Satellites draw up maps of ancient city in China

Satellites draw up maps of ancient city in China

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Beijing, China, 23 November 2006 – Researchers using satellite technology are drawing up maps of the ancient city of Milan in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in a bid to better protect this important point along the Silk Road.

Milan is home to many cultural relics, including the world-renowned angel murals that were created some 2,000 years ago. A team of experts from the Beijing Special Engineering Design Research Institute visited the region early this month to survey the ruins.

Using cutting-edge satellite technology, the team collected detailed data on the 40-plus-square-kilometre area surrounding the ruins of Milan, said Lu Hanqian, the senior engineer leading the team.

“We will work with advanced GPS to draw up maps of the ancient city of Milan by the end of the year. The maps will be the most accurate representations of the ruins available,” the engineer said.

Once the survey and maps are completed, concerned authorities will come up with measures to further restore and protect the ancient ruins, said Sheng Chunshou, Director of the Administration Bureau of Cultural Heritage of Xinjiang.

Milan is located in the southern part of Lop Nur in Xinjiang, more than 900 kilometres away from the region’s capital, Urumqi. The city was an important transportation hub during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), according to Yang Yiyong, a researcher at the Xinjiang Archaeology Research Institute.

Yang said Milan was a major stop on the Silk Road, playing a key role in exchanges between the East and West of 2,000 years ago. Milan was gradually abandoned after the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) because of war and worsening environmental conditions.

In 1907, a British-Hungarian explorer named Aurel Stein found murals depicting winged angels in the ruins of Milan. In a book that he wrote on his travels along the ancient Silk Road, he said that Milan’s angels probably dated back some 2,000 years.

Both Chinese and foreign archaeologists believe that the angel murals reflect a Roman influence, indicating deep cultural exchanges between China and the future countries of Europe during the Western Han Dynasty.

The satellite maps of Milan represent just part of the central government’s efforts to protect local cultural relics and ruins.

The central government last year drew up a plan entitled “Rescue and Protection Programme of the Key Relics in Xinjiang Along the Silk Road.” Under the plan, the government will invest 420 million yuan (52.5 million U.S. dollars) in preservation projects in the next five to eight years, Sheng said.

“There are 21 cultural relics, and ancient sites and ruins in Xinjiang along the ancient Silk Road listed in the protection programme. We will make maps of other places to be protected in the following years,” Sheng added.

The ancient Silk Road starts in Xi’an, capital of the Western Han Dynasty, and ends in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Xinjiang was an important section along a route that spanned the Eurasian continent, Sheng said.