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The mystery of the Longhu Mountain Tombs
The Epoch Times
3/7/2005

The Longhu Mountains of Jiangxi province, lie alongside the Luxi River. On each side of the river hang thousand-foot precipices, leaving caves whose faces are entirely covered with natural caverns of all sizes. Coffins are hung inside these caverns, situated between 20 and 100 meters from the water below. The means by which the ancients got the heavy coffins into the holes on sheer cliffs remain a mystery.

According to Chinese news Web site Qianlong.com, there is a legend that claims that the caverns are hiding places for vast quantities of gold, silver and other valuable treasures. Weathering has exposed the coffins. Some caverns hold many coffins, including one that holds more than 10. Some seem to be husband and wife tombs, and the most numerous, by far, are individual tombs. Interestingly, all of the caverns are on the cliff face that faces the sun, or the yang side.

The tombs have always been shrouded in mystery. Who made them? How did they maneuver wooden coffins of several hundred pounds each into these high caves on the cliff face? Many have ventured theories on the methods of the ancients: moving the gravel, flooding the river, the transformation of geology, using a winch and so on. None of these methods rationally and reasonably explains the facts, however.

The archaeological study team of the Longhu Mountain tombs was established in 1978. The team built a bamboo frame to climb up to the cave with the most coffins, No. 13 cave. A herbalist with some mountain climbing experience bravely volunteered to ascend the rickety ladder. Testing reveled that artifacts brought down from the cave were more than 2,600 years old, placing the inhabitants of No. 13 cave as having lived during the Spring and Autumn Period (770476 BC) of Chinese history.

From the various funeral artifacts uncovered by the team, it was determined that the deceased in No. 13 cave were of the Baiyue race of ancient China. During the Spring and Autumn Period, the Baiyue ethnic group dwelled near the Wuyi and Longhu mountain areas of today. They chose spots near the water for their dwellings, and they chose similar spots as burial grounds.

The archaeological team excavated 18 coffins. These wooden coffins were independently designed, made of the wood of the Machilus nanmu tree. There were house- and ship-shaped coffins, among others. The largest weighed more than 1,000 pounds and the lightest weighed more than 300 pounds. There were sharp cliffs above and open water below where these coffins were suspended.

Since 1997, the tourism organization of Longhu Mountain has posted a reward of US$38,463 for anyone smart enough to solve the mystery of the coffins in the caves. Some theorized the use of hot air balloons; some suggested piles of gravel were used. Others say the water level was higher 2,000 years ago, so people used boats to easily transport the coffins to the caves. None of these theories can be verified, however.

Researchers came across a new theory in a small mountain village near the Matang Bei in Sichuan: The coffins were transported using overhead traveling cranes. An 89-year-old elder of the village told the researchers that when he was small, he heard the elders of his family said that the coffins where winched down by overhead traveling cranes.

From archeological discoveries as early as the Shangzhou Dynasty, people were using a jigging wheel, or winch. So the researchers conducted a series of experiments with the No. 1 cave of the Longhu Mountains, situated 24 meters above the water. The fixed pulley was mounted on the edge of the cliff, while the winch, built in the old style, was placed on a rock down the mountain. An imitation coffin was then brought below the cave mouth with a boat.

Two herbalists climbed up the back of the mountain to the top of the cliffs. They secured a rope on the cliff right above the No. 1 cave, while the other end of the rope was held by their partner in the boat. The first herbalist held onto the rope and went down the cliff face until he reached the cave. At this point the one in the boat cut the rope, the momentum carrying the first herbalist into the cave. The second herbalist followed in roughly the same manner but without letting go of the rope once in the cave. When the two in the cave were ready, the other end of the rope was securely fastened on the coffin. A few moments later, the coffin was successfully pulled up into the cave.

There are still issues about the coffins and the way they finally rest in the caves that are not answered by this theory, so scientists remain skeptical about the rope and pulley theory.

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