Melody Li


melody li





Melody Li

DPhil candidate, School of Archaeology



I was born and grew up in Brisbane, Australia and graduated from the University of Queensland with a BA Hons in Archaeology. I trained in archaeobotany and Classics, but was always curious to study Chinese archaeology after spending 5 years living in Beijing. I came to Oxford in 2020 to study my MSc in Chinese Archaeology. After graduating, I spent a year in London working at a tea shop, the National Science Museum, and an art gallery specialising in contemporary Chinese ceramics, before returning to Oxford in 2022 to begin my DPhil in Chinese Archaeobotany. My research interests are ancient plants and medicine, sensory archaeology, and cultural heritage management, especially intangible heritage.

DPhil topic

Tea (Camellia Sinensis) is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Poems and writings from the Tang Dynasty onwards celebrate the sensory experience of consuming tea, and the links between taste, tea connoisseurship and ceramics have also been noted in literature. However, the early history of tea is shrouded in mystery. Recent archaeological discoveries push the use of tea leaves in China far earlier than current written records, and my research seeks to understand early tea culture from the Warring States Period to the Western Han Dynasty using archaeobotanical, chemical and ceramic analysis. Furthermore, archaeological discussions of plants in the past rarely touch on the taste and smell of food and drink. Hence, using tea as a case study, I hope to develop theories and methods to consider the role of taste within wider archaeobotanical discussions, and hope to answer the following questions: 1) why should we study taste in archaeology? 2) how should we study taste in archaeology? 3) what was the ‘taste’ of tea in archaeological sites discovered around China? 4) How does the role of taste fit into wider archaeobotanical debates or interpretative models?