A preliminary study of chronology for a newly-discovered ancient city and five archaeological sites in Lop Nor, China

Research paper by HouYuan Lü, XunCheng Xia, JiaQi Liu, XiaoGuang Qin, FuBao Wang, Abuduresule Yidilisi, LiPing Zhou, GuiJin Mu, YingXin Jiao, JingZhi Li

Indexed on: 03 Nov '09Published on: 03 Nov '09Published in: Chinese science bulletin = Kexue tongbao


In the past century, it has long been debated in the archeological, historical, geographical, and many other related communities where the capital of the Luolan and Shanshan states was in the Lop Nor region. This paper presents three AMS radiocarbon ages from a newly-discovered ancient city at about 6.3 km to the northwest of the Xiaohe Graveyard, and fifteen new radiocarbon ages from the Loulan (LA), LE, Qieerqiduke, Milan, and Tuyin sites in Lop Nor. The new investigation shows that the age of newly-discovered ancient city is at ca. 440–500 AD, belonging to the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–534 AD). This is about 100–300 years younger than Loulan (ca. 100–230 AD), LE (ca. 230–300 AD), Qieerqiduke (ca. 200 AD), and Tuyin (ca. 100 AD). A wooden beam from Milan fortress is dated to ca. 370 AD, while the age on north wall at west gate of the fortress is younger, around 770 AD, suggesting that its construction time might be at the Tang Dynasty. According to 14C ages, cultural relic style, and the geographical location, the newly-discovered ancient city is probably attributed to “Zhubin City”, as documented in the historical literature. Temporally, we name the city “ancient Zhubin River City”. However, the characteristics and functions of this ancient city are largely unknown and need more detailed archaeological excavation and investigation in the future. Given its location near the ancient postal relay of Alagan on the crossroad, there is no doubt that the newly-discovered city was at an important geographical position on the Silk Road, no matter whether it was called “Zhubin City”, or “Lielo City”, or the capital of Loulan state—“Yuni City”. Our findings provide new evidence for the temporal and spatial distribution of ancient relic sites and the development of civilization in western China, thus contributing to our understanding of the relationship between human activities and environmental change in the Lop Nor region.