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by Charlie Aldinger, Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum scientists have been in search of answers to the question of the origins of the Pacific people and cultures since the inception of the Museum in 1883. They are about to place a few more pieces of the puzzle with the world debut of Lost Maritime Cultures: China and the Pacific, a groundbreaking exhibition opening Feb. 24 and continuing through April 15 that explores cultural and anthropological connections between ancient China and Oceania.

Included will be sample artifacts of some of the prehistoric seafaring civilizations of China, featuring many rare national cultural treasures that have never traveled outside of the country.

Most scientists have determined that Southeast China is the original homeland of the Austronesians, a group that includes Polynesians, Melanesians, Micronesians, and the indigenous people in Southeastern Asian Archipelagos. Some of the maritime cultures featured in this exhibition are believed to be the ultimate source of the seafaring Austronesian culture that eventually spread out throughout the Pacific, reaching as far north as the Hawaiian Islands and as far east as the west coast of South America.

Tianlong Jiao, Bishop Museum’s chairman of Anthropology and a world-renowned expert in Chinese archaeology, is directing this international research project with cooperation from the government of the People’s Republic of China and the support of the Freeman Foundation. Working with the Chinese State Bureau of Cultural Heritage, the Department of Cultural Affairs of Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces, Jiao has arranged for the loan of exciting examples of material culture from a prehistoric past dating from 3,000 to 7,000 years ago.

“ Bishop Museum was founded to honor Hawaiian royalty, and our collection of cultural objects and natural history specimens from across the Pacific Basin helps present the rich history of Pacific cultures and migration,” said Bishop Museum President Bill Brown. “We hope Lost Maritime Cultures will stimulate more discussion, more questions, and more reasons to identify what these cultures share in common and what makes them unique.”

Lost Maritime Cultures will include extraordinary archaeological discoveries in Southeast China made over the past half century. The coast area of Southeast China was home to prehistoric peoples who had great maritime traditions, civilizations that flourished from 7,000 to 3,000 years ago, but whose existence was never recorded in historic texts. It wasn’t until modern archaeology began in China that these cultural finds were unearthed and studied by archeologists.

The exhibition will consist of three parts: The Beginning of Maritime Traditions in China, specifically in the Hemudu culture (7,000-5,000 B.C.E.); Voyaging on the Pacific Coast, featuring four seafaring societies in prehistoric Southeast China (6,000-4,000 B.C.E.); and the Splendor of Coastal Civilizations (5,000-3,000 B.C.E.), featuring three complex societies: The Liangzhu, the Huangtulun, and the Fubin.

The Hemudu people were rice farmers and fishermen who developed seafaring which allowed them to migrate southward along the coast of Southeast China. Many scholars believe the Hemudu culture was the ultimate source of the proto-Austronesian cultures. Their descendents colonized most of the Pacific Islands. The Hemudu people were also skilled carpenters and craftsmen, manufacturing fabulous ceramics, bone tools, stone adzes, and personal ornaments. The exhibition will feature objects found in the Tianluoshan, Zishan, and Hemudu sites will be featured.

The second section of the exhibit looks at four seafaring societies of Southeast China 4,000-6,000 years ago: Keqiutou, Damoashan, Tanshishan, and Huangguashan. These people that lived along the coast and on the islands of Southeast China at that time were voyagers with a mixed economy of farming and fishing. They lived in small villages, made stone tools, manufactured ceramics, and exchanged goods with one another.

The last section of the exhibition features extraordinary artistic works created by indigenous peoples who lived on the coast of Southeast China from 5,000 to 3,000 years ago. This society had a high level of complexity of social and political organization. These people are believed to be descendants of the pre-/proto-Austronesians who continued to live in China for the past two millennia. Among the highlights are discoveries of the lost civilizations of the Liangzhu, Huangtulun, and Fubin cultures.

Liangzhu culture has been called the “civilization of jade,” and will be represented by splendid jade works with unparalleled artistic sophistication. The Huangtulun and Fubin cultures were early Bronze Age civilizations and will be represented by elaborately manufactured ritual stone tools, weapons, and pottery.

The exhibition will include a hardcover, full-color catalogue (approximately 300 pages) published by Bishop Press available for $49.95 in Shop Pacifica at Bishop Museum. For catalogue ordering information, e-mail press@bishopmuseum.org or call (808) 848-4135.

The Museum also plans a variety of programs to augment the presentation. For more information about Lost Maritime Cultures: China and the Pacific, call (808) 847-3511, or visit the Web site at www.bishopmuseum.org.


The excavation of the Zishan site (Zhejiang Province) in 1996.

Finely carved motif: Jade piece with deity/animal mask carved in fine lines. Possible representations of a Shamanism religion in the Liangzhu culture.

Painted ceramic hu-flask: Handmade from gray-yellow ceramic tempered with fine sand. Decorated with cord markings and egg-shaped red spots on the surface and vertical stripes on the inside of the mouth. Characterized by a straight slightly open mouth, short neck, slightly bulging body, a round bottom, and a short circular foot. From the collection of Fujian Provincial Museum.

Painted ceramic cup: Made from fine paste, gray hard ceramic with a slightly flared mouth, slanting straight lip, a cylindrical body beneath the lip, and a short outward flaring ring foot. From Fujian Provincial Museum.

Crown-shaped ornament: Gray-white jade piece with tea-colored mottling, cut into a crown shape at the top. Deity image in the middle with bird shapes to either side. From the collection of Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Antiquity and Archaeology.

Courtesy Bishop Museum



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