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SHIJIAZHUANG - Chinese archaeologists in the northern province of Hebei in January unearthed nearly 3,000 Buddha statues that could date back about 1,500 years.
The discovery is believed to be the largest of its kind in the country since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, an archaeologist with the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said at a press conference on Monday.
A team formed by archaeologists from the CASS and the Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage in January found 2,895 Buddha statues and statue fragments in a 3-meter-wide, 1.5-meter-deep pit at the historic site of Yecheng, an 2,500-year-old ancient city located in what is now Linzhang county, said Dr. He Liqun, a member of the team.
The Buddha statues, mostly made of white marble and blue stone, could date back to the Eastern Wei and Northern Qi dynasties (534 AD-577 AD).
The statues, some of which are painted or gilded, are sized from 20 centimeters long to the size of an actual person, said Zhang Wenrui, an official with the provincial cultural heritage bureau.
Yecheng was first built in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC) and served as the political center of China during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 AD-280 AD) and the Northern dynasties (386 AD-581 AD).
Buddhism was very popular during the Eastern Wei and Northern Qi dynasties, when Yecheng served as the capital. It was especially prevalent in the Northern Qi period, as the imperial family revered Buddhas and more than one-seventh of the population were Buddhist monks and nuns.
The cultural relics bureau of Linzhang county said in an emailed statement to Xinhua last week that the county has signed a letter of intent with a local company to co-invest 10 billion yuan ($1.59 billion) to create a Buddhist cultural park in Linzhang.
The cultural park, which is expected to cover 1,600 mu (107 hectares), aims to step up research efforts, protect Buddhist relics as well as develop the local tourism market, said the statement.
The park will include a museum, a Buddhist school, temples, Buddha statues as well as hotels, shops and parking lots for tourists, it said.
However, the statement did not mention when construction will start or how long it will take, as the two sides are still working out the details of the project.