The remnants of a 3,000 year old sun altar have been discovered in north-west China, offering clues about the region’s ancient past.
The circular ruins are 100 meters (109 yards) in diameter, and were discovered in 1993, though only excavated recently, National Geographic reported.
Archeologists have now confirmed their hunch about the religious function of the structure, and believe that it was used as a sun altar by nomads who once inhabited the remote plains in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
The Bronze Age structure is composed of three circled layers of stone, and scientists believe that the builders dragged the stones from miles away using men and horses, China Central Television reported.
It also shows that links between the remote grasslands of the west and other parts of the country before the establishment of the Silk Road in the second century BC were much stronger than previously believed.
Archeologists found that the altar was similar to the heaven worshipping altars built by the dynasties that once ruled China’s central plains but it is the first of its kind discovered in the Xinjiang region.
“This proves that central plain culture had already long reached the foot of Mount Tianshan, in the Bayanbulak Grassland, the choke point of the Silk Road,” said Liu Chuanming, one of the archeologists studying the ruins.
Established during China’s Han Dynasty by diplomat Zhang Quian, the Silk Road enabled the exchange of ideas, goods and cultures between east and west until the 15th century, when it fell into disuse.
Sun worshipping has been practiced by the Chinese throughout history, with sun deities playing a central role in Chinese mythology.
“Since ancient times all civilizations on the continent of Eurasia used circle shapes to represent the sun. Mongolian yurts have the same structure as the altar,” archeologist Wu Xinhua told CCTV.
The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is another Chinese sacred structure dedicated to the sun. Characterized by its layered circular floors, experts believe the temple was originally built by sun worshippers, but is now used by followers of the Taoist religion.
By Tom Porter