Recent archaeological excavations at the site of the ancient Stone City of Houchongzhai, located in Qingshuihe County in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China, have revealed significant new details about its sophisticated three-level defensive system.

Dating between 4300 and 4500 BC, during the historical period known as Early Longshan, the city of Houchongzhai was occupied by a prosperous Stone Age civilization. With an area of 138 hectares, it is the largest and best-fortified city discovered from that period in all of Inner Mongolia.

The massive stone walls, forming an elliptical perimeter of approximately 1200 by 1150 meters, were the main findings of the initial excavations in the 1990s.

However, it wasn’t until 2019 that archaeologists began to uncover the complexity of its defenses through a five-year excavation plan.

To date, three concentric lines of walls protecting the city from potential attacks have been identified. Inside is the main wall surrounding the walled inner city.

Then there is an intermediate wall protecting an area of external fortifications or “foundations”. Finally, a third outer wall further reinforced the city’s defense.

Between the walls, defensive trenches up to 7 meters deep were constructed, making it challenging for enemies to access. But the most significant discovery was the complex network of six underground tunnels found between 2019 and 2021, now revealed by archaeologists. These tunnels clandestinely connected different fortified zones under the walls and trenches, providing the city with secret escape routes and communication channels.

The well-planned defense of Houchongzhai also included three broad monumental access gates, fortified with stone platforms and walkways.

Inside the walled city, a high-status architectural group composed of various stone buildings was discovered.

Various archaeological materials recovered, such as ceramics, stone objects, bone, and jade, date the main periods of occupation between 4300 and 4000 BC. They link Houchongzhai to significant contemporaneous cultures in northwest China, such as Liangzhu and Yangshao, highlighting its role as a regional center.

The findings underscore the constructive ability and high level of military planning of the ancient inhabitants of Houchongzhai. Their three-level defensive system anticipates later models and sets an important precedent in the study of the earliest walled cities in ancient China.

In addition to its intrinsic archaeological value, these new discoveries provide key pieces to understand the development of military architecture in the Stone Age.


Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

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