Changing cultural and social identities in a border area : the case of Pre-Imperial and early Imperial Sichuan (V-I cent. BC)
My PhD thesis Changing Social and Cultural Identities in a Border Area. The Case of Pre-Imperial and Early Imperial Sichuan discusses the funerary remains of the Sichuan region dated from the Warring States period to the Western Han dynasty (V-I cent. BC.) My research specifically addresses issues of identity, boundaries and social interaction, immediately prior to and during the early incorporation of the region into the empire, as well as the relevance of these concepts for the interpretation of global trends and local variations identified in the archaeological record. My aims were on the one hand to question the attribution of specific cultural traits to distinct "archaeological cultures", as the local "Ba" and "Shu" cultures", and on the other hand to detect from the discontinuities of the archaeological record the existence of cross-cutting and overlapping social and cultural identities. The research entails a qualitative and quantitative analysis of a dataset composed of around 300 burials and their grave goods assemblages recorded in Chinese publications and field records. Special attention was given to the use and association of different burial types, specific classes of items (pottery, bronze weapons, bronze vessels, bronze objects, ornaments, seals, iron and lacquer), and distinct decorative motifs on weapons. The patterns identified in the temporal and spatial variability of the selected funerary elements have suggested the existence of a complex social landscape, characterised by various horizontal and vertical differentiations within and between sites, and by the presence and interaction of different social and cultural groups involved in a process of adjustment, negotiation and redefinition of their own identities. This overall picture is opposed to a more classical and culture-historical perspective which tends to explain variability in the region with the existence of different "archaeological cultures".