Thursday, April 08, 2010

Remote Sensing Archaeology Reveals Relics in China

A team of Chinese archaeologists revealed findings dating back thousands of years after a successful expedition to one of China's most intriguing and dangerous areas - Lop Nur, or Lop Lake also known as the Sea of Death from which nobody escapes. They employed remote sensing (RS) archaeology for the first time in the region to help with their investigation that included confirming previously discovered sites and uncovering new ones. The remote sensing technology saw 80 percent accuracy, according to Liu Guorui, Director of archaeology at Xinjiang Cultural Heritage Bureau.

"The new discoveries include gravesites, wooden architecture and evidence of farmlands. Mulberry trees along the river are proof of a prosperous civilization in this area," said, Yang Lin, director of the Archaeology Institute at the National Museum of China.

Liu said that the team found some colourful pottery relics could date back to 3,000 years ago. Items from this period of history have never before been found in the area. In the area's yadan hills, landforms created by wind erosion in Xinjiang's dry areas, the team uncovered graves that date back to the Han and Jin dynasties (206BC-220AD and 265-420AD). "We found and recorded more than 200 immovable cultural sites in Lop Nur, including about 100 uncovered by British archeologist Aurel Stein 100 years ago," Liu said.

The field study was part of a larger expedition that ran from September to December and covered 32,500 kilometres from northern to southern Xinjiang. A vast terrain of deserts, meadows and mountains were investigated, with 800 immovable cultural sites recorded. The involvement of the Institute of Remote Sensing Applications at the Chinese Academy of Sciences saw the application of remote sensing archaeology, which Liu said was not only helpful in their exploration, but has also paved the way for future expeditions.

Lop Nur is located between the Taklimakan and Kuruktag deserts in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. A former saline lake occupying roughly 2,000 square kilometres in the 1950s, Lop Nur ceased to exist by about 1970 and is now largely dried up with a group of marshes and small shifting lakes receiving channels of the Tarim River.

In 1900, Swedish archaeologist Sven Hedin uncovered the ancient city of Loulan and in the early 1900s British archaeologist Aurel Stein further discovered about 100 cultural sites in the area. In 1980 the lake lived up to its threatening reputation, Chinese archaeologist Peng Jiamu disappeared without a trace.

As part of China's Third National Cultural Relics Investigation, a team of 22 archaeologists faced the seemingly uninhabitable region and spent 20 days in Lop Nur in November, using state-of-the-art technology to map their way through difficult terrain and discovering a host of historical sites and cultural relics.


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