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Newly unearthed finds will enhance research
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-24 09:22

Chinese archaeologists are making important and interesting discoveries across the nation. Some of them might lead to breakthroughs, while others might throw more light on things already known.

Shanxi Province

A group of Buddhist sculptures recently caught archaeologists' attention in North China's Shanxi Province.

Located in Jiaguo Village in the city of Qingyuan, in southern Shanxi, the sculptures, numbering nearly 100, are set in grottoes of different sizes.

The sculptures date back to the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534), whose rulers were enthusiastic promoters of Buddhism.

Unlike the Buddhist sculptures in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), these are thin in body and aloof in expression. They are all vivid representations of figures from Buddhist stories.

According to Wang Xiaohong, director of the Cultural Relics Protection Bureau in Qingyuan, such sculptures are rare in Shanxi Province and they hold important value for the study of Buddhism in the Northern Wei Dynasty.

Wang said that iron fences will be built this year as the first step of protection. But further protection will need more funding which is beyond the local government's capacity at present.

About 120 kilometres southeast of Qingyuan, the tomb of a general who lived more than 400 years ago was recently unearthed in downtown Jincheng.

A group of construction workers found a stone tablet while building a fruit store. Suspecting that it might be valuable, they reported the find to the local cultural heritage department.

The tablet is believed by experts to be a gravestone, and the inscription suggests it was made for Shen Qigong, a general of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), who died sometime during the reign of Emperor Wan Li (1573-1620).

The general was 69 years old when he died, according to the inscription.

The local public security authority has closed off the site to protect it from intruders while archaeologists have opened the tomb with hope of finding other relics. A cultural heritage official said two more ancient tombs had been found next to this one, but did not give any details.

Gansu Province

An ancient earthen jar painted with two human-body designs, the first of its kind ever discovered in China, has been unearthed in Lintao, a city in Northwest China's Gansu Province.

The 30-centimetre-tall jar, discovered by local peasants, has a pair of asymmetrical handles and a fish-like mouth, which is common in ancient pottery unearthed in Gansu, says Wang Haidong, vice-president of the provincial Research Institute of Ancient Painted Pottery.

The jar dates back about 3,200 years ago, placing it in the Majiayao culture type (about 3300 BC-2050 BC).

The image of two human figures, painted in black pigment, is the first of its kind ever unearthed in China, Wang said.

Clearly painted and lifelike, the two figures are in different postures, with intact trunks, legs and arms, heads and facial features.

Designs related to human bodies had been found on pottery unearthed in China before, but these two figures are different in that they are depicted using lines, according to Wang.

The discovery of a human body design on ancient pottery indicates that the ancient Chinese people were skilled in drawing and proves that pottery designs are a factor in the origin of traditional Chinese painting, Wang said.


A mountain stronghold of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) has been discovered in Yunyang County of Chongqing Municipality, in Southwest China. The grand stronghold was built along the Jincheng Mountains, and looks like the world famous Great Wall in Beijing, according to archaeologists.

There were three beacon towers, one at each end and another in the middle of the stronghold, connected by city walls, which were 5 kilometres long, 5 to 7 metres high and 1.2 metres thick.

Archaeologists say the stronghold had three gates. Words on a stele near one gate say that it was built in the Ming Dynasty.

Many parts of the stronghold were built on the cliffs of Jincheng Mountains, using huge stones.

Experts are interested in and will try to find out through research how the people managed to convey the stones to the 1,400-metre-high mountain.

Inner Mongolia

Archaeologists claim that as early as 4,000 years ago, primitive agriculture had emerged in the Badain Jaran Desert area in North China.

Archaeologists draw this conclusion from finds dating from the Paleolithic Age to the Shang (1600-1046 BC) and Zhou (1046-256 BC) dynasties, located in the eastern border area of the Badain Jaran Desert, in the Alxa Left Banner of the northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

On the vast desert where plants are seldom seen, a large number of stoneware and porcelain fragments were discovered.

They include chipped stone implements such as stone axes, cores and blades, a great many microlithic implements including stone mortars, millstones and stone farm tools, and coarse sandy pottery all dating back to the later Neolithic Age.

"All were characteristic of an agricultural culture," said Li Guoqing with the Alxa Museum.

Stone mortars, millstones, and stone pestles are all tools used to process grain. Stone spade-shaped farm tools were used for turning the soil. And pottery was mainly used to store grain, food and water.

"The find shows that in the later period of the Neolithic Age, primitive agriculture had emerged in this region, which boasted fertile soil and plentiful water at that time," said Li.

Li's conclusion is backed by ecological research.

According to Jin Heling, a research member of the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, although the Badain Jaran Desert began to form 70,000 years ago, a great number of lakes appeared and many oases came into being in the area 7,000 to 4,000 years ago. And scientists have discovered ancient soil, which "shows that this region was suitable for agriculture at that time."

For thousands of years, the Alxa region had been the habitat of northern nomads. But now it has become one of the main sources of sand storms in China.

Hunan Province

Chinese scientists have unearthed about 1,000 bamboo and wooden slips of the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-316) in the city of Chenzhou of Central China's Hunan Province, which they hope will shed more light on the war-ridden ancient dynasty.

"Our studies of the south China politics and culture of that time will get a significant boost from this latest find, as these bamboo and wood slips are the only official records of the time that have been found so far," said Qin Xiaojun, who led the archaeological excavation team.

Qin said the slips were dug out of a busy construction site in the city and some of them record accurately the distance between Chenzhou and Luoyang, capital of the Western Jin Dynasty.

They also bear the words "Tai'an" and "Yongkang," two reign titles of the dynasty's Emperor Jinhui.

Though the technique of papermaking spread throughout China in the second century AD, bamboo slips and wooden slats were still powerful competitors for paper in recording royal decrees and statutes in the country.

Few historical documents about the Western Jin Dynasty were handed down from ancient China since frequent unrest and wars led to the dynasty's quick termination 52 years after its establishment.

Before this new archaeological discovery, China had only 10 original bamboo or wood slips of the dynasty.

The city unearthed large numbers of bamboo and wooden slips of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) last year, indicating Chenzhou was once a political and cultural centre of ancient China, according to archaeological experts.

Other articles excavated in the construction site also include porcelain shards wrapped in brown paper, but archaeologists still do not know the owner of the tomb in which these shards were found.

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