Johan Gunnar Andersson bigraphy, stories - Swedish archeologist and geologist

Johan Gunnar Andersson : biography

July 3, 1874 - October 29, 1960

Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874–1960), Swedish archaeologist, paleontologist and geologist, closely associated with the beginnings of Chinese archaeology in the 1920s. His Chinese name was An Tesheng (安特生).

After studies at Uppsala University, and research in the polar regions, Andersson served as Director of Sweden's National Geological Survey.

He participated in the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901 to 1903 (on the ship Antarctic).

In 1914 he was invited to China as mining adviser to the Chinese government. His affiliation was with China's National Geological Survey (Dizhi diaochasuo) which was organized and led by the extraordinary Chinese scholar Ding Wenjiang (V.K. Ting). During this time, Andersson helped train China’s first generation of geologists, and also made numerous discoveries of iron ore and other mining resources, as well as discoveries in geology and paleontology.

Andersson paid his first visit to Zhoukoudian in 1918 drawn to an area called Chicken-bone Hill by locals who have misidentified the rodent fossils that are found in abundance there. He returned in 1921 and was led by local quarrymen to Dragon Bone Hill where he identified quartz that was not local to the area. Realising that this may indicate the presence of prehistoric man he set his assistant, Otto Zdansky, to work excavating. Zdansky returned for further excavations in 1923 and a great deal of material was shipped to Uppsala for analysis. Eventually in 1926, on the occasion of a visit by the Swedish Prince to Beijing, Andersson announced the discovery of two human teeth. These are later identified as being the first finds of Peking Man.

In collaboration with Chinese colleagues such as Yuan Fuli and others, he then discovered prehistoric Neolithic remains in central China’s Henan Province, along the Yellow River. The remains were named Yangshao culture after the village where they were first excavated, in 1921. This too was a highly important breakthrough, since the prehistory of what is now China had not yet been investigated in scientific archaeological excavations and the Yangshao and other prehistoric cultures were completely unknown (they had never been mentioned in any historical documents, and had never before been recognized and investigated).

In the following years, 1923–24, Andersson, in his capacity as a staff member of China's National Geological Survey, conducted archaeological excavations in the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai, again in collaboration with Chinese colleagues, and published numerous books and scientific papers on Chinese archaeology, many in the Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, which he founded and launched in 1929, and where he published his most significant scientific reports on his own work.

Andersson's most well-known popular book on his time in China is Den gula jordens barn, 1932, translated into several languages, including English (as Children of the Yellow Earth, 1934, reprinted 1973), Japanese, and Korean. For an extensive bibliography of Andersson's works, and a comprehensive discussion of his and his colleagues' archaeological research in China, see M. Fiskesjö and Chen Xingcan, China before China: Johan Gunnar Andersson, Ding Wenjiang, and the Discovery of China's Prehistory. Stockholm: Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities [Östasiatiska museet], 2004.

In 1926, Andersson founded the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, Sweden (in Swedish: Östasiatiska museet), a national museum established to house the Swedish part of the collections from these first-ever scientific archaeological excavations in China. Andersson served as the director of the MFEA until he was succeeded in 1939 by the famous Swedish Sinologist Bernhard Karlgren.

Selections of the Swedish portion of the materials is on display at the MFEA in a new permanent exhibit launched 2004. The Chinese part of the Andersson collections, according to a bilateral Sino-Swedish agreement, was returned by him to the Chinese government in seven shipments, 1927-1936. The first shipments were sent by Andersson to Peking, and the last ones to Nanjing, which had become the new capital of China. An exhibit with these objects was mounted at the new National Geological Survey complex in Nanjing, where Andersson saw them in 1937, the last time they were reported seen by anyone. The last documentary evidence of these objects was a 1948 Visitors Guide to the Geological Survey museum in Nanjing, which listed Andersson's Yangshao artefacts among the exhibits.

The objects were long thought to be irretrievably lost in the civil war that followed, until 2002. After major renovations at the Geological Museum of China, the successor to the Geological Survey's museum, staff found three crates of ceramic vessels and fragments while re-organising items in storage. Following contact with the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska Museet) in Stockholm, it was confirmed that these were indeed left from Andersson's excavations. In 2006, these objects featured in an exhibition at the Geological Museum on the occasion of its 90th anniversary, celebrating the lives and work of Andersson and its other founders. In 2007, the Geological Museum of China published a documentary film (see review and discussion in Fiskesjö 2010).

Still, as of 2010, the vast majority of the objects returned to China by Andersson remain lost. This includes a spectacular and unique human-faced ceramic shaman head (see illustration in Fiskesjö and Chen 2004, repeated in Fiskesjö 2010), and numerous spectacular painted ceramic vessels. Even though similar such ceramics have been excavated since Andersson's time by Chinese archaeologists, these lost collections hold a special interest and value since they derive from the first scientific archaeological excavations in China. It is possible they remain in Nanjing, but despite investigations by several competent parties (Andersson's sending lists have been copied by the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities to major institutions for cultural heritage and archaeology in China), they have not been relocated, and their whereabouts remains unknown.

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