These three ambitious, successful and highly rewarding books help us to rethink the archaeology of ancient China and its context. The work co-authored by Linduff, Sun, Cao and Liu is the most wide-ranging. It offers an overview of ancient Chinese interactions with Central Asian neighbours over more than two millennia, from the first beginnings of metal use up to the Iron Age. It also aims to change the narrative of this region by re-interpreting the ‘Inner Asian frontier’ as a multi-centred, dynamic, diverse and changing ‘contact zone’ unlike the uniform barbarian steppe set apart from incipient Chinese civilization that an earlier literature tended to imagine. The authors focus on distinct yet overlapping aspects of life and interaction on this frontier—‘technoscapes’, ‘individualscapes’, ‘lineagescapes’, ‘regionscapes’—departing from the Sinocentric view where the only interesting questions about ancient frontier peoples were how the barbarians contributed (or not), to the making of the (glory of the) Sino-centres. The recent exciting debates over the Shimao “city too far north” (Jaang et al. 2018) come to mind!
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