Saturday, January 14, 2017
Have you ever heard of the Longyou Grottoes in China? As a longtime admirer of a good mystery this one caught my interest when I first read about them a year or two ago, but unfortunately, there isn't really a lot of information other than some pictures and a few articles to be found on the internet.
Discovered in 1992 by a curious farmer (or an old lady called Grandma Wu depending on which account you accept), who wondered if the pond near his village was one of the legendary 'bottomless' ones, he convinced his neighbours to share in the rental on a pump so they could see for themselves. Now while I can't really understand why poor villagers would want to disrupt their supply of fresh water, they apparently kept pumping water from the squared off hole long enough to discover it was actually a purpose made cavern of pretty enormous size. Already ninety-eight feet deep, the floor itself sprawled to enclose an area of nearly thirteen thousand square feet - supported by carved pillars. The ceiling, wall and pillar surfaces are all finished the same way with a series of parallel bands between ridge marks about twenty inches wide and containing parallel chisel marks set at an angle of about 60°.
Once the first grotto was reported to the authorities a further twenty-four (or thirty-five) were found, all isolated from one another and often separated by less than two feet of stone. One fact from Wikipedia was curious. “Despite their size and the effort involved in creating them, so far no trace of their construction or even their existence has been located in the historic record.” Carved in siltstone, a medium-hard rock, the grottoes are thought to date to a period prior the Qin Dynasty in 212 BCE. However, there is not a single ancient text that describes the underground complex nor its creation or its purpose. Furthermore, there's no sign anywhere given the fact that the Ancient Chinese were extremely meticulous record keepers, of where nearly thirty-five million cubic feet of excavated rock went. When it's mentioned it would have taken a thousand workers each carting one hundred buckets twenty-four hours a day for six years (going where?) I can only shake my head in perplexity.
Commenting on the Longyou Grotto Caves, Yang Hongxun, an expert at the Archaeological Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, explained:
“At the bottom of each cave, the ancient builders wouldn’t be able to see what the others were doing in the next grotto. But the inside of each cave had to be parallel with that of the other, or else the wall would be holed through. Thus the measure apparatus should have been very advanced. There must have been some layout about the sizes, locations, and the distances between the caves beforehand.”
Another of the grottoe's mysteries is that there’s no evidence of lighting having been used. At Longyou there are no traces or remnants of the lamp bases, oil plates or other lighting equipment that have been found in other Chinese caves. Carbon residue remains on rock permanently. How did the builders see what they were doing when excavating and how did they breathe? The entrances are small and the caves deep, there would have been little to no natural light. It's a mystery.
Most of the spectacular mysterious ancient caverns are still full of water and neglected. This may be a good thing since Trip Advisor states the most bizarre thing is the level of destruction that has gone on in the ones that are open to the public. Concrete has been poured over them, lights and speakers installed, large fish ponds built inside the grottoes, and modern carvings have been added to the walls. By trying to attract tourists the government has destroyed and defaced the ancient cultural historical and architectural wonder. Alas, the Chinese were once understood to be very sensitive to ancient culture.
The general assumption about the grottoes is that they were man made about twenty-five hundred years ago, but I wonder. Not so much that people couldn't have made them, but the timing of their fabrication. While our race is estimated to be two hundred thousand years old our history dates back less than ten thousand years. Many ancient and mysterious artifacts and constructions have been found and are still being found. We don't know everything.
Maybe I'll ask Crow.
ps: article of the week