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Archaeologists try to revive daily life of ancient Chinese capital
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Archaeologists are uncovering the details of city life as it was 2,000 years ago in the ancient Chinese capital of Chang'an.

As the capital of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC to 8 AD), Chang'an was a metropolis with an area of 36 square kilometers, about four times the size of the contemporary Rome. Its ruins lay in the suburb of today's Xi'an, capital of northwestern Shaanxi Province.

"After about five decades of work, we can map out the city's clear layout now, but we still know little about how its 240,000 residents lived," said Liu Zhendong, the head of an excavation team from the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), in an interview with Xinhua.

The 12-gate, walled city had eight avenues, each of which were 45 to 55 meters wide and lined with trees.

Its wall was 12 meters high, 25,700 meters long and surrounded by an eight-meter-wide moat. To run around it would be equal to take running half marathon.

"Archaeologists have excavated several major palaces and city gates but have not discovered the residences of ordinary people," Liu said. "Did they live in courtyards like those in old Beijing? We do not know."

The city was divided into 11 neighborhoods. Those of royal families and nobles were in the city's southern part while shops, workshops and houses of common people were situated in the northeast.

Liu and his colleagues have been working in that area for months.

"Some construction material was unearthed, such as stone slabs with inscriptions of names of locations, or their owners," he said. "This area will be our focus in the coming years."

Meanwhile, the archaeologists will work on the later relics that laid upon the Western Han ruins as Chang'an remained the capital of several later kingdoms.

"We believed that the palace area of later kingdoms were in this area," he said. The team has just excavated a palace gateway in December and unearthed well-preserved palace walls and stone bases of pillars.

After four centuries of rule by the Han Dynasty (Western and Eastern Han Dynasties), China was divided into several small kingdoms between 220 AD and 581 AD.

Some of those kingdoms, with the capital in Chang'an, were founded by nomadic ethnic groups from the north, later known as the Mongols.

"The palace gateway was an interesting finding. We hardly knew about the buildings of these kingdoms and it would help," he said.

"Like the ancient site of Pompeii, the study of large-scale ruins requires about 100 or 200 years of excavation," said Liu Qingzhu, a veteran archaeologist from the same institute as Liu Zhendong.

Archaeologists have just excavated about 0.1 percent of the total area of Chang'an ruins.

"Sometimes I feel like competing with time. Because irreversible damage occurred to the relics because of natural and man-made reasons," Liu Zhendong said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 29, 2009)

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