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HomeInternational exchangeCo-operation projects
Chinese shovel unearths ancient Central Asian city
From:Xinhua Net  Writer:  Date:2017-05-16
Wang Cunjin, 61, a farmer from a village in northern China, never thought he would go abroad and help discover a lost ancient city, thousands of miles from home.

For the past two years, Wang has joined a Chinese archaeological team in Uzbekistan each fall and spent more than two months there digging at the Mingtepa ruins in Fergana Valley.

His ability to dig with a traditional Chinese tool called a Luoyang shovel has amazed local archaeologists, who have little experience doing archaeological work where there are no markings at ground level.

The joint archaeological team from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and its Uzbekistani counterpart have made significant finds as they unearthed an ancient city, almost the size of Monaco.

They found that about 2,000 years ago, Mingtepa was an important city in the Dayuan state, a polity known for its precious Fergana horse breed and a key hub on the ancient Silk Road.

Seeking a breakthrough

The ancient Silk Road was a conduit for trade and exchange about 2,000 years ago. It is drawing more attention nowadays, ever since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by China in 2013.

China hosted the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on Sunday and Monday in Beijing.

"Culture exchange and cooperation are an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative," said Chen Xingcan, director of the Institute of Archaeology with CASS. "Evidence from the archaeological work will help countries along the ancient route learn more about the history."

The Mingtepa ruins have seen intermittent excavations for decades. Part of the city walls have been unearthed, circling an area 500 meters by 800 meters.

But there have been guesses that the city could be larger and there were undiscovered outer walls.

In 2011, the Institute of Archaeology of the Uzbekistan Academy of Social Sciences and CASS's Institute of Archaeology signed a deal to jointly excavate the site.

The work started the following fall, but they did not rush to start digging.

The Chinese team, headed by Zhu Yanshi, a specialist in ancient capitals, spent three years drawing a digital map of the site, with the help of drones, and using  precision measurement and computer mapping.

In 2015, Zhu invited his old partner Wang Cunjin, who is skilled with the traditional Luoyang shovel, to the site.

A U-shaped cylinder four to six centimeters in diameter, the Luoyang shovel is widely used in Chinese field archaeology. It lets the user extract a section of earth while preserving the soil structure.

Researchers can analyze the color, texture and intensity of soil for any evidence of underground structures, to find if it was once part of a road, a tomb or a city wall. Usually, the soil of a city wall is hard and firm.

At the Mingtepa site, archaeologists started to look for the outer walls of the city, but with no signs on the surface. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Shovel studies

The Chinese team recruited 12 Uzbekistani farmers, and Wang taught them how to use the shovel.

Every day the farmers dug small holes, and Wang examined the extracted soil from each hole.

Another colleague put the holes' location and soil information into their digital map. The position data was collected using the Real Time Kinematic technique, which provides centimeter-level accuracy.

Every evening, Wang and his colleagues compared soil samples from different holes and discussed possible locations of the city walls.

A breakthrough was made in the fall of 2016. Signs indicated that there might have been a city wall in the eastern part of the ruins.

Zhu decided to dig a pit in the area - and they found the outer walls. "Once we made the breakthrough, it became easier to trace the wall," he said.

Subsequent excavations found outer walls of the city in the other three directions. It broadened the site size from 500 by 800 meters to 2,100 by 1,300 meters, meaning that about 2,000 years ago it was the largest city in the Fergana Valley.

The team also unearthed a craft workshop and a graveyard. There have been guesses that Mingtepa was simply a temporary garrison fort for nomads. The workshop and graveyard came as proof that Mingtepa was an ancient settlement.

"With such a large area and the structure of both the inner city and external city, Mingtepa must have been an important city around 2,000 years ago," Zhu said.


 
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