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Excavation of Ancient Desert Tombs Ends, Riddles to Be Solved

Chinese archaeologists finished the excavation of an ancient tomb complex in the Lop Nur Desert, northwest China, but researchers say the finds are puzzling and need more time to be understood.

By mid March, archaeologists in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region unearthed 163 tombs of the Xiaohe Tomb complex, which sprawls on a 2,500-square-meter oval-shaped dune, 174 km from the ruins of the Loulan Kingdom, an ancient civilization that vanished 1,500 years ago.
The complex contains about 330 tombs, but about 160 of them were spoiled by grave robbers, said Idelisi Abuduresule, head of the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, which launched the excavation project in October 2003 with the approval from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
Archaeologists found boat-shaped coffins in the tombs, including one 55-cm long for an infant's body.
Four of the unearthed coffins, located at the bottom of the tomb complex, were coated with mud. The bodies in the four coffins were all women, but researchers found wooden male genitals in the coffins along with other funerary objects.
"Most objects found in the tombs remain untouched, and will help the study on local social culture and custom at that time," Idelisi said.
The massive burial site was first discovered in 1934 by Swedish explorer, Folke Bergman. His archaeological diary helped Chinese researchers spot the site at the end of 2000, after the diary was published in Chinese.
After excavation, the researchers returned to regional capital, Urumqi, for further study.
The researchers are now attempting to determine the date of the tombs through tree-ring analysis on wooden coffin boards and chronometry on the earth from the tombs.
Many riddles await the researchers, Idelisi said.
"Why were the tombs terraced? Why the wooden posts were cut into a variety of shapes from columns to prisms and what did people use for the carving? Why didn't we find any traces of human life near such a massive burial site?" he asked.
Idelisi said that the burial style is unique and unveiling its mystery should involve research efforts of not only archaeologists and historians but also anthropologists, religion experts and environment researchers.
"We'll try to complete and publish the research report. And we hope our research can help archaeological and historical studies on the region," Idelisi said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 21, 2005)


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