Sino‐Swiss Archaeological Research Project on Cultural Exchange along the Eurasian Silk Routes

Strategic Partnership
University of Geneva – Renmin University of China

Project holders
Prof. Lorenz E. Baumer (University of Geneva)
Prof. Wei Jian (Renmin University of China


SCOPE AND AIMS OF THE PROJECT

Exchanges of goods and ideas between China and the Mediterranean in the Ancient world left traces in the archaeological record of Europe and in China. However, a majority of artefacts that attest to the East‐West and West‐East long‐distance exchanges await interpretation and are yet to be published in both languages. Sharing methodologies and source material, as well as promoting cross‐cultural forms of education and research: these were the core goals pursued by this collaboration project between the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies, School of History in Renmin University of China (RUC) and the Classical Archaelogical Unit (Unité d’archéologie classique), Department of Ancient Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Geneva (UNIGE).

The project is led by Professor Wei Jian (RUC) and Professor Lorenz Baumer (UNIGE). Professor Wei Jian has led more than 80 archaeological excavations, with a focus on the Inner Mongolian section of the Eurasian grasslands. He has built up a department specialized in frontier archaeology with an international teaching team: cross‐cultural exchange is thus crucial to the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies at RUC. Professor Lorenz Baumer is directing several excavation and research projects in the Mediterranean (Sicily, Calabria, Albania, Greece and Cyprus) and a field school in Switzerland, some of them focalizing especially on intercultural encounters and exchange on a regional and local level. He built up a research team with a large spectrum of expertise, reaching from the Aegean prehistory to the Late Antique period, including also the reception of Antiquity in modern European arts and collections.

The main aims of the project were to gain better understanding of the long-distance trade in Antiquity as well as of intercultural exchange, to share methodologies and source material, as well as promote cross‐cultural forms of education and research. And this, through fieldwork and summer schools, mostly aimed at graduate students. Summer schools allowed both sides to engage in discussions on methodology, the study of archaeological material from Chinese and Roman excavations of about the same period, visiting sites and museums, animated discussions and teaching, and, finally, intercultural dialogue and academic mobility.


ACTIVITIES

1st Sino‐Swiss Archaeological Summer School in Switzerland: 5 – 15 July 2018

In July 2018, eight Master and PhD students from the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies at RUC, led by Prof. Jian Wei and Dr Lia Wei, travelled to Geneva to meet and work with Prof. Lorenz Baumer, other UNIGE faculty members, graduate students and field actors. This first trip has been the occasion for sharing methodologies and research material for the study of the material culture of the Roman world and the Ancient Mediterranean in general. They spent two weeks getting familiar with Roman material in Swiss museums and collections (Geneva Museum of Art and History, Avenches archaeological Museum, Museum Augusta Raurica, and Antikenmuseum Basel) and working on original material, as well as participating actively in the excavations at Avenches. This was completed by visits of laboratories (dendrochronology, anthropology, restoration laboratories), getting the scholars familiar with actual technologies in excavation, material analysis and restoration. Later on, teaching on different subjects was integrated into the programme, together with exchanges with field archaeologists and museum directors.

Excavation at Avenches, Switzerland (Photo: L. Baumer)

Talking to excavators in Augusta Raurica, Switzerland (Photo: L. Baumer)

Visiting the Antikenmuseum Basel, Switzerland (Photo: L. Baumer)

2nd Sino‐Swiss Archaeological Summer School in China: 22 – 31 July 2019
In July 2019, the second summer school was held in Beijing and Inner Mongolia, bringing together Chinese and Swiss students and faculty members. The very rich program, elaborated and directed by Prof. Jian Wei, consisted of several visits of archaeological museums and sites, material studies, participation on an excavation, exchange of research and excavation methodology, discussions and workshops. One workshop dealt with work on the exhibition planned for 2020-2021, and the planning of the future collaboration consisting in the organization of three colloquia, exchange of teachers, and PhD students, and so on.

Examining the excavated pottery from Jijiazhuang, China (Photo: L. Baumer)

Archaeological dig of a Neolithic site in Jijiazhuang, China (Photo: L. Baumer)

Visiting the Xanadu excavation, China (Photo: L. Baumer)

OUTCOMES

The outcomes of the project are very positive, with the planned aims fully achieved. The 2nd year of the project significantly strengthened the two departments both on a personal and scientific level. Besides the abovementioned exhibition, several ideas for future collaborations are in the making, with the project going strong in its 3rd year in 2020.

Academic mobility

  • Study and research stays of 2 PhD students from RUC who obtained scholarships to spend 6 and 12 months at UNIGE (archaeology), 2019-2020;
  • Teaching and research stays of 2 faculty members of the Classical Archaeology Unit, Dr. Patrizia Birchler Emery and Dr. Virginie Nobs, who spent 2 weeks at RUC teaching Greek ceramics sculpture, while working on arrangements of future projects;
  • Participation of Prof. Lorenz E. Baumer at the international conference “Theorizing (IM) Material Cultural Heritage in China” held at RUC in 2019;
  • Invitation of Prof. Jian Wei in spring 2020 to UNIGE for a series of lectures (postponed to a later date due to the coronavirus outbreak);
  • Future plans include the participation of up to 10 students from RUC in the archaeological excavation of the Classical Archaeology Unit (UNIGE) in Lilibaeum/Marsala (Sicily) in September 2020.


Publications

Baumer, Lorenz E.; Fu Chengzhang, « 中国与罗马帝国 一公元 1 ~ 2 世纪罗马与远东往来的考古学证据 »[translation: China and the Roman Empire ‐ Archeological testimonials for Roman contact with the Far East during the First and the Second centuries AD], 北方民族考古 [The Archaeology of Northern Ethnicity], n° 6, 2018, 178‐193.

Monnier, Vincent, “Sur les Chemins de Xanadu”, in Campus, n° 139, 46-49.


CHALLENGES

The main challenge of the project consisted in the development of scientific collaboration bringing together colleagues from two different cultures in research and teaching. At the same time, the common interest in archaeology and museology facilitated the exchange immensely. As this experience shows, shared interests and the explicit willingness to collaborate is fundamental. If that is the case, as was the case in this project, it opens many opportunities to develop further collaboration, in the interest of the partnering institutions.