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Henan Dig May Reveal China's Oldest Capital

A large ancient city ruin was discovered during the excavations at Wangchenggang site near Dengfeng from 2002 to 2004. This was the result of cooperation of archaeologists from the School of Archeology and Museology of Peking University and the Henan Provincial Research Institute of Archeology.

The remains cover an area of 300,000 square meters, include the ruins of a city, a moat and a city wall.

Preliminary dating indicates that the city site belongs to the late Longshan period, a late Neolithic culture that dates back to the 21st century BC.

"Because the period was generally recognized as the Xia Dynasty, it is highly probable that the large city ruins are the site of King Yu's capital, whether from the location recorded in history or from the scale of the city," said Professor Liu Xu of Peking University, who headed the dig.

King Yu was the first king of the Xia Dynasty, which was the first dynasty in Chinese history.

For many years, the Xia Dynasty was thought to be largely mythological. It existed in oral histories, but no archaeological evidence of it was found until 1959. Excavations at Erlitou, in the city of Yanshi, uncovered what was most likely a capital of the Xia Dynasty, and showed that people living at the site were the director ancestors of the Longshan and predecessors of the Shang Dynasty.

Archaeologists have also unearthed relics such as sacrificial pits with human bones, human skulls used in rituals and buried under the moat and long hollow pieces of jade with rectangular sides and white pottery, which demonstrated the noble status of the owner.

"These discoveries suggest that the city may have been a major settlement for people in central China some 4,000 years ago," said Fang Yanming, a research fellow with the Henan Provincial Research Institute of Archeology.

The Wangchenggang site was discovered in 1959 and became famous in 1977 when archaeologists excavated a small city to the northeast of the newly discovered big city, and relics including fragments of bronze wares, inscribed characters and a dozen foundation pits buried with human's skeletons.

As the first city site of the late Longshan Culture confirmed in Henan Province, the small city, covering just a few thousand square meters, was then thought by some archaeologists to have been the capital of King Yu.

"The discovery of the large city site throws new light on the identification of King Yu's capital," Fang said.

Both cities were constructed in the same manner, though the small city was built a little earlier than the big one.

Some archaeologists argue that the small city may have been used for sacrifices. Others think that the big city may have been constructed after the small city was demolished by the cataclysm during which Yu, a legendary hero and the founder of China's first slave-owning society, led the people to fight floods some 4,000 years ago.

"There are still many questions waiting to be answered," Fang said, but indicated that further examination of materials should clarify whether the large city was in fact the capital.

China is one of the oldest countries in the world. Existing Chinese historical chronicles, however, begin in 841 B.C. and there is no precise record of nearly half the nation's history. The Chinese government started a project to put precise dates on the three dynasties of Xia (21st century BC-16th BC), Shang (16th century BC-11th BC) and Zhou (11th century BC-3rd BC), all the three of which are featured in abundant legends and anecdotes.

(Xinhua News Agency February 16, 2005)

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