Abstract: China’s First Empire? Interpreting the Material Record of the Erligang Expansion


This lecture will introduce the diffusion of a distinctive material culture, the Erligang culture, in a very large scale in early Bronze Age China. I will compare it with the “Uruk expansion” in ancient Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley civilization in the Old World and the Olmec civilization in the New World. In each of the four cases, the homogeneity of material culture over a large area suggests intensive human contacts. Something of great magnitude was taking place, but so far specialists have not reached consensus regarding the social mechanisms that made happening the transmission of things, ideas, or people. The four civilizations all have tentative evidence of writing, yet none can be deciphered to supply written testimony. By comparing the four material cultures side by side, I hope to draw a list of optional models that would otherwise seldom occur to us if focused just on one region.

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