The discovery of an ancient wall in Yunnan may be the first step in unearthing the remnants of a city once thought lost to history. Archeologists believe they have uncovered an important relic dating back more than 1,000 years — a vestige of a country independent from Chinese rule that scientists and historians still know few hard facts about.
The find was made in Dali Prefecture, roughly 50 kilometers southeast of Erhai Lake (洱海) in the tiny village of Dayin (大营村). Researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology unearthed small sections of the wall earlier this month. He Jinlong (何金龙), who heads the project, believes his team has found the long-lost city of Baiya (白崖旧城).
Baiya means 'White Cliffs' in Chinese, and indeed the excavated area abuts a limestone escarpment in a somewhat remote and poor region of the prefecture. Archeologists have so far found what they believe is a contiguous wall between eight and fifteen centimeters thick, originally built from bricks and pounded earth.
He told reporters, "From what we've discovered of the city's size, location and distance [from other archeological sites], we can say with confidence this is the old city of Baiya." Very little is known about one-time urban center. However, it is mentioned in passing in the Tang Dynasty historical record An Introduction to Yunnan (云南志), penned 11 centuries ago by a scholar named Fan Shou (樊绰). The author, however, did not mention where exactly the city was located, and little else is known about its inhabitants or its rise and fall.
If the find is in fact Baiya, further excavations could produce new clues about daily life during the time of the Nanzhao Kingdom (南诏国). The small independent fiefdom spanned much of Yunnan 1,100 years ago. During its 200-year history, leaders of the Nanzhao gathered enough power to conquer territory in the present-day countries of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, while also repelling two separate invasion attempts by enormous Tang and Tibetan armies.
For He and his team, the discovery is a tantalizing one that could help flesh out how people lived in western Yunnan a millennia ago — but one they caution may take years to properly excavate, catalogue and describe. Before any of that can happen, He told reporters, a proper survey of the area must be completed in order to best begin digging for ancient buildings the team hopes lay buried but waiting.