12/03/2009, 00.00
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Fr Raffaele Maglioni’s contribution to China’s archaeology and history

by Annie Lam
An exhibit has opened at the Hong Kong Museum of History on the pioneering work of the PIME missioner, who is held in high regard among mainland and Hong Kong archaeologists. He was the first to use carbon dating in archaeological finds. His work is a sign of the love missioners have for China and its history.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The archaeological finds by an Italian priest of ancient Chinese artefacts in southern China not only raise awareness of prehistoric civilizations in the region, but also show the importance of his contribution to the progress of Chinese culture and science. A collection of archaeological artefacts put together by Fr Raffaele (Raphael) Maglioni (1891-1953), a missioner with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), is currently on display at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The exhibit opened in early November and is set to last for three months. It will give the public an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of early archaeological work in eastern Guangdong, Haifeng and Wuhua as well as Hong Kong.

Museum Assistant Curator for Archaeology Ray MK Ma told AsiaNews, “Father Maglioni’s finds have led archaeologists in Hong Kong and Guangdong to revisit the sites where he discovered potteries and artefacts to deepen their study of the lives of Chinese people in ancient times.”

Archaeologists from the museum and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have reviewed Father Maglioni’s finds. He was the first person to use carbon-14 data analysis techniques on archaeological finds from China.

“The archaeologists in Guangdong are keen on revisiting the locations where Father Maglioni did his surveys,” Mr Ma noted. Moreover, “It is important to share with the public how local archaeologists value the missioner’s early work from the 1930s to the 1950s,” he added.

The missioner’s fieldwork, research, collecting and publications are still regarded as “a valuable reference source for archaeological studies in southern China,” says the pamphlet on the museum exhibit.

His collection includes a ceremonial stone axe from the early Shang dynasty (1600-1300 BC), unearthed in Haifeng, and a stringed stone ornament from the late Shang to the early western Zhou periods (1300-900 BC), unearthed in Basaiyuan, Shanwei, Guangdong.

For Gianni Criveller, it is amazing to see how much archaeological exploration Father Maglioni was able to carry out whilst performing his duties as a parish priest in Haifeng.

“It’s a sign of the love and respect he had for Chinese civilization and culture as well as for the progress of knowledge in ancient Chinese history, culture and science,” the scholar said.

Father Criveller explained that this exhibit is the first public display in Hong Kong of the Maglioni Collection. Bishop Lorenzo Bianchi of Hong Kong donated the collection to the local government in 1955. Some of the artefacts were displayed in Milan (Italy) some years ago.

Titled “Pioneer Archaeologist in South China: Father Maglioni’s Collection of Archaeological Finds”, the exhibition runs from 4 November to 1 February 2010.

Father Maglioni came to Haifeng as a missioner, and had no formal training in archaeology. In 1920, he was inspired by Jesuit Father Daniel Finn (1886-1936), an archaeological pioneer in southern China, to start his own research.

Between 1934 and 1946, he carried out extensive archaeological surveys in eastern Guangdong and Fujian, putting together a large quantity of archaeological finds.

His work reflected the emphasis archaeologists of his time placed on issues like object classification, typology and different kinds of sites. His collection mostly came from the mainland but some finds are from Hong Kong as well.

After his death, the PIME missionary was buried in Hong Kong. On 23 November, dozens of PIME Fathers and Sisters celebrated a mass in Hong Kong’s Happy Valley cemetery, with a special tribute to Father Maglioni.

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