Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Friday, October 25, 2002

Chinese Archeologists Search for Clues on Lost Kingdom

Yelang was once a prosperous ethnic minorities kingdom in southwest China's Yungui tableland, until it mysteriously disappeared around 26 B.C.


Yelang was once a prosperous ethnic minorities kingdom in southwest China's Yungui tableland, until it mysteriously disappeared around 26 B.C.

Chinese scientists have long been seeking clues to the kingdom, which originated as early as the Warring States Period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.).

"Historical records are restricted to less than 1,000 words on Yelang except for repeated descriptions," said Song Shikun, an archeologist who has researched Yelang for about 40 years.

Yelang is a household name in China synonymous for someone ignorant and arrogant. During the Western Han Dynasty the King of Yelang once defied a Han envoy by asking "which is bigger, Han or Yelang?" At that time Yelang was just a regional regime affiliated to the Han empire.

As a result, for centuries the Yelang people had an unfair reputation for ignorance and arrogance among other things. In reality they were simple and modest folk, researchers say.

Yelang people were said to wear their hair up, have supernatural skills, lead farming lives and have strong armies, according to records from such history books as The Historian and The Han Shu. Recent archeological breakthroughs occurred during excavations of Kele graves in Hezhang County in 2000 and Tonggushan relics in 2001. The former was listed among China's top ten archeological discoveries in the 2000-2001 period.

The two sites yielded various bronze, porcelain and stone vessels visibly different from those belonging to other cultures studied in China, like the Han, Dian and Bashu cultures.

Scientists also found a special burial custom at both sites. Insome tombs the heads of the dead were put into bronze pots, something not found anywhere else in China.

"The bronze pots might be used to show wealth or status, and most likely they were related to primitive religions. Perhaps people believed the pots could empathize with the gods and bring happiness to the descendants," said Song Shikun, who is also the former director of the Guizhou archeological study institute.

China's ethnic groups employed almost all burial methods used worldwide, including discarding corpses, tree burial, burial in suspended coffins, grottoes and urns, or cremation.

The new style of burial custom will help promote research into burial practices among ethnic minorities, experts say.

"Yelang people had been creating their own culture over 2,200 years ago, and the process was accelerated by the arrival of Han culture, which also disrupted the ability of Yelang people to create their own history. However this is precisely the norm with culture development," said Meng Liyun, a respected archeologist in Guizhou.

The search for clues about the lost kingdom involves not just Guizhou Province, but also Yunnan, Sichuan and Hunan Provinces.

Yelang was not a powerful state but an alliance of several tribes across areas in Guizhou and neighboring provinces, Song said.

"It needs the efforts of several generations to find out the complete history of the kingdom, " Song Shikun said.

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