Archaeologists* have uncovered a massive, ancient, walled Chinese city with a giant pyramid at its centre.
The 4300-year-old city covered 400 hectares, which, if it was a square, would be 43km long by 43km wide. This makes it one of the largest cities in the ancient world.
It was once a bustling, busy Bronze Age* business centre that thrived* for 500 years, according to a study published in the journal Antiquity. It is now called Shimao but no one knows what it was called when it was a working city.
The ruins were thought to be part of the Great Wall of China until recent excavations.
The stepped pyramid in the middle is decorated with stone carvings. Its sides aren’t straight or equal and were moulded out of a hill and strengthened by stone walls. It covers 24 hectares at its base and is about 70m high. By comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt covers about 5.5ha and reaches about 139m high.
There are 11 big steps that were once decorated with part-animal, part-human faces and symbols that look like eyes.
Researchers believe the carvings could have given the structure special religious power for the ancient people in the city.
The top step was a large open space, like a town square or plaza.
Around the city, archaeologists have found a water tank, pillars, tiles and home items such as pottery.
“(These were) extensive palaces built of rammed earth, with wooden pillars and roofing tiles, a gigantic water reservoir, and domestic remains related to daily life,” the researchers wrote in the study.
They also found a mural at the site, which they think could be among the oldest in China.
The pyramid was visible from every part of the city.
“At the entrance to the stepped pyramid were sophisticated* bulwarks (walls) whose design suggests that they were intended to provide both defence and highly restricted access.”
But it was more than just a retreat for the elite*.
Valuable craftsmen appear to have been protected by its walls.
“Evidence so far suggests that the stepped pyramid complex functioned not only as a residential space for ruling Shimao elites, but also as a space for artisanal* or industrial craft production,” the researchers wrote.
Apart from being a hub of business, the city appears to have been a religious centre.
Pieces of the precious stone jade were placed in between blocks of stone around the city.
Human skulls were also found around the outer walls of the city.
Analysis shows the skulls may have belonged to residents of the nearby city of Zhukaigou. They could have been taken prisoner and there are signs there was a war between the two cities.
The entire city was protected by a wall, ramparts* and bastions*.
“Analysis and comparison of new archaeological data … have revealed a highly complex society, the political and economic* heartland*, and possibly the most powerful (civilisation), of the territory of what is today China,” the researchers wrote in Antiquity.
“Not only (was Shimao) the largest walled settlement of its time in ancient China, but was also among the largest centres in the world.”
This video is about archaeologists working in tunnels under a pyramid in Mexico
— There are pyramids all around the world.
— The earliest-known pyramids were built by the Mesopotamians in the area that is now around Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. These were built of mudbricks and painted in gold or bronze. They don’t exist any more.
— The largest pyramid by volume (the space inside) is the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico.
— Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza covers about 5.5ha and reaches about 139m high. The Egyptians began building pyramids around 2700BC and when they were new, they were clad in shiny, reflective white limestone that has mostly fallen off or been used for other things.
— There were once about 240 pyramids in Sudan, Africa, with 220 remaining. These are called Nubian pyramids and are much steeper and pointier, than pyramids in Egypt.
— There are also ancient pyramids in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Greece, Spain, China, Peru and throughout America.
— There is a 20.6m-high glass pyramid that created a new entrance to the Louvre museum in Paris, France, that was completed in 1989.
archaeologists: researchers who study ancient civilisation
Bronze Age: time between the Stone Age and the Iron Age, roughly 3300BC to 300BC
sophisticated: opposite to primitive
elite: superior group
artisanal: things made in a traditional, handmade way
ramparts: defensive wall around a city
bastions: part of a defensive wall that comes out at an angle
economic: to do with business and money
LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY
1. How big would the city have been?
2. What do archaeologists call the city now? What was it called when it was a working city?
3. What shape was the pyramid and how was it built?
4. What is a Nubian pyramid?
5. What has the Louvre got to do with this story?
1. Lost City
Complete a complex mind map on the ancient city Shimao. A complex mind map is where you have the main idea in the centre of your page (ancient city of Shimao) and branches coming off all around it stating all the facts and information you know about it. It should also include illustrations to help the reader visualise your explanation of the concept.
2. Extension: Work with a partner to brainstorm some possible causes of what happened to this ancient city and why it has taken so long to find. Do you know of any other lost cities and/or what happened to them?
Time: Allow 30 minutes
Curriculum Links: English, History
The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?
HAVE YOUR SAY: If you were an archaeologist anywhere in the world, what would you like to study? What ancient civilisation interests you most? No one-word answers. Use full sentences.