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Great Wall Brick Kilns in Sensational Discovery
Where were the famous gray bricks used for building the Great Wall made? What firing techniques were used in antiquity? The answers may lie in a recent sensational archeological discovery at Qinhuangdao, the starting point of the Great Wall in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

So far some 51 long-buried brick kilns used for firing bricks for the Great Wall have come to light. They have been found at the foot of the Great Wall in north Banchangyu Town in Zhucaoying Village, Funing County in north China’s Hebei Province. Banchangyu Town is near Qinhuangdao, being located 36 km from the city’s Shanhaiguan Pass and 28 km from the downtown area.

Expertly fired grey bricks of the celebrated type made famous in the Great Wall were found still stacked in good order inside the kilns. Initial investigations would suggest that dozens more of these historic brick kilns still remain buried, just waiting to be found.

Dong Yaohui is secretary-general of the China Great Wall Association and an expert in the study of the Great Wall. He described the excavation of so many well-preserved kilns as being a rare event in the history of the study of the Great Wall. He said, “Archeological circles worldwide with an interest in the Great Wall will be amazed by this sensational discovery. It is a find of real historical significance in the study of this ancient landmark.”

A well-preserved section of the Great Wall stretches 3.5 km along a steep mountain ridge to the north of Banchangyu Town. Historical records show the section was first constructed in 1381. It was then renovated in 1571 when the earlier stone structure was strengthened with brickwork and 50 new watchtowers were added.

Dozens of the kilns were excavated just 500 meters from the Great Wall itself. They lay buried under two separate cornfields, in ravines to the west and east of Banchangyu Town respectively. They came to light in an archaeological dig covering more than 200 mu (about 13.5 hectares).

Three different types of kiln have been found. One style is said to resemble the shape of a dragon with a common flue duct serving an arrangement of four, six or sometimes eight individual kiln chambers. The second style is classified as U-shaped and the third as horn-shaped.

The top of each kiln is just 25 centimeters below ground level. The roof is closed over and sealed with rubble and puddled clay. Excavation reveals kiln walls, themselves built in the same grey bricks they were made to produce. Cut off from the outside world for hundreds of years, the air inside the freshly opened kilns sits heavy with humidity.

The kilns are 3.5 meters deep with access gained from an opening of 3.5 meters or more. The bricks discovered still neatly stacked inside the kilns weigh about 10.5 kg and various patterns have been found. Early estimates suggest there could be nearly 5,000 bricks in each kiln.

More historic finds are expected as it’s thought there may still be dozens more Great Wall brick kilns lying buried and just waiting to be discovered around Banchangyu Town.

(China.org.cn translated by Zhang Tingting, January 6, 2003)

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