Archaeological Discoveries
in 2001
Archaeological Discoveries
in 2000
Top Ten Archaeological Finds
for 1999
Archaeological Discoveries
in 1999

Large Buddhist Towers of the Western Xia

  On slopes less than one hundred meters and on Mount Helanshan in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwest China, archaeologists have discovered the foundations of 62 Buddhist towers that had been buried underground for several hundred years. Nearly one hundred exquisitely produced miniatures of the towers, with small Buddhist statues and some bone ashes and half-burned human bones were unearthed too. The colorful paintings on the outside white surfaces of the towers' foundations remain bright and clear.

   The height of the largest tower foundation stands 0.6 meters, and the height of the lowest is only a dozen centimeters. The largest foundation has a diameter of 3.5 meters and the small ones have diameters of less than two meters. The foundations are in three basic shapes: cruciform, octagon and square. There are 57 foundations in the cruciform shape, three in the square shape and two in the octagon shape. The 62 Buddhist towers were located in disarray, without any order of sequence of superior and inferior.

   The discovery shows that the construction of the group of towers had taken a long period of time. The chambers inside the tower are different in size and were built with different materials, including stone, brick and earthen blocks. The archaeologists found that almost all the Buddhist towers were coated with a layer of whitewash about two centimeters thick, on which colorful patterns were painted.

   It seems that the towers were not constructed at one time. A blue brick on which characters used by the Western Xia Dynasty were inscribed and four coins unearthed from the site provide important evidence for the dating of the towers. The coins indicate that the towers might have been built any time from the heyday of the Western Xia (1038-1227) to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Small clay statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas, glazed tower base, other glazed items and porcelain shards were also unearthed from the site.

   Though mostly damaged, they are still of value as cultural relics. The site has provided valuable materials for the study of Western Xia temples, tower foundations construction, Tibetan Buddhism, and the dissemination and evolution of the Western Xia culture as well as its politics, economy and history.