Chinese and French archaeologists claim to have discovered the ruins of an
ancient city which disappeared in the desert in Northwest China more than 2,200
The ancient city, shaped like a peach, is located in the center of the
Taklimakan Desert, the second largest shifting desert in the world, covering a
total area of 337,600 square kilometers, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous
The perimeter of the city walls is 995 meters, with the height ranging from
three meters to 11 meters. Archaeologists found traces of city gates and
passages at the southern and eastern walls.
The city walls were built from branches of poplar trees and branches of the
Chinese tamarisk, a kind of willow. A protective slope was created outside the
city walls and filled with branches, reeds, silt and dung of domesticated
The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Archaeological Research Institute and
the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique of France jointly launched an
archaeological program in 1993.
They aimed to explore the Keriya River Valley area, a river that originates
in the glaciers on the northern slope of the Kunlun Mountains and flows more
than 860 kilometers before disappearing in the sand in the Taklimakan Desert.
"Our biggest success was the discovery of the ancient city in 1994," said
Idilis Abdurensule, a research fellow with the Xinjiang archaeological research
Chinese and French archaeologists made five excavations at the site of the
ancient city from 1993 to the end of 2005. Both sides began studying their
findings since the beginning of this year and have made some progress in their
research, Abdurensule told Xinhua on Monday.
Carbon dating by French archaeologists shows that the city wall dated back
"We think the city had disappeared before the Western Han Dynasty (206
B.C.-25 A.D.) as we did not discover any relics of Western Han and of the
historical periods after the Western Han," said Abdurensule, adding this was the
oldest city ever discovered in Xinjiang.
In the late 19th century, ruins of a Tang Dynasty (618-907) town were found
in an area about 200 kilometers south of this ancient city, and the ruins of a
town of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 AD) to the Jin Dynasty (265-420) period
were discovered in an area 43 kilometers south of this ancient city.
The Uygurs of Yutian County, 300 kilometers south of the ancient city, call
the area where the ancient city was found "Youmulakekum", meaning "round sand",
leading the archaeologists to name the ancient city "The Old City of Round
Sand". But unlike the other ancient cities discovered in the area, the Round
Sand city can not be found in any historical documents.
Archaeologists discovered more than 20 tombs in the areas around the city,
only three of which remained intact. In one of the tombs, the bodies of two
males, sporting pigtails and wigs, were found facing each other. In two others,
a man and a woman were found in each.
French archaeologists said the corpses dated back 2,100 years according to
C14 dating, and the four people belonged to the Caucasoid group of the Caucasian
race. However, they could not explain where the people were from.
Generally speaking, the Caucasoid group mainly live in Europe, West Asia and
The people wore woolen fabric and leather clothes. They also had ornaments on
their clothes, which were made of wolf hide and some of them had ornaments on
hats and waistbands. One woman was wearing a red agate ornament around her neck
and leather gloves and ornaments made of shell.
The findings show that these people were skillful in textiles, and they used
wool from sheep and camels to make clothes, said Corinne Debaine Francfort, a
French scholar who participated in the excavation.
The people could dye wool into bright red, yellow, blue, purple, black, white
and coffee by using dyestuff from plants, minerals and even from insects, said
The Round Sand city could have been a place where goods from west and east
were traded, said Francfort, saying "Agate ornaments could have come from the
West and shell ornaments from the East."
Archaeologists also found skeletons of many animals which, according to
archaeologists, show that the animal husbandry, fishery and hunting were very
important parts of the lives of the people.
Irrigation ditches were also found in the areas around the city ruins, which
show Round Sand people had developed irrigated farming, said French
archaeologist Henri Paul Francfort, adding that they also found traces of wheat
and millet, many different-sized saddle-shaped millstones and numerous caches
for storing grain inside the city.
The residential areas were located in the northern part of the Round Sand
city. "Almost all the things in the city were made from poplar trees, including
the city walls, city gates, houses and tombs, and also the daily necessities
such as wooden barrels, bowls and combs," said Abdurensule. "They also used
poplar tree branches to cook meals and produce heating during winter. However,
not a single poplar tree can be found in the area today."
Archaeologists did not find any trace of written materials, symbols or
anything that could tell the history of the city.
Based on analysis of satellite pictures and on-the-spot investigations,
archaeologists found that the Round Sand area used to be covered by many rivers
and thick forest, a home to 98 kinds of wild vertebrate, said Ma Ming, a
research fellow with the Xinjiang Ecological and Geological Research Institute
of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
As for the reason behind the city's disappearance, Abdurensule explained that
the Keriya River had retreated gradually due to the expansion of desert and the
local environment had deteriorated due to the excessive felling of trees. The
people had to move to other places to survive.
The result is that the city was not recorded and today's people can not know
its religion, social organizations, language and origin, Abdurensule said.
The final report on the discovery of the Round Sand city is expected to come
out next year.