Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the ancient Persian Empire. Its founder, Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, is thought to have been born in what is now Northeast Iran or Southwest Afghanistan. A 2004 survey by the Zoroastrian Associations of North America put the estimated number of believers worldwide at between 124,000 and 190,000.
Now, archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. This unravelling is leading to startling controversial speculation about the religion’s origin.
On China’s sparsely populated Pamir Plateau, ancient people lived and battled, and created a marvelous civilization. These massive tombs, now being excavated, are the world’s earliest traces of the religion of Zoroastrianism found so far.
|Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered
major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago.
Zoroastrianism took form even before the rise of Persian Empire, which later adopted it as the state religion. The sun and fire are central to the religion, and the signs are found everywhere in the tombs.
“This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism.”
Today, most of the ancient glories lie in ruins. But the dig now offers a glimpse of what life here looked like over 25 centuries ago.
“This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized.”
This is the biggest excavation of the tombs of Zoroastrianism here in Xinjiang’s history. Some archaeologists say the excavation is likely to prove that this religion is originated from the Pamir Plateau, right here beneath of our feet.
“All the evidence leads to one conclusion: Zoroastrianism originated in the east on China’s Pamir Plateau. To this day, archaeologists are still arguing over where the religion originated, but here, we have found the earliest and the largest scale of Zoroastrian ruins, with all the typical symbols of this religion. Of course, there’s the possibility that there are other undiscovered ruins elsewhere in the world. But at this moment, it’s a logical conclusion that the origin of the religion is here, not in Persia.” said Wu Xinhua, Xinjiang Director, Archaeological Inst., Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Logical, perhaps. Startling and controversial, certainly. And as the excavation continues, the Pamir Plateau is bound to yield more amazing discoveries.