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Sunday, August 05, 2001, updated at 11:21(GMT+8)

Xixia (Western Xia) Mausoleums: Excavation and Protection Underway

At the foot of Helan Mountains, in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the mausoleums of ancient Xixia (Western Xia) kingdom (1038-1227) are awake from their 800-odd-year sleep by the ongoing biggest excavation and protection of the ethnic mausoleums ever in China.

As part of the major archaeological project, a new kind of liquid is sprayed onto earthy relics, protecting China's largest ground-level mausoleum ruins from weathering.

The Xixia mausoleum park is located 35 kilometers east of Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia. With a total area of 50 square kilometers, the park includes nine imperial mausoleums and 250 tombs of emperor relatives and officials.

Jiang Zhongyi, a famous archaeologist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the total excavation area approaches 17,000 square meters.

According to the expert, the No.3 mausoleum, the largest and most complete one in the park, has so far been excavated.

The No.3 mausoleum, which was for Xixia's first emperor Li Yuanhao (1003-1048), has been determined as a pavilion-tower construction fusing both traditional mausoleum and temple styles, and it was built in accordance with Buddhist architecture.

Fragments of stone statues were found in great amount in the mausoleum, which reflects not only ancient Xixia featured architecture, but also its cultural connection with the central parts of China.

Praised as "Eastern Pyramids" by scholars, the mausoleums draw as much attention and allocation from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, as the Potala Palace in Tibet does.

Last year, the Chinese government made a plan to provide an allocation of 10 million yuan (1.2 million US dollars) for the protection of the tombs.

A lost ethnic group of Tanguts founded the Xixia state and the Xixia civilization mysteriously vanished in the early 13th century.

The rarity in relics and records of ancient Xixia has given great significance to the excavation.

Du Yubing, an expert with the Ningxia Archaeological Institute, pointed to a statue with the face of a man but the body of a bird. "This mellifluous bird is the greatest archaeological find in China that matches the Sphinx and the Venus," he said.

"Because of severe damage on the relics," said Zhong Kan, director of the Cultural Relics Bureau of Ningxia, "the protection comes as urgently as the excavation."

The new chemical liquid, which is called "PS," is being sprayed onto the earthy relics. According to Zhang Lu, an engineer from the research institute on Dunhuang studies in neighboring Gansu Province, the liquid can prevent the earthy walls from erosion of the wind and the rain, effectively protecting it for at least 30 years.

The technicians also inject "PS" solution into the space between the wall and its stripped parts, resulting in a satisfactory firmness.

Jiang, also the leading expert in charge of the archaeologists group for protection and excavation of Xixia mausoleums, said th