The results of the excavations were numerous artifacts, from majestic cities that reflect the glory of the Great Silk Road, to various archaeological finds in places located in territories from the Tien Shan mountains to the “roof of the world”, the Pamirs.
Dan Zhihao, deputy director of the Xinjiang Institute of Archeology and Cultural Relics, said that with the support of nine institutes and universities in China, 91 archaeological excavation programs have been launched across Xinjiang since 2018. The programs include more than 20 objects, whose Ages range from the Paleolithic to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). In the past five years, four of them in Xinjiang have been included in annual lists of China’s top 10 archaeological finds.
“We have learned a lot from exploring urban ruins, tombs, lighthouses, temples, caves, former mining areas and other sites. This invaluable heritage gives us a clearer understanding of the social development of Xinjiang,” Dan said. “Archaeological discoveries have provided important evidence that “the central dynasties of ancient China ruled the Xinjiang region, thus strengthening national unity.”
In Jimsar County, Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture, excavations of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) city of Beiting continue, revealing the true meaning of the ancient commercial center. In 2014, these ruins, formerly known as Bishbalik, were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Silk Road: Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor Route Network project.
Guo Wu, a researcher at the Institute of Archeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and director of the excavations, said Beiting was the largest ancient city on the northern slopes of the Tien Shan during the period from the 7th to the 14th centuries. By excavating Beiting city gates, Buddhist temples, roads and canals, archaeologists were able to reconstruct the city’s layout and determine its special political status in northern Xinjiang.
During the Tang dynasty, a protectorate was founded in Beiting, which became the center of effective administration of the northern part of the Tien Shan region. It ensured the stability and prosperity of the Silk Road.
“The new findings show that the central dynasty introduced a system of government in the city,” Guo said.
Thus, in 2021, ceramic fragments with the hieroglyphs “Bei Tian Si”, which means “temple of compassion”, were found at the excavation site. These findings suggest that even remote areas like Beiting were not neglected during the formation of the national administrative system.
Archaeological research in Xinjiang began in the early 20th century.
The ruins of the shrines indicate that the construction and design methods are very similar to those used in the construction of their counterparts on the plains of central China.
According to Guo Wu, the scale of the ruins discovered is consistent with historical evidence that Tang rulers spent much of their wealth and effort protecting the “gateway to the West.” Hundreds of documents and letters covering political, economic, cultural and religious topics were discovered at the Kiyak-Kuduk signal towers site, one of China’s top ten archaeological discoveries in 2021. These discoveries provide new insight into the Tang dynasty in the region.
The exhibition at the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum features brocades from the Han Dynasty. Photo: Lu Xu / for China Daily
Archaeological research in Xinjiang began in the early 20th century, when numerous foreign researchers arrived in the region. The activities of these foreign expeditions gave rise to much controversy, as a large number of valuable artifacts, documents and frescoes were subsequently taken abroad.
At the same time, this made it possible to attract the attention of scientists around the world to the study of the ancient civilizations of Xinjiang. Now, according to Dan Zhihao, foreign experts, like 100 years ago, try to learn about the latest discoveries, exchange experiences and propose new ideas.
The finds discovered in the Beiting area in Jimsar County (Xinjiang) indicate the important role of the city in the stability and prosperity of the Silk Road. Photo: Wang Kaihao/China Daily
In the 1990s, foreign experts, mainly Japanese, actively participated in joint excavations in Xinjiang. Thus, during an investigation in Minfeng County, Khotan District, the famous Han Dynasty brocade was found with the embroidered inscription: “Five planets arose in the east, bringing benefits to the central lands.”
However, Dang emphasizes that after a series of important archaeological discoveries have been made in Xinjiang, scientists need to explore other places, including outside China, to build a more complete picture of the cultural connections derived from the material evidence.
On November 12, Dan and staff from the Xinjiang Institute of Archeology and Cultural Relics made their first official visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to search for sites for joint archaeological excavations in these countries.
“By participating in foreign projects and obtaining primary source materials, we can fully guarantee that our voice will be heard around the world,” Dan concluded.