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Archaeologists crave important finds at Zhou Dynasty burial site
By Ma Lie (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-18 22:58

Chinese archaeologists hope to discover additional important relics from recently uncovered Western Zhou (1046-771 BC) cemetery to confirm existing findings and reveal new clues about the ancient dynasty.

The excavation on No 32 and No 18 tombs of the cemetery that was discovered earlier this year was approved by the State Cultural Relics Administration. Official digging at the tombs started on Sunday.

"It is the first time to open Western Zhou tombs that feature four tunnels showing they once belonged to high-ranking officials in that ancient dynasty and, their hosts may be the kings of the Western Zhou," said Zhang Tinghao, director of the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Administration.

According to Zhang, the excavation on the two tombs is expected to be completed around the coming Spring Festival (Chinese lunar New Year) which falls in early February. The tombs were chosen to be opened because "they are representatives of all tombs in the cemetery and have proper conditions for digging," the director said.

Located on the Fenghuang Mountain, about seven kilometres north of Qishan County, Shaanxi Province in Northwest China, the Western Zhou cemetery was first found late last year. Then, in February,archaeologists from Beijing and Shaanxi made a trial dig on the cemetery.

"We discovered that in the cemetery there are 22 large-scale tombs, of which 10 have four tunnels -- that we know now are the highest class of tombs in the Western Zhou Dynasty. And we also unearthed some 700 pieces of tortoise shells inscribed with Chinese characters, and some building ruins," said Wang Zhankui, head of the excavation team which has been investigating the cemetery since February.

The Western Zhou Dynasty was a very important period in Chinese history, when China's original feudalism and traditional cultural system were formed. However, there remains a lack of objects about the dynasty for researchers and archaeologists to fully study.

The discovery of the cemetery created a stir in Chinese archaeological circles and is being heralded by top archaeological experts as a find of great significance.

Experts expect to find more objects and hope to make great breakthroughs that could allow analysis and explanations for a series of mysteries of the dynasty.

"However, we can not confirm that we will unearth anything significant from the tombs, because the tombs were robbed many times, and we must work carefully while suppress our curiosity," Wang Zhankui said.

In accordance with instructions from the State Cultural Relics Administration, the archaeological team led by Wang Zhankui will enlarge their investigating area from 10 kilometres to 100 kilometres around the cemetery.

Zhang also revealed that his team drilled 192 tombs outside the cemetery late last month, further confirming the area was an important burial site for high-ranking people in the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Song Xinchao, deputy director of the Cultural Relics Protection Department of the State Cultural Relics Administration, said his administration did not decide if other tombs in the cemetery be opened in the future.

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