports of Sri Lanka, but also in ur­ban cities like Anu­rad­ha­pura and Polon­naruwa, a large num­ber of Chi­nese ce­ram­ics, coins and other cul­tural relics have been dis­cov­ered. These show that Chi­nese goods have al­ways been very pop­u­lar prod­ucts in the mar­itime silk trade at that time, or in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and Sri Lanka.

The in­flu­ence of dif­fer­ent coun­tries is not one-way. In the long his­tory of ex­changes, Sri Lanka’s Bud­dhist tra­di­tion has also had an im­pact on Chi­nese re­li­gious thought. Ac­cord­ing to lit­er­a­ture, there are Bud­dhists who came to Sri Lanka from China like Fa-xian and Sri Lanka had sent peo­ple to China to pro­mote Bud­dhism.

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