Virtual Lecture: Elizabeth Berger: Porous boundaries: embodied and material identities in Warring States period Shaanxi (On Altars of Soil lecture series)

Nick Vogt's picture

As part of the lecture series "On Altars of Soil: Unearthing New Narratives in Early Chinese History," the Indiana University East Asian Studies Center Colloquium, with the co-sponsorship of the Tang Center for Early China, presents the following virtual lecture on Friday, October 22, 2021 from 12 noon to 1:15 PM EST:

Porous boundaries: embodied and material identities in Warring States period Shaanxi

Elizabeth Berger, University of California, Riverside

This talk discusses the contributions of bioarchaeology to an understanding of ancient Chinese identity and group affiliation. Textual records and material culture remains recovered in archaeological investigations provide ample but complex evidence for both the perception and enforcement of ethnic group boundaries in ancient China. The evidence embodied in human skeletal remains—of diet, daily activities, and genetic relatedness—adds another layer of information on how these boundaries were enacted in individuals’ lives. This talk presents an analysis of over 100 skeletons from two Warring States period (771-476 BC) cemeteries in Shaanxi, China. Some of the skeletons and their associated remains show a close cultural and biological affiliation with archaeological groups to the northwest, suggesting they were some of the historically attested migrants to the region, while others appear to be local Huaxia people. However, differences in their diet and daily activity do not correspond to these archaeological groups.  By examining biological and cultural evidence together, I demonstrate that while subsistence practices spread through the porous boundary between groups, Warring States inhabitants of Shaanxi still maintained that boundary through their material culture and mortuary practices.


Elizabeth Berger is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. She received her BA in Archaeology from Columbia University, and her PhD in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a bioarchaeologist whose research focuses on prehistoric human-environment interaction and adaptation, especially the transition from Neolithic to Bronze Age subsistence and settlement patterns in Northwest China and its impact on human demography and epidemiology. She also examines historic period gender and identity through her work on foot binding and individual osteobiographies. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and edited volumes in both Chinese and English.

To register for the lecture, please visit:

For additional information on the On Altars of Soil series, please visit the initiative website at or contact the organizers, Glenda Chao (Ursinus College) and Nick Vogt (Indiana University), at: onaltarsofsoil (at) We look forward to hearing from you!

The On Altars of Soil series is sponsored by the East Asian Studies Center at Indiana University; the College Arts and Humanities Center, Indiana University; and the Tang Center for Early China, Columbia University.