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New Thinking on Origin of the Silk Road

Zhang Ruimin

Deep in the Tianshan Mountains in western China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, archaeologists have discovered ancient Caucasian and Mongolian skeletons -- evidence of a branch of the Silk Road they believe places East-West contact much earlier than previously thought.

Dating back some 2,500 years ago to the Western Zhou Kingdom (11th Century - 770 BC), the skeletons are among some 4,000 relics found over the past 10 or more years by state and local archaeologists in ancient ruins at the foot of Chawuhu Pass, about 10 miles southwest of the town of Baluntai in Hejing County. The layout of graves -- some 600 of them in five major sites -- and sacrificial grounds at the site reveal a clan society of public ownership experts call "Chawuhu Culture." The entire archaeological site extends some three miles in all directions.

Generally people think that the Silk Road (the ancient trade route of some 4,000 miles between China and the Mediterranean Sea) started in the Western Han Kingdom (206BC - 24AD).

"During all the excavations, no relics with written characters were found. This indicates people at that time led a very primitive life in a very backward society. Unearthed pottery was baked in local kilns," said Wang Weihua, formerly with the Hejing County Museum.

Some of the pottery vats found were similar to ancient pottery found in south Siberia and the Turpan Region of Xinjiang (southeast of the middle of Xinjiang), something that also contributes to archaeologists’ conclusion that Chawuhu Pass may be an ancient Silk Road branch.

"Chawuhu Pass was a vital communication line. As research deepens, the historical significance of the Silk Road increases as its route becomes longer in both space and time," said Lü Enguo, a researcher with Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology.

(新疆日报 [Xinjiang Daily] January 8, 2002 by Zhang Ruimin and Kong Xudong, translated by Zhang Tingting for China.org.cn)


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