Chinese archeologists working in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have found the ruins of an ancient town in the country's largest desert.
The town, covering at least 65,000 square meters, was uncovered last week in the Taklimakan Desert in Qira county, Hotan prefecture, Dr. Wu Xinhua, head of the Xinjiang archeological team of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Friday.
Judging from the layout and ruins of the buildings, Wu and his colleagues believe the town dates back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD220).
Most of the ruins have been buried by sand, but four city walls are still visible, said Dr. Wu.
The innermost city wall extends 17.8 meters from south to north and 14.6 meters from east to west, he said. "Ruins of a building were found in the southeastern corner of the inner circle."
The second city wall surrounds the city center, a 4,000-square-meter area dotted with the ruins of toppled pillars, beams and pieces of red pottery, he said.
The third wall was presumably a "boulevard," and large amounts of carbonized jujube and poplar seeds have been unearthed from this wall, said Dr. Wu.
Ruins of several residential structures were found between the "boulevard" and the outer wall, a fence built with reeds, he said.
Wu said the ruins are the most intact of their kind to be discovered in the Taklimakan Desert since New China was founded in 1949. "We assume the place was either a military fortress or the residence of a chieftain."
Dr. Tang Zihua, a member of the archeological team, has taken samples of the weeds and trees he collected at the site for lab tests in Beijing.
"We'll use carbon-14 to date them," said Tang, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geology and Geophysics.
Judging from the abundant plants and lumber found among the building materials, Tang said the area, now arid year-round, must have had ample water resources during the Han Dynasty.
The southern end of the ancient Silk Road, a major historical trade route, went across the Taklimakan Desert, and a wide variety of cultural heritage items have been buried in what is now known as the "sea of death."
Today, the name of the Taklimakan Desert, which covers 337,000 square km, is often translated as, "Once you're trapped, there's no escape."
In 1901, British explorer Marc Aurel Stein trekked into the ruins of Niya, an ancient Pompeii-like city with homes, Buddhist stupas, temples, pottery kilns, orchards, tombs, waterways and dams far out in the desert.
The newly-discovered ruins are about 100 km from the ancient city of Niya.