Discovering Jiangsu province's Atlantis
Updated: 2012-02-22 10:24
NANJING, Jiangsu - For more than 300 years, the legend of an ancient city destroyed by flood and buried under Jiangsu province's Xuyi county has lived on.
Huai'an city's farmers often find bizarre rectangular stones in their fields. And vast amounts of broken tiles and piles of carved stones were discovered when a bridge was built in the county about 25 years ago.
These artifacts made people think of the ancient city of Sizhou, the mysterious story of which has been passed down for generations by the county's residents.
Legend has it that in 1680, when Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Kangxi ruled China, a powerful storm lashed Sizhou, forcing residents to flee.
But before they escaped to become refugees, they tried carrying earth from elsewhere to cover the town to hold the flood at bay. The local museum hosts the event's historical records.
Between 2011 and early 2012, archaeologists from Nanjing Museum and Huai'an Museum located the lost city. It covers 2.4 square kilometers, five-sixths of which are buried under the Huaihe River's sediment. The rest of the city remains underwater.
"Sizhou is perhaps better preserved than Italy's ancient city of Pompeii, which was buried in volcanic ash," says Hu Bing, deputy director of Huai'an Museum's archaeology department.
"Being buried under sediment and water protects it from human activity and natural damage, such as effloresce."
Archeologists faced many challenges unearthing the city, the greatest of which was landslides.
"The sediment that covers most of the city is very soft," Hu says.
"The high groundwater level makes the situation worse."
Also, local farmers aren't willing to transfer their lands to the museum until they get satisfactory compensation, which has impeded excavation, Hu says.
The 31-year-old grins broadly when he speaks of the recent discovery of an ancient tower.
"We have solid evidence the tower we located is the renowned Puzhaowang Temple," he says.
"It was built for the famous monk Seng Jia during the reign of Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) Emperor Zhongzong (AD 656-710). The monk was considered the embodiment of Guanyin, or the Goddess of Mercy, and was venerated. Priceless Buddhist bone relics and precious artifacts might be discovered in the tower's underground palace."
A resident dug a copper pot out of his farmland in 1982. The container is topped with a golden animal figurine that weighs 9.5 kilograms, and 36 golden coins were hidden inside.
"No one knows how many treasures are buried in the ancient city," Hu says.
Chen Lin, an expert in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) history, says Sizhou was a flourishing city with a history of more than 900 years. It was located at the intersection of the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Huaihe River, which were the country's three busiest water transport courses.
But Hu says the site's superintendent hasn't put forward plans to exploit the area. "Some experts have suggested giant glass walls should surround the sixth of the city that's under the Huaihe River," Hu says.
"But that's not possible with the water's low visibility and high traffic."
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