Category Archives: CHINA

Mysterious 520 million-year-old sea monster with tentacles coming out of its mouth discovered

Mysterious 520 million-year-old sea monster with tentacles coming out of its mouth discovered

A recent research finds that the discovery of a fossil demonstrating an underwater marine monster with 18 tentacles surrounding its mouth has helped solve a modern-day puzzle about the origins of a gelatinous carnivore called a comb jelly.

The once unexplained “sea monster,” which scientists named Daihua sanqiong, existed in today’s China a whopping 518 million years ago. And the extinct animal shares a number of anatomical characteristics with the modern comb jelly, a little sea creature that uses so-called comb rows full of loads of hair-like cilia to swim through the oceans.

The finding indicates that this recently identified species may be the distant relative of the comb jelly, said study lead researcher Jakob Vinther, a paleobiologist at the United Kingdom’s Bristol University.

“With fossils, we have been able to find out what the bizarre comb jellies originated from,” Vinther told Live Science. “Even though we now can show they came from a very sensible place, it doesn’t make them any less weird.”

This finding, however, has sparked a debate. While the discovery of D. sanqiong is impressive, it’s hard to say whether this ancient creature is part of the lineage that produced comb jellies, said Casey Dunn, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, who was not involved with the study.

“I am highly skeptical of the conclusions they draw,” Dunn told Live Science.

A magnified shot of the rows of cilia on Daihua sanqiong, which suggest that it might be a distant relative of the modern comb jelly.

18 incredible tentacles

Vinther came across the D. sanqiong fossil while visiting colleagues at Yunnan University in China.

The scientists there showed him a number of fossils in their collection, including the mysterious creature they later named Daihua sanqiong, which was discovered by study co-researcher Xianguang Hou, a paleobiologist at Yunnan University. The genus name honors the Dai tribe in Yunnan; “hua” means flower in Mandarin, and refers to the critter’s flower-like shape.

On each of D. sanqiong’s tentacles are fine, feather-like branches with rows of large ciliary hairs, which likely helped it catch prey. These hairs, according to Vinther, grabbed his attention “because we only find big cilia on comb jellies.” To swim, comb jellies move their cilia, which then flicker in beautiful iridescent colors.

A living comb jelly, known as Euplokamis. The creature’s rainbow iridescence is caused by the movement of the ciliary comb bands on the animal’s body.

Moreover, the D. sanqiong fossil bears an intriguing resemblance to other known ancient animals, including Xianguangia, another ancient creature with 18 tentacles, and the tulip-like sea creatures Dinomischus and Siphusauctum.

“To make a long story short, we were able to reconstruct the whole [early] lineage of comb jellies,” by doing anatomical comparisons, Vinther said. This is a big deal, because some scientists argue that these swimming carnivores were among the first animals to evolve on Earth, based on family trees analyses and genetic modeling of modern comb jellies. But now, this international team has possibly shown that comb jellies have a long lineage that precedes them, Vinther said.

This newly described lineage suggests that some of the ancestors of comb jellies had skeletons and that their ancient tentacles evolved into the combs with the densely packed cilia seen on comb jellies today.

An artist’s illustration of Daihua sanqiong

The discovery also sheds light on where these ancient animals likely sat on the tree of life. For instance, researchers previously thought that Xianguangia was a sea anemone, but it “is actually part of the comb jelly branch,” study co-researcher Peiyun Cong , a professor of paleobiology at Yunnan University, said in a statement.

These findings also make a strong case that comb jellies are related to corals, sea anemones and jellyfish, the researchers said. “Those [ancient] tentacles are the same tentacles that you see on corals and sea anemones,” Vinther said. “We can trace comb jellies to these flower-like animals that lived more than half a billion years ago.”

But not everyone agrees with this analysis. While Dunn commended the researchers for their detailed description of D. sanqiong and its proposed relatives, some of these creatures have such different body shapes that it’s challenging to see how they could be related, he said. It’s possible that the tulip-looking Dinomischus and Siphusayctum creatures are related to each other.

But Siphusauctum has ciliary rows on the inside of its body, and the animal purported to come after it, Galeactena, has these rows on the outside of its body.

It’s hard to see how this animal would, in effect, turn inside out as it evolved, Dunn said. Given that some of these claims are tenuous, the burden of proof is higher, and the researchers don’t quite get there, Dunn said.

“These are exciting animals no matter how they’re related to each other,” Dunn said. “Even though I’m skeptical that tentacles and comb rows are homologous [evolutionarily related], I think that as we describe more diversity from these deposits, certainly we’re going to learn a lot more about animal evolution.”

How midnight digs at a holy Tibetan cave opened a window to prehistoric humans living on the roof of the world

How midnight digs at a holy Tibetan cave opened a window to prehistoric humans living on the roof of the world

New DNA data has confirmed that a Himalayan cave high on the Tibetan Plateau once hosted representatives of the enigmatic species of extinct human beings known as Denisovans, research recently published in the journal Science has revealed.

The scientists, led by the Lanzhou University of China and backed up by archaeologists, geologists and geneticists from Australia, Germany and the U.S., said that new DNA and archaeological evidence demonstrated the long-term presence of humans at high altitude some 120,000 years earlier than previously understood—modern humans were not thought to have inhabited the Tibetan Plateau until some 40,000 years ago.

The find confirms that the first modern hominins to inhabit the area were not Neanderthals, as was previously assumed, instead of showing that Denisovan populations are more likely to have been widespread and not limited to Siberia, where the only previously known fossil fragments were discovered in 2010.

“We detected ancient human fragments that matched mitochondrial DNA associated with Denisovans in four different layers of sediment deposited around 100,000 and 60,000 years ago,” said Associate Professor Bo Li of the University of Wollongong, the team’s dating specialist and co-author of the new research.

“We have known that some modern human genomes contain fragments of DNA from Denisovans, suggesting that this species of human must have been widespread in Asia,”

The origins of this discovery took place 40 years ago in 1980, when a segment of the fossilized jawbone, complete with two molars, was discovered by a Buddhist monk in Baishiya Karst Cave in the northeast of the Tibetan Plateau, in what is now Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the south of China’s Gansu Province.

For Tibetan Buddhist monks, Baishiya Karst Cave is a sacred site and a protected religious sanctuary, sitting at an elevation of 3,280 meters in Xiahe County. The Tibetan monk who made the prehistoric discovery presented the relic to his teacher, the Sixth Gung-Thang Living Buddha, who recognized its potential significance and passed the fossil on to Lanzhou University.

This jawbone fragment represents the only known remains of the mysterious Xiahe Man

Two decades later in 2019, scientists analyzing the fragment reported that the fossilized jawbone belonged to a 160,000-year-old Denisovan, positing that the little-known species of Neanderthal-like hominins inhabited the region thousands of years before modern humans.

“Our painstaking efforts . . . are helping unravel the story of how early humans adapted to live in one of the world’s most remote and mountainous places,” members of the research team said in an article for non-profit website The Conversation. “Our research . . . provides a better understanding of the little-known prehistoric humans who lived tens of thousands of years ago on the roof of the world.”

The Denisovan proposal was initially disputed by other scientists due to a lack of genetic evidence and the prevailing understanding of Denisovan population distributions at the time: this group of mysterious prehistoric humans was originally discovered in Denisova Cave in Siberia.

Researchers excavate a section of the Buddhist cave.

“This [Baishiya Karst Cave ] fossil was not only the earliest evidence of human occupation on the Tibetan Plateau but also the first Denisovan fossil to be found outside of Denisova Cave—and the largest to ever be found,” said the research team.

The ancestral lineage of Denisovans separated from the ancestors of modern humans some 500,000 years ago, although scientists disagree over whether they should be regarded as a distinct species or a subspecies of Homo sapiens.

Whether due to being overcome by populations of modern humans or environmental factors, Denisovans and Neanderthals are both believed to have died out some 40,000–50,000 years ago, although they are known to have interbred with the ancestors of modern humans.

“When our species exited Africa, on the way to moving to Australia, we met Denisovans somewhere in Asia, interbred with them, and carry some of the genetic information,” said Prof. Li. “Modern Tibetans, for example, have a Denisovan gene that lets them thrive at high altitude.”

As well as human remains, the research team at Baishiya Karst Cave also unearthed a wealth of other revealing artefacts, including a large quantity of charcoal, indicating that that the Denisovans used fire, 1,310 rudimentary tools dated to more than 190,000 years ago and as recently as 45,000 years ago, and numerous animal bones, including some from hyenas and rhinos, both of which once were once native to the region.

“After dozens of visits to the cave and others nearby, in 2016 we finally found the first indisputable stone artefacts [probably made by Denisovans] on the cave floor,” the research team explained. “With this, we became further convinced the cave was a treasure trove of archaeological deposits that could help tell the story of the Denisovans. But, as it’s also a Buddhist holy cave, we weren’t allowed to dig inside it—not even one scrape of a trowel.”

After two years of negotiations with the Chinese authorities and the Tibetan monks maintaining the cave, the team were granted permission to excavate within a limited area inside the sacred cave—contingent on the condition that they only work late at night during the Himalayan winter, when no Buddhist monks were using the cave.

Researchers sampling the Baishiya Karst Cave.

Prof. Li observed that here is still much more research to be done at the site: “Our next target is to date more samples from the cave and tries to answer when Denisovans started to occupy the cave and when they ‘disappear’ from the cave.”

A 520-Million-Year-Old Five-Eyed Fossil Reveals Arthropod Origin

A 520-Million-Year-Old Five-Eyed Fossil Reveals Arthropod Origin

Since the Cambrian Period, around 520 million years ago, arthropods have been among the most prolific animals on Earth. They are the most familiar and ubiquitous, and constitute nearly 80 per cent of all animal species today, far more than any other animals.

Ecological reconstruction of Kylinxia zhangi.

So how did arthropods evolve and what did they look like to their ancestors? This has been a major conundrum in animal evolution puzzling generations of scientists for more than a century.

A shrimp-like fossil with five eyes has now been found by researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS), giving valuable insights into the early evolutionary  history of arthropods. The study was published in Nature on November 4, 2020.

Anatomical reconstruction of Kylinxia.

The fossil species, Kylinxia, was collected from the Chengjiang fauna in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. The fauna documents the most complete early animal fossils in the Cambrian time.

Prof. HUANG Diying, the corresponding author for the study from NIGPAS, said, “Kylinxia is a very rare chimeric species. It combines morphological features from different animals, which is analogous to ‘kylin,’ a chimeric creature in traditional Chinese mythology.”

“Owing to very special taphonomic conditions, the Kylinxia fossils exhibit exquisite anatomical structures. For example, nervous tissue, eyes and digestive system — these are soft body parts we usually cannot see in conventional fossils,” said Prof. ZHAO Fangchen, co-corresponding author of the study.

Kylinxia shows distinctive features of true arthropods, such as a hardened cuticle, a segmented trunk and jointed legs.

However, it also integrates the morphological characteristics present in very ancestral forms, including the bizarre five eyes of Opabinia, known as the Cambrian “weird wonder,” as well as the iconic raptorial appendages of Anomalocaris, the giant apex predator in the Cambrian ocean.

A 520-Million-Year-Old Five-Eyed Fossil Reveals Arthropod Origin
Holotype of Kylinxia zhangi.

Among the Chengjiang fauna, Anomalocaris is a top predator that can reach two meters in body length and has been regarded as an ancestral form of arthropod.

But huge morphological differences exist between Anomalocaris and true arthropods. There is a great evolutionary gap between the two that can hardly be bridged. This gap has become a crucial “missing link” in the origin of arthropods.

The research team conducted detailed anatomical examinations of the fossils of Kylinxia. They demonstrated that the first appendages in Anomalocaris and true arthropods were homologous.

The phylogenetic analyses suggested that there was an affinity between the front appendages of Kylinxia, small predatory appendages in front of the mouth of Chelicerata (a group that includes spiders and scorpions) and the antennae of Mandibulata (a subdivision of arthropods including insects such as ants and bees).

“Our results indicate that the evolutionary placement of Kylinxia is right between Anomalocaris and the true arthropods. Therefore, our finding reached the evolutionary root of the true arthropods,” said Prof. ZHU Maoyan, a co-author of the study.

“Kylinxia represents a crucial transitional fossil predicted by Darwin’s evolutionary theory. It bridges the evolutionary gap from Anomalocaris to true arthropods and forms a key “missing link” in the origin of arthropods, contributing strong fossil evidence for the evolutionary theory of life,” said Dr. ZENG Han, first author of the study.

Leshan Giant Buddha -largest carved stone Buddha in the world

Leshan Giant Buddha -largest carved stone Buddha in the world

The Leshan Giant Buddha is a huge statue carved into the side of Lingyun Mountain. Taller by 17 meters than the standing Buddha in Afghanistan, the Leshan Giant Buddha is the tallest and largest Buddha in the world.

Leshan Giant Buddha

There is a local saying: “The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain”. It was included by UNESCO on the list of World Heritage sites.

The Size of the Giant Buddha

The head is 14.7 meters long and 10 meters wide.

The head is 14.7 meters long and 10 meters wide.

The statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha with his hands resting on his knees and a smile on his face. The Leshan Giant Buddha is about 71 meters high and 24 meters wide. The head is 14.7 meters long and 10 meters wide with 1,021 buns of hair on it.

His smallest toenail can accommodate a seated person. Each ear is 7 meters long and his nose is 5.6 meters long. Each eyebrow is 5.5 meters long.

The instep, which is 8.5 meters wide, can accommodate 100 people. The toe is large enough to accommodate a dining table.

Giant Sleeping Buddha

Behind the Leshan Giant Buddha, a sleeping Buddha with a body length of more than 4,000 meters “floats” peacefully on the water.

The head, body, and foot of the Buddha are composed of Wuyou Mountain, Lingyun Mountain, and Guicheng Mountain. The best way to observe the sleeping Buddha is taking a trip on a sightseeing boat.

Nine Bends Plank Road

It is a steep plank road with nine turns on the right side of the Leshan Giant Buddha. You can walk along the road from the Buddha’s head to its foot.

The widest part of the road is 1.45 meters and the narrowest part is only 0.6 meter, and there are 217 stone steps in total.

Oriental Buddha Park

It is a Buddhist theme park integrating sculptures, religion, and garden art. The park contains more than 3,000 Buddhist statues, including a 170-meter-long reclining Buddha, which is the largest in the world.

Lingyun Temple

Located next to the Leshan Giant Buddha, Lingyun Temple has a history of over 1,400 years.

Lingyun Temple

It is a quadrangle courtyard composed of the Tianwang Hall, the Daxiong Hall, and Depository of Buddhist Sutras. You can get to the Buddha’s head by crossing through Lingyun Temple.

Construction History

In ancient times, Leshan was at the confluence of the Min River, the Qingyi River, and the Dadu River. The tempestuous waters caused numerous boat accidents and caused people to suffer who earned their living around the area.

A monk called Hai Tong thought that the spirit of the Buddha could suppress the tempestuous waters so he initiated its construction. The project was half done when Hai Tong passed away and two of his disciples continued the work. After a total of 90 years’ hard work, the project was finally completed.

Special Drainage System

The Leshan Giant Buddha has a special drainage system so that it can be well-preserved. Several drainage passages are hidden in the Buddha’s hair, collar, chest, and holes in the back of his ears and chest, preventing the statue from serious erosion and weathering.

The Buddha has been lovingly maintained on a regular basis throughout his 1,200-year history. Moss, however, does grow on the statue.

Local Farmers found 2,000 years old carved caves while pumping water out of five small pools

Local Farmers found 2,000 years old carved caves while pumping water out of five small pools

The caves are one of the largest structures ever excavated by human hands. First discovered in 1992, 24 caves have been found to date, one of which has been developed as a tourist attraction.

Interestingly, to date, not a single historical record has been found that details or explains the monumental construction process that involved the removal of more than 1,000,000 cubic meters of rock.

These caves have become a mystery to many people trying to figure out how builders in the past were able to carve out these gigantic caverns and leave such unique tool marks on the surface of its walls.

The caves were discovered by local “farmers who were pumping water out of five small pools on a rough-flat ground in 1992.”

The mysterious tool marks found in the Longyou Caves have baffled scientists since their discovery. Scientists from around the world wonder how the caves have been able to keep their structural integrity for such a long time. And then there is the question of those tool marks.

The Lonyou Caves mystery

Longyou Caves, China. Notice the high-tech looking tool marks on walls and ceilings.

What really makes these caves so mysterious and what is so special about their tool marks?

Modern-day high-tech machines dig away stone and grind down the walls and ceilings in mines and quarries.

But when we discover the same types of tool marks in caves that date back far beyond the time of any formally recorded technology capable of even remotely producing any similar marks on stone surfaces, most of us can’t help but scratch our heads.

How did people in remote history manage to carve out these caverns leaving tool marks that only find their likeness in modern mining operations?

The elephant in the room

Mainstream academia generally believes that people in the remote past were mostly simple dwellers and technologically primitive compared to people today. According to academia, the evolution of technology went from primitive (in the past) to more advanced (today).

If what the tool marks in the caves suggest is confirmed, then the aforementioned assumption would be turned on its head.

While this hypothesis is an accepted theory in the field of academics, sites like the Lonyou Grotto in China put mainstream theories about what ancient people were capable of under scrutiny.

Longyou Caves and history

According to historians, the caves were created in the Qin Dynasty, 212 BCE; however, there is no historical record of their construction. The caves were first discovered in 1992. So far, 24 caverns have been discovered, one of which has been transformed into a tourist attraction.

Mainstream historians believe that the Lingyou Caves were carved out of the massive stone by hand. Each cave has a volume of several thousand cubic meters. Apparently, the ancient builders did it all by hand, with hammers and chisels.

But they didn’t chisel any simple way. The builders apparently chiseled the walls and ceilings in a way that left a uniform pattern.

A different paradigm

When deriving conclusions within a framework of fixed notions and the chronology of events, it is difficult to ascribe perfectly aligned tool marks to the crude hammer and chisel work done by people of ancient times.

While it seems plausible to people who just consume information and do not critically think about what is said, those who do some research will find it hard to reason the facts surrounding the Longyou Caves using mainstream explanations.

To truly understand and properly analyze the caves and similar structures, you will need to be able to literally “think outside of the box.” You must be ready to constantly change your previous notions and reconsider prevailing hypotheses and theories in the light of new facts and artefacts surfacing.

It is, however, understandably difficult for any academic to throw away theories that they spent almost a decade studying and on which they have based their entire academic careers.

Tool marks in Longyou caves resembles those left by modern machines.
Tool markings on the walls of one of the Lonyou Caves.

Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Sacrificial Horses found by Archaeologists

Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Sacrificial Horses found by Archaeologists

A surprising find was made in China in 1964: a tomb holding the bodies of hundreds of horses, perfectly organised in rows. Such a complex burial and large sacrifice clearly indicated that the tomb belonged to a person who held a high place in society.

It was soon found that the tomb belonged to Duke Jing of Qi and that the horse remains were, sadly, a sacrifice made in his honour.

Now excavations have resumed at the ancient sacrificial pit and archaeologists are hoping to learn more secrets about the burial, history, and scale of the army in the pre-Qin period.

Duke Jing, Son of a Concubine

From 547 to 490 BC the State of Qi was ruled by Duke Jing of Qi. Duke Jing was given the name Lü Chujiu at birth, and his ancestral name was Jiang. Duke Jing was a title he earned after his death.

The Duke was born to a concubine of Duke Ling of Qi and had an older half-brother named Duke Zhuang. Their father died in 554 BC and was succeeded by Duke Zhuang.

Cui Zhu, a powerful minister, supported Duke Zhuang until Duke Zhuang had an affair with Cui Zhu’s wife. As a result, Chi Zhu killed Duke Zhuang in 548 BC. Upon his brother’s death, Duke Jing took to the throne. With Duke Jing on the throne, Cui Zhu and nobleman Qing Feng took control of the state as co-prime ministers.

After much turmoil in the State of Qi caused by unrest between Cui Zhi and Qing Feng, Duke Jing appointed Yan Ying as prime minister, and thus began a period of peace and prosperity for the State of Qi.

Artist’s depiction of Duke Jing of Qi with Confucius

Duke’s Death Leads to Coup

Duke Jing was married to Princess Yan Ji from the State of Yan. Their son became the crown prince of Qi, although he died during Duke Jing’s reign. Duke Jing had at least five other grown sons – possibly more – but he chose his youngest son, Prince Tu, as the new crown prince.

Prince Tu was born to a mother of low status, and he was still a young boy when named crown prince. To ensure his support, Duke Jing ordered the ministers of the Guo and Gao clans to support Prince Tu.

The Duke’s other sons were exiled to the remote city of Lai. Soon thereafter, Duke Jing died, in 490 BC. Although Prince Tu was installed on the throne, several clans staged a coup d’etat, and Duke Jing’s son Prince Yangsheng was brought back to take over the throne. He killed Prince Tu and became known as  Duke Dao of Qi.

The Sacrificial Horse Pit of Jing’s Tomb

Duke Jing of Qi was buried at Yatou in Linzi District of Zibo, Shandong Province. On the northern side of the tomb, archaeologists discovered the sacrificial burial of 145 horses in a pit measuring 215 meters long and surrounding three sides of the tomb.

Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Sacrificial Horses found by Archaeologists
The Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Horses

Several years later, another 106 horse skeletons were found at the tomb, raising the total to 251. The horses are believed to have been young, between 5 – 7 years old when sacrificed.

The horses are believed to have been given alcohol until they became unconscious, and then struck upon the head.

Excavations were halted in 2003 due to inadequate preparations, but archaeologists at the time estimated that there may be up to 600 more horses buried in Duke Jing’s honour, along with 30 dogs, two pigs, and six other domesticated animals. While other sacrificial horse remains have been discovered in China, this is by far the largest.

The perimeter of horses indicates the horses found in the area excavated. However, archaeologists estimated there are many more to be found, totalling around 600

New Excavations Launched

After a 16-year pause, excavations at the tomb of Duke Jing have now resumed and experts will finally be able to confirm the number of horses buried there. 

Xinhua News Agency revealed that over 3,000 cultural relics were unearthed during the initial excavations, and more are expected to be found over the next 8 months as archaeologists resume explorations. 

The site of the Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi now houses a museum and is a National Historical and Cultural Site. It is under consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The horse remains are an incredible find, as it is difficult to imagine the complexities of a sacrifice of such a large magnitude. According to historical records, Duke Jing was infatuated with horses, which shows that this sacrifice was made as a gesture of great honour towards the fallen king.

China’s Atlantis: Shi Cheng an Ancient Underwater City in China

China’s Atlantis: Shi Cheng an Ancient Underwater City in China

Shi Cheng, Chun’an County, Zhejiang, China. An ancient city, established about 1300 years ago, now lies at the 26-40 m depth underwater. The city and the valley were deliberately flooded in 1959 in order to create an artificial lake and hydroelectric power station. Now it could be a unique paradise for divers.

A maze of white temples, memorial arches, paved roads, and houses… hidden 130 feet underwater: this is China’s real-life Atlantis.

The so-called Lion City, tucked in a lake between the Five Lion Mountain, was once Shi Cheng – the centre of politics and economics in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

But in 1959, the Chinese government decided a new hydroelectric power station was required – so built a man-made lake.

Erecting a dam, the historical metropolis was slowly filled with water until it was completely submerged by the turquoise-blue mass now referred to as Qiandao Lake.

China's Atlantis: Shi Cheng an Ancient Underwater City in China
Metropolis: Shi Cheng, dubbed Lion City after the Lion Mountains that surround it, has lain hidden under 131 feet of water since 1959 to generate hydroelectric power
Classical: The structures in Shi Cheng were built 1,300 years ago featuring traditional Chinese statues. Away from the wind and sun, it has remained intact

Depending on where on the lake bottom it is, the city is between 85 and 131 feet underwater.

And it lay forgotten for 53 years.

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote about Atlantis some 2,600 years ago, describing it as ‘an island situated in front of the straits called the Pillars of Hercules.’ 

Carvings: Visitors will be able to see the traditional engravings first-hand when guided by Qiu Feng and her team

He said the island he called Atlantis ‘in a single day and night… disappeared into the depths of the sea.’

Searches continue across the Mediterranean, particularly around Gibraltar, to find the original Atlantis.

But China’s manmade version will soon be a renowned attraction. Qiu Feng, a local tourism official, has now suggested using Shi Cheng as a destination for diving clubs.

A team was dispatched to explore the city before tours are designed.

Qui said: ‘We were lucky. As soon as we dived into the lake, we found the outside wall of the town and even picked up a brick to prove it.’

Protected from wind, rain, and sun, the entire city has been branded a ‘time capsule’ as almost every structure remains completely intact, including wooden beams and stairs.

In a Desert in China, a Trove of 4,000-Year-Old Mummies

In a Desert in China, a Trove of 4,000-Year-Old Mummies

Chinese archaeologists have excavated an extraordinary graveyard in the midst of the terrifying desert north of Tibet. Its people died almost 4,000 years ago, and their remains were well preserved by dry air.

The cemetery lies in what is now China’s northwest autonomous region of Xinjiang, yet the people have European features, with brown hair and long noses. Their remains, though lying in one of the world’s largest deserts, are buried in upside-down boats. And where tombstones might stand, declaring pious hope for some god’s mercy in the afterlife, their cemetery sports instead of a vigorous forest of phallic symbols, signaling an intense interest in the pleasures or utility of procreation.

The long-vanished people have no name because their origin and identity are still unknown. But many clues are now emerging about their ancestry, their way of life, and even the language they spoke.

Their graveyard, known as Small River Cemetery No. 5, lies near a dried-up riverbed in the Tarim Basin, a region encircled by forbidding mountain ranges. Most of the basin is occupied by the Taklimakan Desert, a wilderness so inhospitable that later travelers along the Silk Road would edge along its northern or southern borders.

The mummy of an infant was one of about 200 corpses with European features that were excavated from the cemetery.

In modern times the region has been occupied by Turkish-speaking Uighurs, joined in the last 50 years by Han settlers from China. Ethnic tensions have recently arisen between the two groups, with riots in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. A large number of ancient mummies, really desiccated corpses, have emerged from the sands, only to become pawns between the Uighurs and the Han.

The 200 or so mummies have a distinctively Western appearance, and the Uighurs, even though they did not arrive in the region until the 10th century, have cited them to claim that the autonomous region was always theirs. Some of the mummies, including a well-preserved woman known as the Beauty of Loulan, were analyzed by Li Jin, a well-known geneticist at Fudan University, who said in 2007 that their DNA contained markers indicating an East Asian and even South Asian origin.

The mummies in the Small River Cemetery are, so far, the oldest discovered in the Tarim Basin. Carbon tests done at Beijing University show that the oldest part dates to 3,980 years ago. A team of Chinese geneticists has analyzed the mummies’ DNA.

Despite the political tensions over the mummies’ origin, the Chinese said in a report published last month in the journal BMC Biology that the people were of mixed ancestry, having both European and some Siberian genetic markers, and probably came from outside China. The team was led by Hui Zhou of Jilin University in Changchun, with Dr. Jin as a co-author.

All the men who were analyzed had a Y chromosome that is now mostly found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia, but rarely in China. The mitochondrial DNA, which passes down the female line, consisted of a lineage from Siberia and two that are common in Europe. Since both the Y chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA lineages are ancient, Dr. Zhou and his team conclude the European and Siberian populations probably intermarried before entering the Tarim Basin some 4,000 years ago.

A 3,800-year-old mummy, the Beauty of Xiaohe, found at the Small River Cemetery.

The Small River Cemetery was rediscovered in 1934 by the Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman and then forgotten for 66 years until relocated through GPS navigation by a Chinese expedition. Archaeologists began excavating it from 2003 to 2005. Their reports have been translated and summarized by Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in the prehistory of the Tarim Basin.

As the Chinese archaeologists dug through the five layers of burials, Dr. Mair recounted, they came across almost 200 poles, each 13 feet tall. Many had flat blades, painted black and red, like the oars from some great galley that had foundered beneath the waves of sand.

At the foot of each pole, there were indeed boats, laid upside down and covered with cowhide. The bodies inside the boats were still wearing the clothes they had been buried in. They had felt caps with feathers tucked in the brim, uncannily resembling Tyrolean mountain hats. They wore large woolen capes with tassels and leather boots. A Bronze Age salesclerk from Victoria’s Secret seems to have supplied the clothes beneath — barely adequate woolen loin cloths for the men, and skirts made of string strands for the women.

Within each boat, coffin were grave goods, including beautifully woven grass baskets, skillfully carved masks, and bundles of ephedra, an herb that may have been used in rituals or as a medicine.

In the women’s coffins, the Chinese archaeologists encountered one or more life-size wooden phalluses laid on the body or by its side. Looking again at the shaping of the 13-foot poles that rise from the prow of each woman’s boat, the archaeologists concluded that the poles were in fact gigantic phallic symbols.

Many of the women buried there wore string undergarments like the one in this drawing.

The men’s boats, on the other hand, all lay beneath the poles with bladelike tops. These were not the oars they had seemed, at first sight, the Chinese archaeologists concluded, but rather symbolic vulvas that matched the opposite sex symbols above the women’s boats. “The whole of the cemetery was blanketed with blatant sexual symbolism,” Dr. Mair wrote. In his view, the “obsession with procreation” reflected the importance of the community attached to fertility.

Arthur Wolf, an anthropologist at Stanford University and an expert on fertility in East Asia, said that the poles perhaps mark social status, a common theme of tombs and grave goods. “It seems that what most people want to take with them is their status if it is anything to brag about,” he said.

Dr. Mair said the Chinese archaeologists’ interpretation of the poles as phallic symbols were “a believable analysis.” The buried people’s evident veneration of procreation could mean they were interested in both the pleasure of sex and its utility, given that it is difficult to separate the two. But they seem to have had a particular respect for fertility, Dr. Mair said, because several women were buried in double-layered coffins with special grave goods.

Living in harsh surroundings, “infant mortality must have been high, so the need for procreation, particularly in light of their isolated situation, would have been great,” Dr. Mair said. Another possible risk to fertility could have arisen if the population had become in-bred. “Those women who were able to produce and rear children to adulthood would have been particularly revered,” Dr. Mair said.

Several items in the Small River Cemetery burials resemble artifacts or customs familiar in Europe, Dr. Mair noted. Boat burials were common among the Vikings. String skirts and phallic symbols have been found in Bronze Age burials of Northern Europe. There are no known settlements near the cemetery, so the people probably lived elsewhere and reached the cemetery by boat. No woodworking tools have been found at the site, supporting the idea that the poles were carved off-site.

Wang Da-Gang

The Tarim Basin was already quite dry when the Small River people entered it 4,000 years ago. They probably lived at the edge of survival until the lakes and rivers on which they depended finally dried up around A.D. 400. Burials with felt hats and woven baskets were common in the region until some 2,000 years ago.

The language spoken by the people of the Small River Cemetery is unknown, but Dr. Mair believes it could have been Tokharian, an ancient member of the Indo-European family of languages. Manuscripts written in Tokharian have been discovered in the Tarim Basin, where the language was spoken from about A.D. 500 to 900. Despite its presence in the east, Tokharian seems more closely related to the “centum” languages of Europe than to the “satem” languages of India and Iran. The division is based on the words for a hundred in Latin (centum) and in Sanskrit (satam).

The Small River Cemetery people lived more than 2,000 years before the earliest evidence for Tokharian, but there is “a clear continuity of culture,” Dr. Mair said, in the form of people being buried with felt hats, a tradition that continued until the first few centuries A.D.