Unearthing 1,700 Year-Old Cemetery Along The Silk Road

A 1,700-year-old cemetery has been discovered in Kucha, along a stretch of the Silk Road that once connected China to the Roman Empire. Located in present-day northwest China, the graveyard has now become the site of several archaeological excavations.

Extending 4,000 miles, the Silk Road is an extensive series of trade routes that were once central in linking various regions of Asia to each other. The roads, which derive its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk, were frequently utilized by merchants, traders and adventurers from the West and East.

In Kucha specifically, archaeologists have uncovered ten tombs, seven of which were large brick structures. One tomb, referred to as “M3”, is comprised of a burial mound, sealed gate, ramp, burial chamber, screen walls and side chamber. According to a report published in the Chinese Cultural Relics journal (translated into English from the Wenwu journal), it also contained various carvings of mythical creatures, including four that are symbolic of the different seasons and parts of the heavens. They include: the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North, the White Tiger of the West, and the Azure Dragon of the East.

The cemetery was first discovered in July of 2007 by Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. It dates back to around 1,700 years ago – during a time when Kucha was a key region along Silk Road trade routes.

“In ancient times, Kucha was called Qiuci in Chinese literature. It was a powerful city-state in the oasis of the Western Frontiers” the researchers stated.

For the dynasties that flourished in China around 1,700 years ago “the conquest and effective governance of Kucha would enable them to control all the oasis city-states in the Western Frontiers.”

According to the archaeologists, the seven brick tombs were most likely constructed for people of higher standing. However, they remain unidentified; there is no writing to indicate names or positions.

What researchers did find, on the other hand, are clues to suggest that the tombs had been reused multiple times in the past. Some sites, for example, contained more than 10 occupants.