Loulan, capital of the Loulan (Kroraina) Kingdom, was a small, prosperous commercial city on the famous Silk Road about 2,000 years ago.
The city was located on the west bank of Lop Nur Lake, now an expanse of vast sand dunes and dubbed a "forbidden zone to life", to the northeast of Ruoqiang County in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, in northwest China.
Loulan city suddenly disappeared from the area in the third century, leaving a wealth of enigmas for later generations.
No traces of Loulan had been found until 100 years ago when Swedish explorer Sven Hedin accidentally discovered the ruins of the ancient city buried in desert.
Described as the "cradle of civilization in the Middle Ages", the ruins of the ancient city attracted numerous adventurers from Britain, Sweden, France, Germany and Japan to the historic site and they carried away a great amount of relics.
Archaeologists found the ruins of government offices, homes, Buddhist pagodas and temples, and also dried rivers, dead poplar trees, farmland and ancient tombs around the ancient city, which covered approximately 100,000 square meters.
In 1980, archaeologists unearthed the perfectly preserved body of a woman, dubbed the "Loulan Beauty", who died more than 3,800 years ago, from an ancient tomb in Loulan area. In 1998, the well-preserved body of an infant, who died about 4,000 years ago and the remains of an old man, who died more than 1,500 years ago were also unearthed in the area.
Other findings in the area include a host of precious relics like colored coffins, carpets, inscribed wooden slips, coins, lacquer ware, carved wooden utensils and pottery.
Since 1979, Chinese archeologists have made six surveys of the Loulan area.
However, Chinese and foreign experts and scholars are still puzzled by a wealth of enigmas of the ancient Loulan city.
There are different views on why and how the city, once a booming trade center with a thriving trade in silk, glass and perfume, disappeared so suddenly.
Some experts say the drying climate in the Tarim Basin and reduction of river flow drove the ancient Loulan people to move to other places; some hold that the change of the route of the ancient Silk Road had direct impact on it withering away; and some say its disappearance is a comprehensive reflection of political, economic and environmental changes.
Much research has been done on the origin, development, decline and fall of the Loulan civilization over the past century, said Mu Shunying, a researcher with Xinjiang Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology.
All the research achievements have touched the inner fears of modern people, because it was the common aspiration of mankind to avoid a recurrence of the Loulan tragedy, said Mu, in her sixties,who has devoted her whole life on the Loulan study.
A Loulan craze has even been ignited in the wake of growth in Xinjiang's tourism over the past few years.
A team of Chinese archaeologists have completed a field inspection of tombs in a 50-kilometer radius around the ruined city and an investigation of tombs that were reported to have been robbed and destroyed earlier last month.
(People's Daily March 21, 2003)