BEIJING - Among the sand dunes and the ruins of once flourishing oases on China's legendary Silk Road archaeologists have dug up an ancient city that may have been inhabited by dropouts from Alexander the Great's army.
The rediscovery of the city of Niya came 90 years after British explorer Sir Aurel Stein was led by villagers to its remains in 1903.
A joint Sino-Japanese expedition found the ruins in the Taklamakan desert in China's Far West.
The city may help anthropologists solve the puzzle of the fair-haired, green-eyed Central Asians who still live in the region.
Japanese and Chinese leaders of the expedition said they found the remains of old Greek-style homes. A 240-foot-long city wall and a 19-foot-high Buddhist stupa, or monument, still stood above the sand dunes. Grape trellises and desiccated fruit trees have been preserved by the desert climate 1,500 years after Niya residents mysteriously vanished.
Eight mummies wearing wool or silk clothes were found, and around them were coins, bronze mirrors, knives, rings and pearls.
Expedition members said the high noses, narrow faces, long heads and blond or brown hair of the mummies indicated they were of Indo-European ancestry. The original inhabitants "could have come here during the military campaigns waged by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great in the 4th Century B.C.," an expedition member said.
Han Xiang, the head of the Chinese team, speculated that a
sudden disaster, manmade or ecological, abruptly ended a civilization that flourished at the foot of the snowy Kunlun mountains.