Number 7 of China's Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries 2013
The site of the “Bridges over the Wei” is located in the northern suburbs of Xi’an, an area that belonged to the northern edge of the capital Chang’an during the Han dynasty. Rescue work at this site began in June 2012 after its discovery in April 2012. In the course of one year of archaeological investigation, prospection and excavation, seven bridges of three different construction types were unearthed in the area to the north and north-east of the site of the Han capital Chang’an. One of the bridges is the so-called “Bridge of the Chu-Gate No. 1", named after the Chu-Gate (literally: kitchen gate) which was located in the middle of the Western Han dynasty city wall of Chang’an. This bridge is constructed on wooden beams and crossed the river in a north–south direction. The distance between the bridge columns was 15.4 m. After geophysical prospecting, a spade probing and test excavation, it was possible to determine the former length of the bridge to 880 meters. The radiocarbon dating of wooden parts, which was done by the radiocarbon laboratory of Peking University, suggests a construction date of the bridge between the years 370 and 230 BC.
Five further wooden beam-column bridges were found within a radius of 400 m to the east and west of the “Bridge of the Chu-Gate No. 1”. The discovery of such a bridge complex is a first in the history of Chinese archaeology. It has been suggested that this group of bridges might be identified as the “Bridges of the Middle Wei River” known from ancient sources. This discovery not only provides new material for the study of ancient bridges, but it is significant also for the research on the Qin dynasty city of Xianyang, and the Han dynasty city site of Chang’an. The “Bridge of the Chu-Gate No. 1” is currently the world's longest antique bridge built on wooden columns. These bridges crossing over the Wei River were the first bridges that led westward to the trading routes of the Silk Routes from Chang'an. Numerous traces of repair from several successive dynasties were documented. Finds of coins (Kangxi Tongbao) and other relics dating to the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) suggest that the Wei River stopped shifting northwards after the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi (reigned 1661–1722). The finds in the area of the ancient bridges are important for the research on the shifting of the Wei River, and also for the environmental history of the central Shaanxi plain in general.
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