UCLA Graduate Division profiles archaeology graduate student (and now Research Coordinator at the University of Helsinki)
The following article, which appears on the website of the UCLA Graduate Division, was published in the Graduate Quarterly in 2004. Since them, Minna Haapanen has received her PhD (in 2005), gotten married (in 2006, she is now Minna Franck), and has been appointed Research Coordinator, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki.
When Minna Haapanen was doing her archaeological fieldwork in Anyang, China, she quickly learned that partaking in group meals was essential to doing business in China, and there was nothing fast about their food rituals.
The person who ordered typically engaged the waitress in "long discussions about the freshness of the fish and how things were prepared," she says. "It took a long time to order." And when the fish was served, if the tail was pointing at you, you were required to engage in other rituals involving alcoholic beverages. In the beginning, Minna was always offered the chair opposite the door-the designated position for the most important person. She quickly learned that gracefully declining that honor was appropriate.
Like so many things in China, elaborate dining rituals have a long history. As early as the Late Shang dynasty, dated ca. 1200 to 1046 BCE, "communal eating was very important in the social life of the elite," says Minna, a doctoral candidate in archaeology, who is affiliated with the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Her dissertation will examine whether the dining rituals typical of those early elites were emulated by the bronze workers who made the vessels the wealthy used on those occasions. To do so, she's looking at ceramic vessels from the workers' households, studying their sizes and shapes and wear patterns to determine how and in what contexts they might have been used.
Minna hadn't settled specifically on that topic, however, when she left to conduct fieldwork in China in the fall of 2001. Her destination was Anyang in Henan province, the last capital of the Shang Dynasty and site of an important series of excavations that were begun in the 1920s. Palace foundations, royal tombs, bone and bronze workshops, burial grounds, and trash pits-all of these are scattered over about 30 square kilometers.
"I had been reading about the place for so long that it was just amazing to be there and to get access to the materials," Minna says "This site is the most important archaeological site in China in terms of the history of the discipline, and being able to work there together with Chinese colleagues is a dream come true for me. It is very difficult to convey to people outside of Chinese archaeology how extremely privileged I feel." During her stay, Minna was also given access to materials from a new site, uncovered in 2000. As she tried to synthesize what she'd seen at both the old and new sites, it became "self-evident that eating would be relevant to look at," Minna says, and she settled on her dissertation topic.
Of particular interest to Minna are the whole or reconstructed vessels recovered in the 1960s from a bronze manufacturing site in Anyang. The size of the vessels might suggest how big a group typically ate and socialized together in those days. The type of decoration might be linked to a possible ceremonial nature of those occasions. Minna is also hoping to make some educated guesses about the social status of the bronze workers and whether this was related to their skills.
Looking at the same materials, Chinese archeologists typically list and provide detailed descriptions of objects, but they rely on historical material for information about what life was like. However, the history that survives from the Shang dynasty is mostly oracle bone inscriptions, which record communications between the king and the king's ancestors and have little to say about ordinary people.
As a result, Minna's work will add an important social context to the literature on ancient China. To do this, Minna is applying anthropological techniques used mostly in the New World "with great originality and creativity," says her mentor, Professor Lothar von Falkenhausen of the Art History Department. "She's making it clear to our Chinese colleagues that some of this research is experimental in nature and by no means intended to challenge their very important work," he says. Minna's interpersonal skills have made her welcome in China, and colleagues there have been quite interested in her approach.
On her trips to China, Minna usually travels via Finland, where she was born and obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees. When she applied to the University of Helsinki, Minna says, "I was supposed to be an Egyptologist, but I never took a single course in Egyptology." Instead, she took a class in Chinese language and culture her first summer and eventually earned degrees in East Asian studies.
During her master's work, she had an opportunity to spend a year at UC Berkeley, working with David Keightley, a renowned expert in oracle bone inscriptions. He steered her to UCLA to study with Professor von Falkenhausen.
Minna's doctoral studies have been supported by a variety of grants, beginning with an ASLA-Fulbright Scholarship and awards from the Cotsen Institute here and the Koneen Säätiö (Kone Foundation) and Academy of Finland in Finland. Last summer, the Institute awarded her the Director's Graduate Research Fellowship, which supports participation in an excavation project unrelated to dissertation research.
For Minna, this meant spending two months at the Mozan/Urkesh Project in Tell Mozan, Syria. This was her first experience helping to conduct an excavation as part of a large project. Although Syria is at a considerable distance from China, the work is relevant to her future goals, Minna says: "Once I get to the point that I can have my own excavation in China, it will help me solve the technical and interpretative problems associated with large horizontal exposures." She will return to the Urkesh/Tell Mozan project this summer.
She's also participated in research in Russia and Iceland, experiences that will help her when she returns to Europe to seek an academic position. In the meantime, Minna has learned a lot about social rules, not only in China but in California as well.
"Here, you have to use a person's first name when you address them"-for example, Hi, David. "Why do I have to tell them their name all the time?" she used to wonder. "I would think they knew it."
Published in Spring 2004, Graduate Quarterly
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2007
© 2013. The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.