Rowan K. Flad, "Salt Production and Social Hierarchy in Ancient China" (Cambridge UP, 2011)

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Many of us try to be thoughtful about the ways that we incorporate (or try, at least, to incorporate) different modes of evidence into our attempts to understand the past: objects, creatures, words, ideas. Rowan Flad's Salt Production and Social Hierarchy in Ancient China: An Archaeological Investigation of Specialization in China's Three Gorges (Cambridge UP, 2011) stands as a beautiful case study of what it can look like to do so. Flad juxtaposes texts, bamboo slips, ceramic sherds, animal remains, and other lines of evidence to offer an exceptionally rich account of the technology of salt production in early China, offering glimpses at comparative archeological practices, ideas of spatiality, and the diversity of uses of animals in early China along the way. Reading the book inspired, for me, new ways of thinking about the conceptual role of fragments in the work of the historian, and our conversation was similarly inspiring.

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