Located in Huangpi District, Wuhan City, Hubei Province, dated to about 3,500 years ago, the site of Panlongcheng was an important centre in the Yangtze River basin, with the clearest layouts and richest relics of the pre-Shang Dynasty and bronze civilisation. Now the total conservation area of the site of Panlongcheng covers 3.95 square kilometres, and the Panlongcheng Site Museum, as the main management institution of this site, is responsible for its daily protection and exhibition.
Since the discovery of this site in 1954, archaeological work has continued for more than 60 years, and we have accumulated a lot of research results. These results have gained a lot of attention and have inspired a lot of conservation and exhibition work for the site after the establishment of the Panlongcheng Site Museum in 2016. This is why the Panlongcheng Site Museum has always had a tradition of attaching importance to archaeology, which is determined by some objective reasons. On the one hand, Chinese characters had not yet appeared in China at the time when the site of Panlongcheng existed, and we could not obtain information related to the location of Panlongcheng from ancient documents. Still, we could only obtain some information through archaeological excavations to provide credible suggestions for the restoration, conservation, and exhibition of it. On the other hand, the archaeological history of this site is also a part of the history of Panlongcheng, which is rich in exhibition and ornamental value, so when planning the exhibition, we added it to the exhibition content.
Aerial photograph of the Panlongcheng Site (this photograph was taken of the core area of the Panlongcheng site, including the remaining square site walls and abandoned palaces)
The Panlongcheng Site Museum has recruited many graduate students who majored in archaeology, formed a group of professional teams, brought in the archaeological thinking mode in the conservation and exhibition work of the site, made feasible suggestions, prepared a set of conservation and exhibition work plans belonging to the site of Panlongcheng and construction plans of the Panlongcheng National Archaeological Site Park. On the principle of "not destroying the site", these plans are oriented towards professional academic research and the innovative use of new materials and techniques to protect and restore the site, making it one of the Panlongcheng Site Museum's most exquisite exhibits.
The working pattern of the teams is also different from that of other museums. In most museums in China, one person is responsible for only one aspect of the work, either exhibition or site conservation. Each member of our team is involved in multiple aspects of work, not only in the archaeological excavation of the site, the arrangement and restoration of artefacts, and the conservation of the site, but also in organizing one or two original temporary exhibitions per year. When we encounter important work, we will meet for internal communication and exchange ideas. Such a working model has two advantages: firstly, knowledge and experience in different fields can be used as references to each other, and secondly, the exchange and discussion of multiple people can learn together and generate new ideas.
The young team formed by the Panlongcheng Site Museum (team members graduated in archaeology and are mainly responsible for the conservation and restoration of the site, as well as planning the exhibition of Pan Long Cheng)
The biggest difficulty we faced in the conservation and exhibition work was how to restore the badly damaged site. Because of their age, the wooden city buildings are difficult to preserve, and they were seriously damaged by nature and humans. We invited some authoritative experts to restore Panlongcheng No.1 and No.2 large palace buildings according to archaeological materials. At the same time, we also restored and protected the core areas, such as the site walls and noble burial areas, to some extent. Some historical remains, such as the above-ground parts of the palace buildings, would not have been recovered without the relevant archaeological data. Fortunately, we have learned from our research that the inhabitants of Panlongcheng were typical of the Shang Dynasty and that its architecture would therefore have been similar to that of the Shang people in other regions. For this reason, we have succeeded in restoring the above-ground parts of the palace building and have moved the restored model to the exhibition hall for display. Although it is not possible to restore 100% of the original appearance of the site, the most important thing is that we have made our maximum efforts based on scientific information and data instead of unjustified fiction.
The results of our research, including site conservation, site restoration and some archaeological findings, have also become an important part of the museum's exhibitions. The content is very specialized and beyond the knowledge of most visitors, so the audience is very interested and willing to read it. At the same time, based on some archaeological research findings, we have done a lot of artistic creation, such as creating some exhibition paintings that show scenes of rituals, wars and the production of bronzes during the Shang Dynasty. These exhibition paintings can be integrated with the cultural relics, and when visitors visit the exhibition, they will feel that the surroundings are more realistic, as if they have really travelled through 3,500 years of time and seen with their own eyes the ancient and prosperous city of Panlongcheng. Our exhibition is an introduction to the history of the urban development of Panlongcheng from the perspective of an archaeologist and with easy-to-understand expressions. Both the content and the design of the exhibition reflect a typical Chinese archaeological mindset, with the advantages of greatly enriching the content of the exhibition and providing a more in-depth and professional interpretation of a particular exhibit. As a result, our exhibition was awarded the title of "2019 China's Top Ten Outstanding Exhibition Excellence" and in 2022, Panlongcheng Site Museum was awarded the title of "China’s Most Innovative Museum".
In the future, archaeological thinking and content will be quickly integrated into exhibition work, especially for museums of Chinese heritage sites, which have the functions of site conservation, restoration and exhibition, and this integration will be even faster.
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