Archeologists Find 1,300-Year-Old Grotto in Xinjiang

Chinese archeologists believe that a newly-discovered Buddhist grotto in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was inhabited by Muslims under China's reign some 1,300 years ago.

The grotto on a 60-meter-high cliff in Kuqa County, the site of the Kingdom of Qiuchi, contains frescos similar to those found in grottoes in Dunhuang, northwest China's Gansu Province.

About 20 kilometers north of the Buddhist grotto are the remains of a ruined castle and iron and copper workshops which archeologists believe to be a military garrison for Tang dynasty soldiers. Archeologists surmise that these soldiers and craftsmen and their families from the central part of China built the grotto and castle during the 7th century.

"This is the first time that we find a significant presence of Han culture discovered in an area essentially inhabited by Uygur Muslims and other ethnic minorities," said Chen Shiliang, a research fellow at the Xinjiang Grotto Research Institute.

These findings verify historical records that state that the Tang Dynasty set up a prefectural government in Qiuchi to manage defense and administrative affairs of the western region. Some 30, 000 soldiers were dispatched to the region as well as Han monks, craftsmen and their families.

The grotto cave, 4.6 meters long and 3.4 meters wide, contains large murals on its walls depicting various Buddhas worshipped by Han Chinese, including Ambitabha and Mahasthamaprapta.

There are 260 lifelike figures on these murals. Archaeologists believe that the cave was built by people of different nationalities. Inscriptions clearly show nine Han surnames.Some specific names indicate that Han and local ethnic people may have married.

The discovery testifies to a close relationship between Xiyu ( the ancient name for Xinjiang and parts of central Asia) and China 's central government in Chang'an (present-day Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province). "The grottoes provide important clues to the study of people who populated the western region, including Han and Muslims," said Chen.

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