An ancient village which was buried underground more than 2,000 years ago has been unearthed in Neihuang County, central China's Henan Province, Chinese archaeologists announced on Monday.
The Sanyangzhuang ruins were excavated in the old course of the Yellow River, the second longest waterway in China. The only intact ruins of an ancient village so far discovered in China, said Xu Pingfang, a famous archaeologist of archaeological studies of the Han and Tang dynasties (618-907).
They tell vividly the scenes of production and life in rural areas in the late Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), said Xu, also president of the Archaeological Society of China.
The foundations of seven courtyards have been unearthed over the past nearly two years. From four of the seven courtyards, archaeologists discovered the ruins of rooms, roofs, walls, wells, toilets, pools, ridged cropland and trees, as well as large number of relics that depict production and people's daily life at that time.
Like the famous Pompei of the ancient Roman Empire, which was buried by the sudden eruption of the Vesuvius, the Sanyangzhuang ruins were well preserved since the ancient village was buried suddenly by mud and sand flushed by the flooding of the Yellow River, said Xu.
All the scenes were "frozen": the distribution of courtyards, roads, cropland and walls of various buildings; collapsed ceilings of houses, articles used in daily life, such as stone ware, pottery ware and iron tools, all were kept in their original locations, Xu said.
A house was being repaired when the flooding occurred as archaeologists found the tiles used to rebuild the house, piles of castoff building materials, and a pond where mud was stirred.
Such scenes were rarely seen in past archaeological excavations, said Sun Yingmin, deputy director of the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage.
The ruins vividly show the distribution of courtyards and the nearby environment: all the courtyards, consisting of major rooms and ring rooms, face the south and are surrounded by cropland; there were venues for various activities outside the courtyards and there were pools, wells and facilities for daily life in or outside the courtyard as well as roads leading fara way.
Farming methods adopted in the Western Han Dynasty imposed a great influence on China's agricultural civilization.
The discovery of large areas of cropland at the Sanyangzhuang ruins provided first-hand materials for studying farming culture and the farming system in the Western Han Dynasty, said Liu Qingzhu, head of the Archaeological Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Ridged farmland was the most important discovery at the Sanyangzhuang ruins, he said.
Some experts even held that discovery of the ridged farmland could possibly correct past recognition of farming culture in ancient China and even rewrite China's farming history.
They said the distribution of courtyards and ruins of cropland also provided valuable evidence for studying the structure of grassroots organizations and relationship between different households in the Western Han Dynasty.
Flooding of the Yellow River had been regarded as one of the major dangers in the Western Han Dynasty. Discoveries at the ruins provided new materials for studying how the Yellow River was harnessed and changes of the river course in the Western Han, they said.
Experts said that currently only a very small part of the ruins has been excavated and they expected to find more important and valuable relics.
A meeting on how to protect and further excavate the ruins was held in Beijing recently. The State Cultural Heritage Administration will allocate special funds for further excavations at the site and for protecting and restoring the original look of the ancient village.
(Xinhua News Agency February 22, 2006)