Category Archives: CHINA

Decorative Roof Tiles from Tang Dynasty Temple Analyzed

Decorative Roof Tiles from Tang Dynasty Temple Analyzed

According to a statement released by Kanazawa University, researchers from Kanazawa University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences examined the end caps of more than 400 curved roof tiles recovered from Ximing Temple, which is located at the site of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907) imperial capital in central China.

Decorative Roof Tiles from Tang Dynasty Temple Analyzed

Any visitor to China will have noticed the spectacular roofs on buildings dating from imperial times. However, the question of how these roof tiles were produced has attracted relatively little attention from archaeologists.

Now, a team of researchers has conducted a major study of tile ends unearthed at the Ximing Temple in Xi’an, yielding exciting insights into their production.

In a study published in Archaeological Research in Asia, researchers from Kanazawa University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have revealed the significance of minute variations in the tile ends used in the roof of the famous Ximing Temple in Xi’an, built during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) when Xi’an (then known as Chang’an) was the imperial capital.

The researchers conducted an investigation of 449 tile ends with lotus patterns from various periods during the Tang dynasty that had been recovered from the Ximing Temple.

Basic information about tile ends and imbrices. The figure shows the structure of a tile end and how tile ends and imbrices are used.

“We were interested in the variations in the tile ends, both those within the conscious control of the artisans who made the tiles, such as whether to use simple or complex lotus patterns and those outside their control, such as the marks left by the deterioration of the molds used to make the tiles,” says lead author of the study Meng Lyu.

“We discovered that the degree of minor variation in the tile ends increases significantly in the later samples,” adds author Guoqiang Gong.

“This suggests to us that there was a shift away from the centralized manufacturing of imperial building materials during the Early Tang period toward one in which small private artisans played an important role in the Late Tang period.”

Intriguingly, the study has revealed traces of the coming together of two distinct cultural traditions. “We found that there were, in fact, two separate production systems at work to make the title ends,” notes author Chunlin Li.

“One produced tile ends with compound petal patterns and curved incisions, whereas the other made end tiles with simple petal patterns and scratched incisions.”

These two styles may ultimately have their origins during an earlier historical period when the Northern Wei dynasty was divided into two regimes on either side of the Taihang mountain range.

This study demonstrates that studying the roof tiles of China’s grand imperial buildings can reveal a great deal about the circumstances of their production and yield insights into larger historical questions.

Chinese mummy suggests brain surgery was carried out 3,600 years ago

Chinese mummy suggests brain surgery was carried out 3,600 years ago

A three-and-a-half-millennia-old skull has uncovered evidence of an early form of brain surgery. The mummified woman’s perforated skull was discovered in the Xiaohe tomb in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Experts said that the hole, which measures around 2 inches (50mm) in diameter, was most likely an early form of craniotomy. The amount of skull removed depends on the type of surgery being performed, and the flap is later replaced using screws.

It may have also been a form of trepanation, which involves the removal of a piece of bone from the skull. This procedure has been performed since prehistoric times, and cave paintings indicate that ancient people believed the practise would cure epileptic seizures, headaches and mental disorders.

The perforated skull (pictured) was discovered as part of a mummified body of a woman in the ‘Little River’ Xiaohe tomb complex.  Experts said that the hole, measuring around 2 inches (50mm) in diameter, was most likely an early form of craniotomy – a procedure that involves removing bone to get access to the brain
The wound suggests that the female (pictured), who died in her 40s, must have lived for at least a month, or even longer, after receiving the surgery

Lead archaeologist Zhu Hong who made the discovery said: ‘[The wound] suggests the female, who died in her 40s, must have lived for at least a month, or even longer, after receiving the surgery.’

He added there were also signs of healing tissues around the wound. The mummy dates back to 1,615 BC and is one of the hundreds discovered in the Xiaohe ‘Little River’ Tomb complex.

Lying 108 miles (175 km) west of the ancient city of Loulan, the site was first explored in 1934 by Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman, but not fully excavated until 2005.

Dating of the area has shown it goes back to approximately 2,000 BC, although tests have revealed the bodies contain DNA from the east and west. 

In particular, males were found to have chromosomes typically found in Northern and Eastern Europe, alongside DNA found in Siberia. The massive burial site has more than 330 graves and contains the largest number of mummies ever found in the world.

These tombs include adults and children as well as 15 intact mummies, although approximately half of the tombs were said to have been looted by grave robbers. 

The majority of the coffins found on the site were made of wood, and were shaped like boats, buried upside down. This practice is similar to how the Egyptians believed boats would take Pharaohs to the land of the ‘Gods’

The massive burial site has more than 330 graves and contains the largest number of mummies ever found in the world. These tombs include adults and children as well as 15 intact mummies. The majority of the coffins found on the site were made of wood, and were shaped like boats (pictured) buried upside down

Clothes and jewellery found in the tomb were also buried alongside the mummies, in small baskets, and the bodies were wrapped in cowhide and wool. 

This prevented sand from getting inside the corpses.  In addition to the wood coffins, four clay-covered rectangular coffins were also found, surrounded by stakes. 

And six of the coffins were found to contain wooden ‘bodies’, rather than corpses.  Each of these wooden sculptures was the same shape and were designed to look like males.  Sexual iconography was everywhere at the site, with posts representing phalluses and vulvas placed in front of each grave. 

Sientists recreated ancient brain surgery to understand medical techniques that existed almost 2,500 years ago. A team of experts in Russia spent the past year examining skulls found with intricate surgical holes in a bid to fathom out how early nomadic doctors carried out their work.

This practice is similar to how the Egyptians believed boats would take Pharaohs to the land of the ‘Gods’. Clothes and jewellery found in the tomb were also buried alongside the mummies, in small baskets, and the bodies (pictured) were wrapped in cowhide and wool. This prevented sand from getting inside the corpses
Scientists recreated ancient brain surgery on a modern skull (shown) to understand medical techniques that existed almost 2,500 years ago. A team of experts in Russia spent the past year examining skulls found with intricate surgical holes in a bid to fathom out how early nomadic doctors worked.
Evidence from ancient skulls (pictured) suggest they are among the earliest ever examples of trepanation – an ancient form of neurosurgery

Evidence suggested they were among the earliest ever examples of trepanation – the oldest form of known neurosurgery – with the procedures skillfully carried out. The oldest samples of skulls with boreholes drilled into them were found in a burial site in France dating back to 6500 BC.

But it was also used by the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Romans, Greeks and the early Mesoamerican civilisations. Even the ‘father of medicine Hippocrates advocated the process in his 400 BC tome ‘On Injuries of the Head’.

The procedure was carried out by Aleksei Krivoshapkin according to ancient methods used in the Altai Mountains on the skull of a woman who had died of natural causes shortly before.

Analysis of the skulls of ancient patients found that the operations were carried out with only one tool, a bronze knife, with the surgeons, carefully scraping at the skull, yet leaving behind only minimal traces of their work.

Jaw-Dropping Fossil Find Contains a Dinosaur Sitting on an Entire Clutch of Eggs

Jaw-Dropping Fossil Find Contains a Dinosaur Sitting on an Entire Clutch of Eggs

The fossil in question is that of an oviraptorosaur, a group of bird-like theropod dinosaurs that thrived during the Cretaceous Period, the third and final time period of the Mesozoic Era (commonly known as the ‘Age of Dinosaurs’) that extended from 145 to 66 million years ago.

An attentive oviraptorid theropod dinosaur broods its nest of blue-green eggs while its mate looks on in what is now Jiangxi Province of southern China some 70 million years ago.

The new specimen was recovered from uppermost Cretaceous-aged rocks, some 70 million years old, in Ganzhou City in southern China’s Jiangxi Province.

“Dinosaurs preserved on their nests are rare, and so are fossil embryos. This is the first time a non-avian dinosaur has been found, sitting on a nest of eggs that preserve embryos, in a single spectacular specimen,” explains Dr Shundong Bi. The fossil consists of an incomplete skeleton of a large, presumably adult oviraptorid crouched in a bird-like brooding posture over a clutch of at least 24 eggs.

The partial skeleton of the oviraptorosaur was found on a nest of at least 24 fossilized eggs.

At least seven of these eggs preserve bones or partial skeletons of unhatched oviraptorid embryos inside.

The late stage of development of the embryos and the close proximity of the adult to the eggs strongly suggests that the latter died in the act of incubating its nest, like its modern bird cousins, rather than laying its eggs or simply guarding its nest crocodile-style, as has sometimes been proposed for the few other oviraptorid skeletons that have been found atop nests.

The ~70-million-year-old fossil in question: an adult oviraptorid theropod dinosaur sitting atop a nest of its fossilized eggs. Multiple eggs (including at least three that contain embryos) are clearly visible, as are the forearms, pelvis, hind limbs, and partial tail of the adult.

“This kind of discovery, in essence, fossilized behaviour, is the rarest of the rare in dinosaurs,” explains Dr Lamanna. “Though a few adult oviraptorids have been found on nests of their eggs before, no embryos have ever been found inside those eggs.

In the new specimen, the babies were almost ready to hatch, which tells us beyond a doubt that this oviraptorid had tended its nest for quite a long time. This dinosaur was a caring parent that ultimately gave its life while nurturing its young.”

The team also conducted oxygen isotope analyses that indicate that the eggs were incubated at high, bird-like temperatures, adding further support to the hypothesis that the adult perished in the act of brooding its nest.

Moreover, although all embryos were well-developed, some appear to have been more mature than others, which in turn suggests that oviraptorid eggs in the same clutch might have hatched at slightly different times.

This characteristic, known as asynchronous hatching, appears to have evolved independently in oviraptorids and some modern birds.

One other interesting aspect of the new oviraptorid specimen is that the adult preserves a cluster of pebbles in its abdominal region.

These are almost certainly gastroliths, or “stomach stones,” rocks that would have been deliberately swallowed to aid the dinosaur in digesting its food.

This is the first time that undoubted gastroliths have been found in an oviraptorid, and as such, these stones may provide new insights into the diets of these animals.

Says Dr. Xu, “It’s extraordinary to think how much biological information is captured in just this single fossil. We’re going to be learning from this specimen for many years to come.”

Massive Ancient City Containing Huge Pyramid Unearthed in China

Massive Ancient City Containing Huge Pyramid Unearthed in China

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of an ancient lost city in China where human sacrifice was practised. The Neolithic site known as Shimao, in present-day Shaanxi province, was once thought to be an unexcavated part of the Great Wall of China.

The pyramid was decorated with eye symbols and “anthropomorphic,” or part-human, part-animal faces.

Those figures “may have endowed the stepped pyramid with special religious power and further strengthened the general visual impression on its large audience,” the archaeologists wrote in the article. 

This figure shows images of the step pyramid. a) part of the stone buttresses of the second and the third steps of the pyramid; b) eye symbols that decorate the pyramid c) a view of the buttresses under excavation; d) a general view of the pyramid before excavation.

For five centuries, a city flourished around the pyramid. At one time, the city encompassed an area of 988 acres (400 hectares), making it one of the largest in the world, the archaeologists wrote. Today, the ruins of the city are called “Shimao,” but its name in ancient times is unknown.

The pyramid contains 11 steps, each of which was lined with stone. On the topmost step, there “were extensive palaces built of rammed earth, with wooden pillars and roofing tiles, a gigantic water reservoir, and domestic remains related to daily life,” the researchers wrote.

The city’s rulers lived in these palaces, and art and craft production were carried out nearby. “Evidence so far suggests that the stepped pyramid complex functioned not only as a residential space for ruling Shimao elites but also as a space for artisanal or industrial craft production,” the archaeologists wrote.

A sacrificial pit of human skulls discovered at Shimao. The people sacrificed may have been captives captured in war. This photo was first published in 2016 in an article in the Chinese language journal Kaogu yu wenwu.

A series of stone walls with ramparts and gates was built around the pyramid and the city. “At the entrance to the stepped pyramid were sophisticated bulwarks [defensive walls] whose design suggests that they were intended to provide both defense and highly restricted access,” the archaeologists wrote.

The remains of numerous human sacrifices have been discovered at Shimao. “In the outer gateway of the eastern gate on the outer rampart alone, six pits containing decapitated human heads have been found,” the archaeologists wrote.

Some of the victims may be from another archaeological site called Zhukaigou, which is located to the north of Shimao, and the people of Shimao may have conquered the neighbouring site.

“Morphological analysis of the human remains suggests that the victims may have been related to the residents of Zhukaigou, which could further suggest that they were taken to Shimao as captives during the expansion of the Shimao polity,” the study said.

Additionally, jade artefacts were inserted into spaces between the blocks in all of Shimao’s structures. “The jade objects and human sacrifice may have imbued the very walls of Shimao with ritual and religious potency,” the archaeologists wrote.

While archaeologists have known about Shimao for many years, it was once thought to be part of the Great Wall of China, a section of which is located nearby.

It wasn’t until excavations were carried out in recent years that archaeologists realized that Shimao is far older than the Great Wall, which was built between 2,700 and 400 years ago.

The pyramid and the surrounding area were fortified with ramparts

The team of archaeologists that wrote the article includes Li Jaang, a professor at the School of History at Zhengzhou University; Zhouyong Sun and Jing Shao, who are both archaeologists at the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology; and Min Li, an anthropology professor at UCLA.

Possible 2,700-Year-Old Face Cream Found in China

Possible 2,700-Year-Old Face Cream Found in China

According to a Nature report, a team of researchers led by Bin Han of the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences identified a bronze vessel containing remnants of a 2,700-year-old cosmetic among the artifacts recovered from a nobleman’s tomb at the Liujiawa site in northern China.

The ornate bronze jar was still sealed when researchers unearthed it at the Liujiawa archaeological site in northern China. That allowed Yimin Yang at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues to analyze the composition of the yellowish lumps inside the pot.

The lumps consisted of beef fat mixed with minerals that absorb sweat and skin oil. Those minerals came from ‘cave moon milk’, a powdered form of white stalactites found in limestone caves.

Caves were important to the Taoist philosophy prevalent during the nobleman’s day, and the cream would have had symbolic power as well as the ability to moisturize and whiten the face.

The presence of similar pots in many royal and noble graves suggests that a cosmetics industry serving elite customers had appeared in China by roughly 700 BC.

Hidden for 1,000 years-“Underground Great Wall” of China

Hidden for 1,000 years-“Underground Great Wall” of China

The Song Dynasty (960AD-1127AD) battled for 200 years with the Liao and Jin Dynasties, which at the time were ruled by minorities of China’s Northern Territories, the Khitans, and Jurchens respectively.

The battleground was an endless flat ground, with no mountains or rivers that could be used to help defend against attack, but their secret was found more than half a century ago, when locals in the Yongqing village, Hebei, experienced a great flood.

Villagers were running for their lives when the course of the flood suddenly diverted and disaster was averted – exposing a series of underground passages spanning more than 300 square kilometers (115 square miles).

Experts in China discovered the Yongqing ancient war passages were widespread and formed part of a large-scale construction used to house troops during times of war.

The structure of the caves was complicated and possessed advanced military facilities such as camouflaged exits, covers, and locking gates. More recently though, the existence of a modern “underground Great Wall” tunnel network was unveiled in the mountainous regions of Hebei.

The labyrinthine tunnel system was built by the engineering unit of the Second Artillery in 1985 for concealing, mobilising and deploying China’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons.

China has a serious of underground tunnels
The ancient tunnels were found half a century ago

Who Built the Ancient War Passages and When?

Experts discovered that the Yongqing ancient war passages were widespread. They were in fact a large-scale construction used to house troops during times of war.

The structures of the caves were complicated and complete, possessing military facilities such as camouflaged exits, covers, and locking gates. Facilities for housing people were also found, such as ventilation holes, lampstands, and heatable brick beds.

The “blue bricks” used in the construction of the passageways were 30×16×8 cubic centimeters in size. This kind of brick, created using fine soil baked at high temperatures, was very solid and robust; the use of such facilities suggests a well thought out and sophisticated underground network had been established at some point in time.

Military figures, Northern Song dynasty, 11th century, pottery, iron brown pigment and clear glaze, Lowe Art Museum.

Further investigation revealed that the blue bricks found in Yongqing County were the same as the bricks found in underground passages in Qigang, Xiong County from the Song Dynasty.

The creation and maintenance of such a massive underground network required a great number of these bricks. It is believed that these ancient war passages were constructed as part of a large nation-wide project created and overseen at a national level by the governing authorities of the time.

The Passages Spread Over 1,600 Square Kilometers

Experts have dug out similar war passages in Yongqing, Xiong county, and Bazhou. The ancient war passages are about 65 kilometers from east to west, 25 kilometers from north to south, which extend through 1,600 square kilometers.

When the border between the Song Dynasty and the Liao Dynasty went as far west as Rongcheng county and Xushui county, it is thought that many ancient war passages existed in that area. How far the ancient war passages extended eastwards from Yongqing is still unknown.

The tunnels were found in Hubei

Hiding Soldiers in the Ancient War Passages to Defend the Country

Amidst many legends about the underground network, one states that the ancient war passages were built by General Yang and his family; a family that produced three great generals over three generations.

Another legend suggests that General Yang Liulang used the underground passageways to defend the border. At the time (960-1127 AD), soldiers of the Liao Dynasty strictly guarded the lands north of Yongqing County. It is said that Yang Liulang built the passages to hide his soldiers underground so they could quickly defend against attacks launched by the Liao soldiers.

“Four Generals of Zhongxing” by Southern Song Dynasty artist Liu Songnian (1174–1224).

Experts point out that the underground passages may have been used as a base for launching attacks during wars fought in ancient China. As a means of defense throughout the years, people have built great walls in mountainous areas and water fields near rivers and lakes to block cavalries.

However, in the open plains, where it is difficult to use the terrain as a means of defense, the tunnels would have allowed soldiers to travel unseen below the earth.

The ancient war passages have become famous for the advantages they provide whether the troops are attacking or defending, and they have been named the “underground Great Wall.”

Similar tunnels are now used by the Chinese military

Ancient China: Lost City With Pyramid and Human Sacrifices Is Rewriting History

Ancient China: Lost City With Pyramid and Human Sacrifices Is Rewriting History

Apparently, some archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a lost city in China that were around for more than 3,000 years ago. On a hill above China’s Tuwei River, researchers found a large stepped pyramid that once served as a palace center, along with defensive stone walls, tool-making rubble, and many pits filled with sacrificial human skulls.

According to archaeologists, Bronze Age discoveries contradict our interpretation of early Chinese culture and occupation, indicating the loess highlands was home to a complex society long before the traditionally assumed ‘centers’ emerged in the Central Plains.

The ancient city dubbed Shimao was home to a pyramid that stood at least 230 feet tall (70 meters) and was guarded by a huge inner and outer wall.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a lost city in China that thrived more than 4,000 years ago. The pyramid was build out of a loess hill, with 11 massive steps tapering as they ascend, as shown above

Thousands of years ago when it flourished, from about 2300 BC to 1800 BC, the city spanned about 988 acres.

The pyramid was build-out of a loess hill, with 11 massive steps tapering as they ascend, the researchers write in a paper published in the journal Antiquity.

Beyond the entrance, they found a ‘large open plaza where rituals and political gatherings may have been held.’

According to the researchers, palaces were built atop the huge pyramid out of rammed earth with wooden pillars and roofing tiles.

The ancient city dubbed Shimao was home to a pyramid that stood at least 230 feet tall (70 meters), and was guarded by a huge inner and outer wall. Thousands of years ago when it flourished, from about 2300 BC to 1800 BC, the city spanned about 988 acres
On a ridge above China’s Tuwei River, the researcher found a massive stepped pyramid that once served as a palace center, along with defensive stone walls, tool-making debris, and a pit filled with sacrificial human skulls

It’s thought that the ruling elites lived atop the pyramid complex, which was likely also the site of artisanal or industrial craft production.

Eyes and anthropomorphic stone faces were found carved into the façade of the pyramid.

‘With its imposing height of at least 70 m, the pyramid could be seen from everywhere within the settlement, from the suburbs and even the rural fringes.

‘Thus it could well have provided a constant and overwhelming reminder to the Shimao population of the power of the ruling elites residing atop it – a concrete example of the ‘social pyramid.’

Ancient China: Lost City With Pyramid and Human Sacrifices Is Rewriting History
It’s thought that the ruling elites lived atop the pyramid complex, which was likely also the site of artisanal or industrial craft production

Researchers say mass sacrifices were also commonplace at Shimao, with six pits containing decapitated human heads discovered at the site on the outer rampart alone.

Human remains and jade objects associated with sacrifice were found at other Shimao monuments, as well.

‘The jade objects and human sacrifice may have imbued the very walls of Shimao with ritual and religious potency, amplifying its significance as a monumental center, enhancing the protective efficacy of the walls and making this a place of power in every sense,’ the authors wrote.

Beyond the entrance, they found a ‘large open plaza where rituals and political gatherings may have been held.’ According to the researchers, palaces were built atop the huge pyramid out of rammed earth with wooden pillars and roofing tiles

Notably, the researchers say the discoveries are indicative of Shimao’s status as a carefully constructed civilization.

‘This research reveals that by 2000 BC, the loess highland was home to a complex society representing the political and economic heartland,’ the authors wrote.

‘Significantly, it was found that Later Bronze Age core symbols associated with Central plains civilization were, in fact, created much earlier at Shimao.’

The Bronze Age discoveries challenge our understanding of early Chinese civilization and settlement, suggesting the loess highland was home to a complex society long before the traditionally assumed ‘centers’ emerged in the Central Plains

Tang-Dynasty Temple Complex Unearthed in Southwest China

Tang-Dynasty Temple Complex Unearthed in Southwest China

Archaeologists have uncovered a temple complex dating back to the State of Nanzhao, a slave society established during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), according to the provincial research institute of cultural relics and archaeology in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

Tang-Dynasty Temple Complex Unearthed in Southwest China
The photo was taken on Jan.13, 2021, shows an ancient temple complex dating back to the State of Nanzhao, a slave society established during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) in Dali, southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

The complex situated at the Wuzhishan ruins in the city of Dali was found with 14 foundations for structures, 63 stone walls, and 23 ditches.

More than 40 tonnes of tiles, along with over 17,300 other relics including pottery were also unearthed, said Zhu Zhonghua, a researcher who leads the archaeological project.

From January to July 2020, archaeologists conducted the excavation work on an area of 6,000 square meters at the site, 600 meters to the south of Taihe.

Taihe was the first capital of the Nanzhao regime after its ethnic Bai tribal head united the six tribes of the Erhai Region.

Photo taken on Jan.13, 2021, shows a tile discovered in an ancient temple complex uncovered in Dali, southwest China’s Yunnan Province. The inscription on it indicates that the temple might be a royal religious site of the State of Nanzhao.

In the complex, the researchers discovered a tile inscribed with the characters “Buddha sarira enshrined by the government,” which indicates that the Buddhist relics of Nanzhao’s royal court are likely to have been enshrined and worshiped inside the temple.

The complex is therefore believed to be a major religious site of Taihe, said the institute.

“Sarira” is a general term with a number of meanings, but is generally used to describe the bodily remains after a Buddhist cremation. The remains of Buddhist masters were often said to contain crystalline beads or pearl-like objects.

In the eastern part of the site, brick and tile kilns were also found with a large number of nails, gaskets, moulages, and other kiln ware, while defective glazed pottery was also unearthed.

The excavation helps reveal the layout characteristics of the temples built during the Nanzhao regime, the production status of the kilns, and funeral customs of the royal family, according to the institute.

Nanzhao reigned in what is now Yunnan Province as well as parts of Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. Taihe was then the political and cultural center of the region.