The ruins of thirty-six houses and over 300 precious artefacts were unearthed during a rescue excavation conducted at the site of the ancient oasis town of Miran (米兰) in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (新疆维吾尔自治区) last year when archaeologists returned to the site after a forty-year hiatus. Miran was listed as a “Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at National Level” back in 2001, so the area surrounding the ruins, which encompasses a total area of almost 45 square kilometres, became a protected historical site under the watchful eye of the Chinese government.
The controversial Hungarian-British explorer and archaeologist Aurel Stein caused a sensation in archaeological circles back home in Europe when he discovered frescoes depicting winged figures (“angels”) inside the ruins of a Buddhist stupa at the Miran site in 1907. Since then, the Chinese government only succeeded in conducting one scientific excavation at Miran before allowing this remarkable archaeological site to fall into disrepair and be reclaimed by the desert, wind-swept and at the mercy of the elements. Last year, a team of archaeologists from the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology returned to Miran to conduct a preliminary clean up and reinforcement works on the earthen structures as part of a large-scale state-funded preservation project, the first time to be carried out at the site since 1973.
In this latest round of excavations, the archaeologists concentrated their efforts on the remains of a Buddhist shrine (site number M.IV) and on the garrison fort discovered by Stein in the eastern section of the site in the 1910s. Of all the discoveries made during their excavations, the discovery of thirty-six perfectly preserved ancient houses was perhaps the one that generated the most excitement amongst the team. The sand dunes and dry climate had preserved these earthen buildings so their layout and material composition were still clear and easily distinguishable. The largest of these semi-subterranean buildings measures 6 metres by 4 metres, whilst the smallest measures a mere 1.5 metres by 1.5 metres. During their excavations and clean-up, the archaeologists also unearthed the remains of hearths, stone mills, chimneys and even traces of meals that had been cooked at Miran over a thousand years ago.
To be continued….
Author’s Note: This is a translation of the original article by Mao Yong (毛咏) and Fu Xiaobo (符晓波), which can be found here. Some parts have been paraphrased, embellished, or omitted for the sake of readability. Please note that I am not a professional translator or archaeologist so there may be errors in my translation.