Silk Road Travelers' Ancient Knowledge May Have Irrigated Desert https://t.co/kxWFlhDdwG
Archaeologists made the finding by using satellite imagery to analyze the barren foothills of northwestern China's Tian Shan Mountains. These peaks form the northern border of China's vast Taklamakan Desert and are part of a chain of mountain ranges that have long hosted prehistoric Silk Road routes connecting China with lands to its west.
The satellite imagery of one particularly dry area caught the researchers' attention: a region dubbed Mohuchahangoukou, or MGK, which gets a seasonal trickle of snowmelt and rainfall from the Mohuchahan River. From the ground, the area looks like little more than a scattering of boulders and ruts, but when the researchers flew a commercial four-rotor "quadcopter" drone about 100 feet (30 meters) over MGK to capture images, they could see outlines of dams, cisterns and irrigation canals feeding a patchwork of small farm fields, the scientists said. [The 10 Driest Places on Earth]
Initial excavations at the site confirmed the presence of farmhouses and graves that radiocarbon dating and other methods suggest likely date back to the third or fourth century A.D., the scientists noted. This ancient farming community was likely built by local herding groups that sought to add crops such as millet, barley, wheat and perhaps grapes to their diet, the researchers added.
"It was very surprising to me that a site of this size was not discovered earlier by scientists, who have been studying this area for 100 years," study author Yuqi Li, an archaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told Live Science.