Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a lost city in China that thrived more than 4,000 years ago.
On a ridge above China’s Tuwei River, researchers found a massive stepped pyramid that once served as a palace center, along with defensive stone walls, tool-making debris, and several pits filled with sacrificial human skulls.
The Bronze Age discoveries challenge our understanding of early Chinese civilization and settlement, suggesting the loess highland was home to a complex society long before the traditionally assumed ‘centers’ emerged in the Central Plains.
The ancient city dubbed Shimao was home to a pyramid that stood at least 230 feet tall (70 meters), and was guarded by a huge inner and outer wall.
Thousands of years ago when it flourished, from about 2300 BC to 1800 BC, the city spanned about 988 acres.
The pyramid was build out of a loess hill, with 11 massive steps tapering as they ascend, the researchers write in a paper published to the journal Antiquity.
Beyond the entrance, they found a ‘large open plaza where rituals and political gatherings may have been held.’
According to the researchers, palaces were built atop the huge pyramid out of rammed earth with wooden pillars and roofing tiles.
It’s thought that the ruling elites lived atop the pyramid complex, which was likely also the site of artisanal or industrial craft production.
Eyes and anthropomorphic stone faces were found carved into the façade of the pyramid.
‘With its imposing height of at least 70 m, the pyramid could be seen from everywhere within the settlement, from the suburbs and even the rural fringes.
‘Thus it could well have provided a constant and overwhelming reminder to the Shimao population of the power of the ruling elites residing atop it – a concrete example of the ‘social pyramid.’
Researchers say mass sacrifices were also commonplace at Shimao, with six pits containing decapitated human heads discovered at the site on the outer rampart alone.
Human remains and jade objects associated with sacrifice were found at other Shimao monuments, as well.
‘The jade objects and human sacrifice may have imbued the very walls of Shimao with ritual and religious potency, amplifying its significance as a monumental center, enhancing the protective efficacy of the walls and making this a place of power in every sense,’ the authors wrote.
Notably, the researchers say the discoveries are indicative of Shimao’s status as carefully constructed civilization.
‘This research reveals that by 2000 BC, the loess highland was home to a complex society representing the political and economic heartland,’ the authors wrote.
‘Significantly, it was found that Later Bronze Age core symbols associated with Central plains civilization were, in fact, created much earlier at Shimao.’
WHAT HAVE RESEARCHERS FOUND AT THE SHIMAO RUINS?
The Shimao Ruins is the site of a neolithic stone city in the northern province of Shaanxi, China.
The site was first discovered in 1976 when archaeologists thought it was a small town, but more of the city has since been recovered.
Measuring 4 square kilometres, it is the largest of its kind in Neolithic China, China.org reported.
They believe it had ‘magnificent’ stone walls for inner and outer structures.
Experts have also discovered large quantities of precious carved jade, which indicate it was a wealthy and important city at the time.
Archaeologists have also found a mural at the site, which they think could be among the oldest in China at around 4,000 years old