#89: Chinese Pompeii Unearthed

By Bo Zhang
Dec 16, 2010 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 4:11 AM
Ceramic tiles with characters meaning "long life," found intact. | Courtesy the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology


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In 2003 Chinese archaeologists began excavating piles of tiles and bricks in Sanyangzhuang, a rural town located in the central plain of China. What they found exceeded their wildest expectations: an entire immaculately preserved village dating back more than 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty. The site consists of four walled houses—each the residence of an extended family—surrounded by wells, toilets, ponds, and trees.

In July, archaeologist Tristram Kidder of Washington University in St. Louis and his Chinese colleagues discovered evidence of even older agricultural fields beneath the excavated houses and a larger buried town about two miles away. “If these are preserved in the same way the houses are, it would really turn out to be a staggering development,” Kidder says.

The 2003 find was buried intact by 28 inches of flood sediments, which formed a protective layer over the village. Kidder thinks a massive late-summer flood of the Yellow River hit so quickly that people left behind everything, from large grinding stones to tiny coins. In addition, impressions of mulberry leaves, considered a sign of silkworm production, were found, indicating that Sanyangzhuang was one of the places where the Silk Road began.

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