Wenli Zhou

The technology and organisation of zinc production in Chongqing, China during the Ming and Qing dynasties

My PhD project sets out to provide a substantial contribution towards our understanding of the zinc smelting technology and the organisation of production during the Ming and Qing dynasties in China.

The first aim is to reconstruct zinc smelting technology employed in the Ming dynasty in Fengdu, using the first excavated Miaobeihou site as a case study. To fulfill this aim, several objectives are listed below:

  • Comparative characterisation of different ceramic fabrics used to make the different parts of retorts (pot, condenser and pocket), identification of their raw materials and assessment how their formal and material properties were adapted to optimise performance characteristics.
  • Analyses of raw materials, zinc metal and metallurgical residues to establish details about the original charge, the zinc products and the metallurgical process taking place within the retorts.
  • Overall reconstruction of the zinc smelting technology and the whole process of production based on archaeological evidence, analytical results and documents on historical and traditional zinc smelting, including an estimation of the production efficiency and scale.

After fully understanding the process at the Miaobeihou site, some other sites in Fengdu and sites in Shizhu will also be investigated in similar ways to reconstruct the metallurgical process at each site. The next aim is to make technological and organisational comparisons between sites within Fengdu/Shizhu, and also between early sites in Fengdu and late sites in Shizhu. Factors such as resource procurement (zinc ore, fuel, clay, water), transportation of raw materials, the choice of location and distribution of products will be assessed to look into the spatial organisation of production in the two groups of sites.

Finally, I will try to answer why the zinc smelting technology in ancient China was such by considering how wider contexts (i.e., environment, technological, economic, social, political and ideological) of the production, distribution and use of zinc influenced 'technological choices' and comparing two different technological traditions of zinc distillation in India and in China.

Funding organisation

  • Kwok foundation, Hong Kong


 Educational background

  • BA, Conservation, Peking University, 2005 
  • MSc, Archaeological science, Peking University, 2008

Zhou, W., Martinón-Torres, M., Chen, J., Liu, H. Large scale zinc production in Fengdu, southwest China, in the Ming period. Submitted to Journal of Archaeological Science.

Zhou, W.,Chen, J., Lei,X., Xu, T., Chong, J. and Wang, Z.,2009. Three Western Zhou bronze foundry sites in the Zhouyuan area, Shaanxi province, China, in J. Mei and T. Rehren (eds), Metallurgy and Civilisation: Eurasia and Beyond, London: Archtype.

Conference presentations

Oral presentation Zinc production in Chongqing, southwest China, during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644): A case study at Miaobeihou site at the 38th International Symposium on Archaeometry in May, 2010.

Oral presentation Three Western Zhou Bronze foundry sites in in the Zhouyuan Area, Shaanxi Province, China  at Urban Archaeometallurgy Conference of Historical Metallurgy Society in February, 2009.

  • Reconstruction of a retort from Miaobeihou site. A retort was made of pot, condenser, pocket and lid. In the lower reaction zone, zinc ore was reduced by coal and charcoal to metallic zinc as a vapour. The zinc vapour passed through the hole of the pocket and condensed within the condensation zone
  • Distribution map of zinc smelting sites in Fengdu

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