Shimao Relics - Atlas Obscura

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Shimao Relics

Yulin, China

A massive ancient Chinese city with stone walls and evidence of human sacrifices. 


Found on the northern edge of the Loess Plateau in north-central China, Shimao is a Neolithic city in the northern Shaanxi Province of China. The ancient Chinese site offers a captivating glimpse into the origins of the area’s early civilizations, with compelling evidence hinting at its probable role as an ancient center of northern China during the early Xia Dynasty. Once referred to as the “Stone City,” this ancient settlement thrived for over three centuries.

The site dates back to around 2000 BC and contains the earliest archaeological evidence of both a walled city and human sacrifices in China. Shimao is the largest ancient city ever unearthed that dates between the Longshan period (3000 to 1900 B.C.) to the early Xia period (2070 to 1600 B.C.). Legend connects Shimao to the mythic Shang Dynasty, but archeologists await more evidence to confirm or deny this connection as the excavation continues.

The exploration of the Shimao site began decades ago when Dai Yingxin of Northwest University’s Department of Archaeology embarked on an investigation in Shaanxi Province. Intriguing tales of the sacred tree Shimao shared by locals piqued his curiosity, leading him to investigate further. Since then, archaeological teams from Xi’an and Beijing have joined in, unearthing a treasure trove of artifacts and insights.

In September 2019, samples from the Shimao site in Shaanxi were carbon-dated, shedding light on the core area’s construction age with results dating the site to 2200-1900 B.C., spanning several centuries.

Archaeological work continues, with recent news in January 2023, reporting the discovery of a cemetery in the Huangchengtai central structures providing vital clues about the social structures and beliefs of ancient inhabitants.

The Shimao site acts as a time capsule that bridges the gap between the present and ancient past, beckoning curious souls to delve into the marvels of China’s cultural heritage. 

Know Before You Go

A museum nearby is set to open in early 2024 after delays due to COVID-19 prevention measures. All text descriptions displayed on the site are in Chinese so come prepared!

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