According to official history the Khara-koto site was first rediscovered by a Russian explorer named Botanin, who traveled through Inner-Mongolia in 1886 AD. The city was then visited a second time by Tsogt Badmajapov, a Russian explorer who had continued the work of Nikolai Przhevalsky in Mongolia and Tibet after his Death. Badmajapov only performed initial surveys, after which in 1908 a Russian expedition was sent off to the East to find the ruined city and seek archeological remnants and relics.
In 1909 AD, this expedition under leadership of the Russian explorer Colonel Pyotr Kuzmich Kozlov reached the ancient ruins and surveyed the site. Apart from the ancient walls of the fortified town, the scientists identified a sand buried Stupa, at some 400 meters outside of the City Walls opposite the Main Gate. Inside the Stupa lay a hidden treasure. Breaking inside Kozlov and companions found a large collection of scrolls, scriptures and art pieces.
Hidden in the stupa were a total of 360 scrolls together compiling a unique collection of Chinese "Dunhuang" manuscript fragments from the 4th through 11th century and Tangut manuscripts from the 12th and 13th century. Among the Art was a now famous depiction of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (a female form of Avalokiteshvara) known as "Guanyin Moon in Water painting". Among the books were precious relics as “the Pearl in the hand between Pan and Han”, “Yintong” and “Sea of Literature”, all three of which have both characters of Han majority and Xia. Apart from the complete scrolls there were another 19,000 fragments, the study of which has only recently been completed.
In total, P.K. Kozlov spent over two years excavating the site and surveying the wider area's. During this period his expedition brought approximately 9,000 volumes of Tangut manuscripts and xylographs and approximately 3,000 Chinese scriptures back to Russia.
Along with a female tomb decorated with a number of statues of Buddhist saints and deities seated in front of the sacred books, there was a walled-in library of manuscripts and xylographs in Tangut, Chinese and Tibetan. All the manuscripts and xylographs found date back to the time of the great Tangut state, Xi Xia (982 AD - 1227 AD). The earliest of the xylographs is dated to 1084 AD. Along with a great number of Buddhist treatises, the collection contains some dictionaries, grammars, Tangut law codes, Tangut translations of Chinese classics, as well as many administrative and official papers and letters. The earliest studies of Tangut language and script were done by N.A. Nevsky in St. Petersburg in the 1930s. However important his work, it was limited to only a few years, as Nevsky feel victim to a Stalinist purge in 1937 AD. Before his innocent death, he laid the foundations for Tangut studies by deciphering Tangut-Chinese and Tangut-Tangut dictionaries and making the first rough description of Tangut grammar, which was developed by later generations of scholars into a full academic discipline.
Avid Silk Road explorer Aurel Stein reached Khara-Khoto during his third Central Asian expedition in 1917 AD. Although the City was by then a deserted heap of ruins overblown by sand from the surrounding deserts, Stein surveyed the Khara-Khoto for eight days including archeological excavations (the findings from this research was incorporated in chapter 13 of Stein's first volume of Innermost Asia).
Finding the stupa which had hidden and preserved the documents found by Kozlov nearly completely destroyed, Stein still found over a 1000 historical artifacts among the ruins, most of which are now in Museums. Some of the most important finds were done among the garbage heaps of the deserted and ruinous city, revealing that Civilization at Khara-Koto had existed much longer than (westerners had) earlier thought. Inscribed pottery shards found by Stein reveal dates from the period of 1290 AD to 1366 AD. The texts derived from the Russian Expedition by Kozlov later revealed that the latest document among these was created in 1371 AD, which means that the people of Khara-koto witnessed the fall of Yuan Dynasty and that Civilization at Khara-koto seized during the rise of the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD). This is not surprising as this was the exact period when Ming Dynasty Armies defeated the Mongols and drove them out of the Regions. Khara-koto was likely abandoned due to military pressure from the Han Chinese combined with the fact that diversion of the Hei River had ravaged the agricultural basis of their Oasis.
As historians hold it today, documents were stored inside the original Stupa or Suburgan at Khara-koto at least twice during its history. The first Time was as part of the burial rites for a high ranking nun, who's memory the Stupa originally serves. The storing of the early documents and art mark the end of the Tangut Dynasty, fell victim to the last campaign of Genghis Khan around 1227 AD. According to one Chinese Legend the Khan was transported to Mount Liupan in current day Ningxia AR, where he tried to recouperate from the wounds using medicinal herbs, but died regardless (Read More in: 'Landmarks and Monuments of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region'). Genghis Khan was Dead, but so was the Tanggut Empire. Without a King nor a Heir to the throne the Empire came to an end, however the City of Khara-koto remained inhabited for another 150 years as part of the fast growing Mongol Empire.
The former Tangut (or Western Xia, Xi Xia) capital of Khara-Khoto - Black City, now deserted, lies near the lower end of the Ejin river, the section of the Hei River that runs inside the Alxa League of Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region. The ruins of City of Khara-Koto can be found near the Town of Khara-Khot (Chinese: Ejin Qi), part of the Ejin Banner of Alxa League, located due South of the smaller Lake, Sogo Nur, now a dried out Salt Flats and part of the larger Juyan Lake Basin.
Established in the year 1032 AD as the city of Iji Nai (in the lost and refound Tangut Language), according to legend the city, which lies along the river and nearby Gashun Lake, was abandoned after Chinese forces diverted the river away from it during a Siege in 1372 AD. Some 100 years before that event, the City of Khara-koto was visited by Marco Polo who named it Etzina, Capital of the Tangut Kingdom. The place of the abandoned ruins has been legendary since, its mythical reputation only enhanced by late 20Th Century and early 21st Century visits by famous European explorers who excavated an unusual amount of ancient scripts, objects and
The second time documents were stored within the Stupa was around the year 1368 AD, when Chinese Armies entered the regions of the Hexi Corridor and Khara-Koto in hot pursuit of the defeated Yuan Dynasty Armies that had held sway over China for a 100 years. Unfortunatly for the citizen of Khara-koto, the last Yuan Dynasty of China, led by Emperor Huizong of Yuan (Togoontemur Khan), after flight from Dadu (Beijing) and the Shangdu in China, had retreated to the Mongolian Plains and now had chosen their City as his Military Base for the reconquest of China. Since the Yuan Dynasty was obviously losing the battle, this spelled the ultimate doom of the City.
Likely, the documents were hidden inside the Stupa when the last inhabitants of the Town packed their belongings and left, in this case never to return again. Although Emperor Huizong of Yuan, now demoted to the Title Togoontemur Khan, died in 1372 AD ending ambitions of a return by the Yuan, the city of Khara-koto nevertheless fell victim to vengeful Ming Dynasty Armies in 1372 AD. After a siege and diversion of the river, the city was taken. Although not destroyed it was abandoned and eventually buried by desert sands.
"The Disappeared Civilization"
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Find the Khara-Koto ruins at a distance of some 25 kilometers southeast of Dalaihubu Town in Ejin Banner under the Mongolian name of Halahaote or Heicheng in Chinese.
The first and most obvious landmark of the ruined city is a pagoda shaped like an overturned bowl, which, ruined, today still stands on the North-West Corner of the City Wall ruins at an impressive height of some 12 meters, making it visible among the sands from kilometers away.
Surrounding the ruins of Khara-Koto is an area known to locals as the magical and remote black dunes, an endless extense of shifting sand dunes, some over 200 meters in heights, realms in which its is easy to get hopelesly lost without a compass or GPS.
The square shaped ruins of the ancient City lie surrounded by everflowing sands which continuously threaten to bury the site. The site was already largely reclaimed by the desert in the year 1917 AD, as Stein reported from his 8 day excavations of the site, however in the last 3 decades the water levels of nearby Juyan Oasis Basin (or the Hei River Delta), the wetlands and nearby Sogo Nur have deteriorated further. In recent years both lakes and wetlands have turned into salt flats and eroding desert. Rising winds and low water tables have induced many previously solid sand dunes to start moving toward the archeological site. Although some tree- and shrub planting projects have been carried out in an attempt to hold back the desert sands, the situation is far from stable. Khara-koto is expected to disappear beneath the sands once more within the coming 15 years.
The majority of the ruins are made up by the eroded down ramparts which once measured 9.1 meters (30ft) in height atop the 3.7 meter (12-ft) thick walls of a mighty fortress city. These outer walls were made of brick filled with rammed earth and ran for some 470 meters (1,380 ft) from east to west by 384 meters (1,230 ft) from North to South, but have by now eroded down to man high adobe piles of mud. The city gate was located in a vault with the Gate Door in the middle of two walls, with an added enclosure for defense protruding forward from the Walls.
The wall has been broken in the South-West Corner. There are five tibetan-styled pagodas made of original adobe on the 10 meter-high city wall foundations at the northwest-corner, the largest of which measures 18 meters in height.
The total surface area of the City is 180.500 square meters and a circumference of roughly 1 kilometer. When the city thrived its center was taken up by a large market where all kinds of goods were traded. The renowned main products of silk, embroidered goods, jades and jewelries but also more common items such as combs, buttons, tea, shoes and agricultural produce and tools. Other items which were exchanged were Buddhist scriptures (in Chinese and in Tangut), among other things were traded, and the walls used to be colorfully glazed.
Outside of the City Wall ruins, at some distance stand two more Stupa's on a gravel plain. The famed stupa in which the historic documents and art were found stood at some 400 meters distance across from the North Gate, however it was destroyed by the Kozlov expedition in the process of excavations. Well over a century has passed since, leaving only shattered remains of the original body.
East of the City lie the ruined remains of what appears to be a road. Excavations unearthed the remains of a mosque somewhere else in the vicinity of the fortress city.
Although not on the main menu of mass tourism, the Kharakoto site begets regular visitors, Chinese and Foreign.
Map of the various tracks of the Silk Road including the "Northern Pathway" leading from Jiuquan in Gansu through Khara-koto in Inner-Mongolia and Northward. A side path leads from Khara-koto to (Hami) then: Kumul).
In 1925 AD the Khara-Koto site was visited by an american art historian, the Harvard Professor and Museum Director Langdon Warner, who documented it in a series of Photos which are now stored at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Once at Khara-koto, Langdon, a notorious or famous 'Hunter' of ancient relics and art who in 1924 AD had taken away a Boddhisatva Statue and a section of Mural dated to the Tang Dynasty Era (618 AD - 907 AD) from Cave 328 at the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, found nothing of value. As he describes in one of his books "The Long Old Road in China" (Arrowsmith, London 1927. P. 141.), upon his arrival he found the Ruins intact but abandonned - 'No city guard turned out to scan my credentials now, no bowman leaned from a balcony above the big gate in idle
The earliest history of sizeable human inhabitation of the site of Khara-Koto likely goes back as far as the 2000 years ago. Nomadic travelers likely made use of the site and its fertile surroundings many centuries earlier.
curiosity, and no inn welcomed me with tea and welcomed me with tea and kindly bustle of sweeping out my room or fetching fodder for my beasts. One little grey hawk darted from her nest high in the grey wall, her set wings rigid, and sailed low over the pebbles and sparse thorn bushes of the plain. No other life seemed there, not even the motion of a cloud in the speckless heaven nor the stir of a beetle at my feet. It was high afternoon, when no ghosts walk. But, as sure as these solid walls were built up by the labour of men, just so sure was I that the little empty town had spirits in it. And the consciousness never left me by day or night while we were there '.
Folke Bergman, a young Svedish archeologist who worked closely with Sven Hedin, first travelled to Khara-Khoto in 1927, returning in 1929 and staying for a year and a half in the area. He made maps of Khara-Khoto and Ejin River area, surveyed watchtowers and fortresses, finding a large number of xylographs. Bergman noted that Kozlov's and Stein's visits were cursory and some of their published documentation was partially incorrect.
Sven Hedin and Xu Bingchang led a Sino-Swedish Expedition on archaeological excavations of the site between 1927 AD and 1931 AD. After Hedin John DeFrancis visited in 1935 AD.
Further Chinese excavations, the first in 1983 and the second in the succeeding season of 1984 by a team from the Inner Mongolian Institute of Archaeology under supervision of Li Yiyou, have produced some 3,000 more manuscripts. In addition to books, these excavations unearthed building materials, daily items, production instruments and religious art. Since then, archeologists have found many more ancient ruins and remnants in the vicinity of Khara-koto. Most noteably hundreds of muslim tombs dating to the last 150 years of the City under the Rule of the Yuan Dynasty were excavated, leading to better understanding of the spread of Islamic culture's from the West into China, especially during the unifying era of the Mongol Empire.
knowledge. Apart from excavating the remains of a lost remains of a lost Civilization with its own language and culture, Khara-Koto was the site where explorers found various types of silk road currencies, as well as early types of moveable type block prints.
Travel directions to Khara-Koto ruins :
Various travel routes to Khara-Koto (Heicheng in Chinese or Halahaote in Mongolian) are under research.
The main route driving route to reach Khara-Koto site is to travel from Jiuquan in Gansu Province northward along the Hei River to reach the town of Ejin Qi. However, this route is generally off-limits to any foreign National due to the Presence of the Jiuquan Space Launch Facility, a top-secret base. Armed Police patrol the route.
From Jiuquan arrange transport to Ejin Qi, then travel to the Khara-Koto Site located at GPS Coordinates: 41° 76' 46.06" North and 101° 214' 32.48" East, which is some 30 kilometers from Ejin Qi.
Use either Private (Rental) Car or travel by Public Transport from Yinchuan in Ningxia AR westward to Bayan Hot in Inner Mongolia. From there Travel by Bus to Ejin Qi. Stay over in Ejin Qi and spend the next day at Khara-Koto.