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Dian Kingdom, China - Lost under the Sea
106    Dibyendu Banerjee    02/11/2021   

It was at the dawn of the new century, when a team of archaeologists working at Fuxian Lake in China in 2001, accidentally discovered a vast collection of underwater buildings at the bottom of the lake.The discovery created a ripple among the historians and the archaeologists, as several diving trips were arrangedsubsequently.


Eventually,on subsequent diving trips, the archaeologists found numerous precious cultural relics that included standing walls, streets paved with flagstones and the ruins of an entire city spread across 6.5 square km at the bottom of the lake.After carbon dating several earthenware pots recovered from the site of the site, it was considered that the ruins belonged to an ancient city dating back more than 1750 years to the time of the Dian Kingdom, submerged at the bottom of Fuxian in China. Apparently, it seemed to the scholars that, long ago an entire section of the ancient city, belonging to the Dian Kingdom, simply broke off and slid into the lake due to an earthquake, where it has been preserved for all these years.

dian kingdom

According to available Chinese texts, in 109 BC the southwestward expansion of the Han Empire culminated with the subjugation of the kingdom of Dian, which appears to have been centred near Lake Dian in the current province of Yunnan in southwest China, a geographically isolated area, far from the political capital of Beijing and home to diverse tribal groups. According to the texts of the Han historian, Sima Qian, the Dian Kingdom was established in 279 BC, when Qingxiang, the king of Chu sent a military force to the southwest under General Zhuang Qiao and he decided to stay in Yunnan, establishing the Dian kingdom.


The Kingdom was based on agriculture, but headhunting, human sacrifice, and slaves were part of Dian society. Apart from that, the Dian craftsmen created bronze objects, gold and silver objects and polished stones. The burials of their elites also contained several imposing bronze items, created by those efficient crafts men, although late Dian burials also contained locally cast iron objects. The bronze lids, created by the sophisticated Dan metal workers, were covered with miniature figurines and structures, depicting the regular daily activities of the people like farming, cattle tending or weaving. Moreover, some of the items also meticulously depicted people enjoying life in their leisurely pursuits like hunting, bullfighting or dancing and music-making, dressed in tunics over short pants and wore their hair in topknots.

dian kingdom
Dian bronze lid depicting a horseman in battle

Dian managed to survive the turbulent Warring States period, as well as the rise and fall of the Qin Empire, even though they were surrounded by several hostile tribes, especially the nomadic tribes.


However, Dian Kingdom was gradually displaced following the Han Empire's annexation of the Dian Kingdom in 109 BCand their culture gradually becameextinct by the 11th century AD, as it seems from the artefacts recovered in the stretch by archaeologists in the area.

dian kingdom
A bronze belt buckle for Dian armoured warriors around an ox and its calves.

The Fieldwork, jointly conducted by the scientists from the Chinese Cultural Studies and Yunnan University, comprising of historians, archaeologists and experts on the ancient cultures of Yunnan, explored roughly 60 km southeast of Kunming from 26 September to 15 October 2014. Although the site stretches over a vast area, the research was carried out on a relatively small portion of it. They recovered 42 handmade stone artefacts from a depth of around 23 feet (7 m), but out of the 30 buildings, walls and cobblestone roads, presumed to lie below the surface of the Lake Fuxian, they could examine only two. While the recovered items were catalogued and tagged, the 20-day long exploration gave scope to the researchers to map portions of the site and take photographs of several carved stones. The carved stones include a strikingly enigmatic item resembling Yijing divination trigrams or representations of male and female genitalia and depiction of the sun and the moon.

dian kingdom
Enigmatic Carvings

The exploration during 2014 has kicked off a huge archaeological campaign aimed at solving the mystery of the ancient city, submerged under the Fuxian Lake, the second deepest lake in China. It is speculated by several scholars that the ruins, covering a huge area and complete with an Egyptian-style pyramid, were part of an extensive ancient city, which perhaps dated back 4,800 years and probably belonging to the Dian Kingdom. However, although routinely referred to by the national press as the Pompeii of China or China’s Atlantis, little to almost nothing is known about the city or the people who built it.

dian kingdom
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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