In the vast expanses of taklamakan desertin China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region is a place full of mystery and history: dandan oil. This archaeological site is the silent testimony of a ancient civilization who once inhabited these arid lands and has now disappeared without a trace.
Despite its remoteness, Dandan Oilik is one of the most significant archaeological finds in the world and has been the subject of study and speculation since its discovery in early 20th century.
Dandan Oilik: The Riddle of an Ancient Civilization
Ruins of a Buddhist temple in the Taklamakan desert. Credit: Aurel Stein/Wikimedia Commons
The story of Dandan Oilik’s discovery is as mysterious as the site itself. On January 24, 1896, a Swedish explorer named sven hedin stumbled upon this place on a trip to the Taklamakan desert.
He had left behind Jotán, an ancient city in the desert. He was accompanied by 4 men, 3 camels and 2 donkeys carrying provisions for 50 days and following the route of the White Jade River, known today as Yurungkash.
After 5 days on the road, they left the course of the river and entered the desert, heading east. 10 days later, the group stumbled across the mysterious ruins which, although they didn’t know it, had been hidden for over a thousand years.
Hedin was a amateur archaeologistand he is fascinated by the ruins he discovers, to the point that he begins to dig rapidly.
What he found there amazed him: ancient temples, adobe buildings and an intricate network of irrigation canals, suggesting that an advanced civilization once existed in this region.
Left: Sven Anders Hedin. Right: Ruins of the city. public domain
According to studies conducted by archaeologists, Dandan Oilik it was an important commercial city in the Silk Road, the famous trade route that linked China to Europe. Artifacts found at the site suggest that the people of Dandan Oilik had professional contacts with India, Persia and Europe.
In addition to its commercial importance, which flourished from the 6th century AD, it is believed that Dandan Oilik was an important religious center. Hundreds of wooden houses surrounded the temples and statues of Buddha found at the site, which suggest that the inhabitants of this town were followers of Buddhism. However, what happened to this town and its people remains a mystery.
What happened to the lost city?
Years after the discovery of Hedin, in December 1900, the archaeologist aurel stein, who was in Hotan, was visited by a “treasure hunter”. The man showed him fragments of wall painting, stucco reliefs and paper documents that he allegedly got at Dandan Oilik.
Without thinking, Stein armed himself with his equipment and gathered 30 men to embark on the site in order to excavate it. There, houses, Buddhist shrines, sculptures, murals, and Buddhist texts on paper and wood have been found.
Wall painting fragments found at Dandan Oilik.
Other archaeologists and geographers visited the site in subsequent years, but after Stein’s inspection the site remained largely intact for 90 yearsuntil 2002, when the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute took over the ruins.
Likewise, the sudden disappearance, at the end of the 8th century, of the civilization that inhabited Dandan Oilik has been the subject of many speculations and theories. Some experts suggest that an unexpected flood of the river that passed through the city killed its inhabitants and destroyed the city.
Likewise, others believe that a barbarian invasion or epidemic may have been the cause. However, none of these theories have been proven and the truth behind the demise of this civilization remains a mystery.
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Apart from the mysteries surrounding his disappearance, Dandan Oilik has also been the subject of many legends and myths. One of the most popular is the legend of the “Devil’s Eye”, a huge crater on the ground that would have been created by a meteorite It fell from the sky thousands of years ago. The crater is believed to be connected to an extensive underground cave system that extends beneath the city.
Currently, most of the deposit remains unexcavated, leaving mysteries unsolved. What happened to Dandan Oilik and how did his civilization disappear so suddenly?
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