Towers of the Western Xia
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.