1,500-Year-Old Cemetery Discovered Along Silk Road

Archaeologists in Inner Mongolia have excavated a cemetery containing six tombs — five of which date back around 1,500 years. The archaeologists made a number of discoveries, all of which tell tales of the riches that were being traded in the area in ancient times. Here, the bottom of a silver bowl that has bosses (protrusions) that depict ancient Greek deities. Zeus, king of the gods, can be seen at top of this image.

One tomb in particular, dubbed "M3," piqued researchers' interest due to the carvings of mythical creatures it contained. Four of them, Live Science reports, represent different seasons and parts of the heavens: the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North and the Azure Dragon of the East.

M3 also "consists of a burial mound, ramp, sealed gate, tomb entrance, screen walls, passage, burial chamber and side chamber," the researchers wrote in their paper describing the ancient site, published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

A team from the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, along with local authorities, excavated the cemetery back in July 2007. Lead researcher Zhiyong Yu and his colleagues believe the burial ground dates back approximately 1,700 years ago, when the city of Kucha was crucial to controlling the Western Frontiers (Xiyu) of China. And the Silk Road played a very important part in that.

"In ancient times, Kucha was called Qiuci in Chinese literature. It was a powerful city-state in the oasis of the Western Frontiers" the researchers wrote.

In fact, they added, "if you have Kucha, only one percent of the states in the Western Frontiers remain unsubmissive."
So who exactly was buried along the Silk Road trade road that helped add to China's power? Yu and others still don't know, but given that seven of the 10 tombs were large brick structures, they suspect they were people of wealth. However, analysis of the skeletal remains revealed that the tombs had actually been used multiple times - in some cases, more than 10 bodies had passed through. Considering this fact, Yu's team wants to continue studying the site.

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