Settlements > Niya



Were Hellenic vestiges found in a Chinese city at the turn of the last century? The answer to this is YES. Historians claim that Alexander the Great had only reached the Hydaspes and Ganges River in the last quarter of the 4th century BC, and although there are no solid historical sources including China on the itinerary of Alexander —or any of his generals’— in the Far East, if one takes a hard look at the geography of the Chinese provinces, they soon realize that the region where a Greek city was found is south of Kyrgizstan, is in the area which was crossed by Alexander’s troops during his campaign in Asia. Zoom to the present day, as shown in the video below, and you will see a people that differ greatly from the remaining Chinese people.

An article in a Melbourne newspaper confirmed this in 1993 ("Eagle" newspaper - Nov. 19th, 1993 - page 6:). It spoke of an “ancient Greek city in China where Alexander’s troops had settled is rediscovered after 2300 years!"

"Members of the joint Chinese-Japanese team believe Niya was inhabited by Ancient Greeks. Potions of the city walls, houses & grape trellises still stand and the archaeologists found iron axes & sickles, wooden clubs, pottery urns and jars in the homes, coins bronze mirrors, rings and other possesions, all were Greek. All 8 mummies and skeletons that were found had blonde & brown hair,along with other Greek features. Guided by residents of nearby villages, the British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein visited Niya in China in 1903 and removed wooden tablets with writing and other artifacts. Carvings on the tablets depicted ancient Greek Gods and the script was one used in the Greek-influnced Kushan Empire in what now is Pakistan."

The ruins of Niya is an archaeological site located about 115 km (71 mi) north of modern Minfeng Town (also called Niya) on the southern edge of the Tarim Basin in modern-day Xinjiang, China. This city was once a major commercial center on an oasis on the southern branch of the Silk Road in the southern Taklamakan Desert. During ancient times camel caravans would cut through, carrying goods from China to Central Asia. In 1900, an explorer by the name of Aurel Stein set out on an expedition to western China and the Taklamakan Desert. This British explorer heard from local villagers that there was an ancient city buried under the sand dunes.

To get to the site one has to trek more than 30 kilometres north into the desert from a small oasis called Kabake-Arsihan. The small oasis is home to about 110 households, whose members use water from wells dug in the middle of the dried bed of the Niya River. The site chosen for excavation was one of about 10 discovered ruins in the desert, among which were Loulan (Kroraina), Hotan (Khotan) and Kuqa (Kucha). The excavations of some groups of dwellings, allowed him to discover 100 wooden tablets written in 105 CE. These tablets bore clay seals, official orders and letters written in Kharoshthi, an early Indic script, dating them to the Kushan empire. He also discovered coins and documents dating from the Han dynasty, Roman coins, an ancient mouse trap, a walking stick, part of a guitar, a bow in working order, a carved stool, an elaborately-designed rug and other textile fragments, as well as many other household objects such as wooden furniture with elaborate carving, pottery, Chinese basketry and lacquer ware.

This all changed in the 1980s, when it caught the attention of other archaeologists. When eight Chinese and Japanese researchers entered the desert on November 4, 1988 to investigate the Niya site, the only help they had were the rough maps drawn by Stein, and their compasses, telescopes and 20 camels. Spread out before them exposed in the sand desiccated remains of long-dead variform-leaved poplar trees in a site that stretches about 25 kilometres from north to south and 7 kilometres from east to west, with the 6.5-metre-tall stupa at the centre. According to reports at the time, while excavating the ruins of this ancient Chinese city, they discovered “Hellenic style furniture, reliefs decorated with meanders, and vases bearing scenes of Homer’s epics dating to the Hellenistic era of Alexander’s campaign”!

The exciting news was not only released by the Chinese press instantly, it also appeared in the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia (page 20, on November 25, 1983). Official approval for joint Sino-Japanese archaeological excavations at the site was given in 1994. Researchers have now found remains of human habitation including approximately 100 dwellings, burial areas, sheds for animals, orchards, gardens, and agricultural fields. They have also found in the dwellings well-preserved tools such as iron axes and sickles, wooden clubs, pottery urns and jars of preserved crops. The human remains found there have led to speculation on the origins of these peoples.

Some archeological findings from the ruins of Niya are housed in the Tokyo National Museum, while others are part of the Stein collection in the British Museum, the British Library, and the National Museum in New Delhi. (no suprises there... since the UK somehow always has the final say on the treasures of ancient Greece). The following article titled "The Most Important Findings of Niya in Taklamakan" was written by Wang Binghua and originally published at China Culture Pictorial Vol 1.2 April 1996.

"No one can believe that there was a rich and varied community that once thrived deep in today's Taklamakan Desert some 1,600 years ago. The Niya River winds through the southern Taklamakan Desert for about 210 km and its head waters are fed by melted snow from the towering the Mount Kunlun, known was Nanshan Mountain in ancient times. The river gradually dries up near a small Uygur village Autonomous Region. After three years of research and digging, archaeologists and scientists have unearthed eight tombs in the Taklamakan desert. The bodies buried there still wear the colored clothing of their burials.

Sprawling over an area 20 km in circumference around what is now the dried bed of Niya River, Niya is believed to have reached its zenith between 500 to 1,000 AD. Eventually, however, the city became buried in the desert sand and slipped in oblivion. The remains of the lost ancient city of Niya are believed to the ancient Jingjue Kingdom. The ancient Jingjue Kingdom was at the south end of the Silk Road, with a distance of 4,400 km to Chang'an, the ancient capital of the Han Dynasty. Just like other places in China, it was under the control of several officials appointed by the central government. There lived more than families with a population of more than 3,000 people. The extinction of Niya has left archaeologists and scientists many questions to answer. It has also given the ruins of the ancient holy city a feeling of mystery.

The city's ruins were lost until the early of the 20th century, when the British explorer Sir Aurel Stein discovered the ruin and archaeologists have continued their exploration of the area ever since. The Chinese archaeologists took the steps to the ruins in Niya in 1959. They achieved great a lot in the exploration of Niya, but had to give up further research because of financial problems. A Sino-Japanese expedition team of archaeologists and scientists have led expeditions on the site with the approval by China State Bureau of Cultural Relics in 1993. On this year's trek, 36 members have discovered many new details that both answer and raise questions about the ancient mystery. This year has brought the richest yields in the field work about Niya in nearly a century.

The 1995 expedition involved measuring the size of the Niya ruin, analyzing the ancient environment, and most importantly, digging out a tomb group. The eight tombs were discovered at the northern part of the ruin. Some of them were already exposed when they were laid out in hollowed out logs or wooden trunks with an outer coffin. Dried out by the deserts heat, the bodies, clothes and burial articles are in excellent condition. Due to the lack of adequate facilities on site, the artifacts and bodies were taken to Urumqi for further scrutiny. The archaeological analysis has already started for tomb number three and five.

The tomb number three contains a male and female. Both are splendidly attired in silk hoods, colorful robes, trousers, shirts, and embroidered leather-- soled shoes. The two were buried along with special possessions. The man had a quiver and bow, metal arrowheads and a lined Chinese--jacket. The woman wore gold earrings and a glass--bead necklace. A lacquer box with her comb, makeup and sewing kit was set next to her. The identity of the two people has not been decided, but the artifacts seem to suggest that these were the buried sites for the wealthy. The details of the brocade showed great care. The edge of the silk hasn't been untraveled and the fabric still has its originally luster. Even the green and yellow, colors which easily fade, are preserved.

Pieces of brocade, much less in quantity and variety, were found in Niya in 1959 and in Loulan. On cursory observation, the silk has three motifs: animal patterns, geo--metric designs and auspicious tokens, all of which have never been encountered before. The Chinese characters on the brocase read, "The appearance of the five stars in the east is favorable to China." This corresponds directly to the description written in two historical books of the Han and Jin dynasties. All this gives evidence of the date of the brocades. The field work also included the excavation of a large dwelling site, and the clearing of three ruined buildings. Through these efforts, archaeologists have gained a better understanding of the city planning and construction structure. The overall--planning seems to suit the climate and the geographic conditions. Among the burial articles is a place of food with mutton, pears, and grapes. This variety serves as evidence of oasis agriculture and livestock raising.

Now deserted, the ancient Niya was a prosperous kingdom called Jingjue at the southern end of the Silk Road. Through a string of oasis towns like Jingjue, camel caravans would cut across the Taklamakan Desert and carry goods from China to Central Asia from where they eventually found their way to Europe. How did it comes about the mysterious end of the city? How many people were buried there in the tomb area? What did they die of? It is clear now that the man and woman were buried at a different times, but why should they be buried together? Archaeologists are still probing into these questions. Still not convinced? This is from the China Daily news site: Article titled: "Niya yields buried secrets, By Wang Shanshan - Updated version: 2004-03-12"

"From the dried-up corpses found on the site, some anthropologists speculate that the Niya people were of Caucasian origin. Others say they were descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), who launched expeditions to the Orient, as the soldiers are said to have interbred with the local people."Obviously ancient Greek elements were not confined to this one lost ancient city. Let us now examine some of the tribes that live in the Xinjiang Province, who researchers claim retain many ancient Greek elements in everyday life and culture.(Please note that the spelling of the tribes is phonetic)

- Ainian: The members of this tribe are natural communicators. They dress in black as the ancient Greeks did (something that is not encountered in other parts of China).

- Sani: They live in the forest of stone figurines (statuettes) and have a stringed musical instrument that is similar to that of the guitar. Women even carry the letter "Λ" on their forehead, known to be the symbol of Sparta.

- Muso: This tribe maintains the the system of matriarchal society that was established in Minoan Crete.

- Dai: The name of this tribe means "those who love freedom" apparently they number around 1,000,000.

- Ghi: It is estimated that they number around 4,050,000 people. The distinctive characteristic of this tribe is the fire that they burn day and night in the center of their homes just as Greek homes did in ancient times. They love wine and their passion for the arts is something which they claim was bestowed to them by the founder of their nation.

- Hani: This tribe numbers around 1,300,000 people, and they usually dress in black costumes that look like traditional Pontian dress wear. They also have an annual wine tasting festival in honor of their founder.

- Zhuang: Before 1965 this tribe was known by the name of Pou. Today it numbers around 1,000,000 people and one of the distinctive characteristics of this tribe is their annual Spring celebration, that is also held many places in Greece, where men have to take the role of the woman for a whole day!

Other tribes with less population include the Deangk, the Wua tribe, the Lizu tribe, the Miao tribe, the Dulongk tribe, the Naxi tribe, etc. It is also claimed that some of these tribes even honor the ancient gods. All of them, however, have many characteristics that were common with ancient Greece.


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