Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, February 13, 2003

Ancient Silk Road Loulan Tombs Robbed, Desecrated

The tombs of Loulan, an ancient kingdom located along the famous Silk Road about 2,000 years ago, have been robbed, according to Wednesday's Guangming Daily.


The tombs of Loulan, an ancient kingdom located along the famous Silk Road about 2,000 years ago, have been robbed, according to Wednesday's Guangming Daily.

A number of ancient tombs have been ruined, and a host of beautiful mural paintings within the tombs have been destroyed, noted the newspaper.

Zong Tongchang, a noted archaeologist from the Palace Museum in Beijing, who visited the site at the beginning of this month, told the newspaper reporters that on Feb. 3, his team had happened to encounter a white car with no plates in the region of Lop Nur, in northwestern Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, where the relics were located.

The car fled on sight. Following the car's tracks, the team discovered the pillaged tombs, said Zong.

Several tombs had been opened and unearthed, and the wooden boards of the coffins with skeletons and silk fragments were scattered all over the tomb.

In an elegant, well-laid tomb beneath a pagoda, all five wooden coffins had been opened. The colorful mural paintings in the tomb, including a painting of two fighting camels, were smashed.

The ancient Loulan (Kroraina) kingdom was located at the eastern fringe of the vast, desolate Taklimakan Desert in southern Xinjiang. According to historical records, it was a booming and famous city situated at the juncture of the southern and northern routes of the ancient Silk Road, some 2,000-odd years ago.

The city reached its climax during the Later Han Dynasty (25-220 a.d.). By that time, it had become a trading hub on the Silk Road, dealing mainly in silk from interior areas, glass from Fergana, and perfume from Parthia, both of which were leading central Asian countries whose coins could be used in Loulan.

The kingdom was buried by shifting sands during the fourth century and soon disappeared from historical records until it was rediscovered at the beginning of the last century by a noted Swedish explorer, near Lop Nur Lake.

Archaeologists have yet to reach consensus on the reason for the city's sinking into oblivion. Experts hold that that the enigma would be resolved once the tombs of the Loulan kings are discovered and excavated.

The pagoda was deemed a holy site by the ancients in Loulan. Therefore, experts say that the tomb under the pagoda probably belongs to someone of high status.

The tomb is distinguishable from the others by its size, building technology and colors. There are also images of nobles and feudal officials on the mural paintings.

The camels posed a symbol of power in Loulan region, and the model camels were permitted only to exist on the tombs of those of high social ranks. The tomb thus probably belonged to the royal family of the kingdom, said Zong.

The robbery of the ancient tombs has drawn the wide attention of the local autonomous regional government, and an in-depth investigation is on-going, said the newspaper.

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