Arts & Culture 
 Human Rights 
 U.S. Asian Policy 

Home > East Asia > 

Mysteries of the Xiaohe Tombs in Xinjiang, China
The Epoch Times

 Related Articles
Traditional Culture: One Must Pay Back One's Debts
Acts Upon a Stage (Part 5 of 5)
Acts Upon a Stage (Part 4)
Acts Upon a Stage (Part 3)
Taiwan's Culture of Food
Acts Upon a Stage (Part II)
Chinese Dance in Ancient History
Acts Upon a Stage (Part I)
A Story from History: Jiang Balang Paid His Debt
China's Slavery Scandal Reveals Weaknesses in Governance
On April 17, 2004, the Xiaohe ("Small River") Tombs in Xinjiang Province, discovered in 1939 by Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman, were said to be among China's top 10 archaeological discoveries. According to a Guangming Daily report from April 23, public interest in the tombs was first sparked when Bergman published a detailed introduction to the Xiaohe basin archaeology called the Archaeological Researches in Xinjiang in Stockholm in 1939.

However, when the tombs' landmark Xiaohe River dried up, the public essentially forgot about the tombs for several decades. It was not until more than 60 years later, on Dec. 11, 2000, that a Chinese member of the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute entered the Lop Nor Desert with a global positioning satellite and found the Xiaohe Tombs once more. In March 2005, the comprehensive excavation successfully ended.

The Xiaohe Tombs are a large-scale burial system that provide information about the early Lop Nor civilizations precious to scholars around the world. With 167 graves, and over 1,000 cultural artifacts unearthed there, the Xiaohe site is unlike any other place in China, or even the rest of the world.

According to Idelisi Abuduresule, head of the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute, the Xiaohe Tombs have "caught the interest of people because many of its discoveries are still a mystery." The following mysteries of the Xiaohe Tombs are still awaiting explanations.

Mystery No. 1: Lifestyle? Not a trace!

In evidence from an ancient time, one can usually deduce traces of an ancient lifestyle. But after careful investigation by archaeologists within a radius of several kilometers, no artifacts from the lifestyle of the Xiaohe people could be found.

Mystery No. 2: Coffins in "ship-shape"

The coffins at the Xiaohe Tombs were buried in five levels, each coffin resembling an upside-down ship on the shore with the dead buried within. Live cows had been killed at the burial and their skins were used to wrap the coffins. As the skins dried and shrank, the coffins were bound increasingly tighter.

Mystery No. 3: A culture of worship?

The Xiaohe Tombs are notable for the high density of timbers made of poplar on the sand mountain. The shapes of the timber differ according to the sex of the deceased and symbolize the reproductive organs. This mysterious culture of highly worshipping reproduction is rarely seen in the world.

Mystery No. 4: The disappearance of Xiaohe people

The Xiaohe Tombs are significant in the study on the ancient people of the Lop Nor area. Although we have evidence about Xiaohe people's deaths, we do not have traces of their lives. The biggest mystery regarding the civilization represented by the Xiaohe Tombs is their disappearance. Did a plague ravage the population? Did war break out? Or were they simply swallowed by the desert?

Mystery No. 5: Rare mud-shells on the coffins

Four coffins with shells made of mud were found to the north and south of the area. These were different from the ship-shaped coffins originally discovered; the coffin lids were rectangular shaped, and inside was a wooden structure that displayed the original ship-shape. What is most curious to people is that these four coffins all contained female adults with rich burial items. Archaeologists have no solution to why these particular four female adults had mud coverings on their coffins.

Mystery No. 6: Wooden bodies

In this excavation, six coffins were found to have wooden bodies instead of real corpses. After analysis, it was found that these wooden bodies had been made in a short time period. These people were all male and had the same basic shape. The faces were flat, with red X's on them.

© Copyright 2002-2007 AFAR