Longyou Caves: The Ancient Chinese Caves You’ve Never Heard Of

The Ancient Chinese Caves You’ve Never Heard Of, the Longyou Caves

The Longyou Caves in China, ancient manmade caverns. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

In 1992, farmers near the village of Shiyan Beicun in Zhejiang province, China, were considering several ponds on their lane. They decided to drain them, but beneath the water lay a mystery. Draining the water revealed five stone caves, strangely crafted. This shocking discovery led to unearthing 19 more caverns. With 24 in total, these carved out spaces range in size and shape. Scholars remain baffled by the caves’ origin and construction, but the Longyou Caves are certainly fascinating.

Since their discovery in 1992, the caves have been conserved and excavated. They are in shockingly good shape after centuries of floods. Artifacts within were discovered to be from the period 91 to 48 BCE, the reign of Emperor Xuan of Han. This makes the caves  over 2,000 years old. Strangely, the caves were not documented in any writings of the period. Why were they created? As a ritual space? For some other reason? The answer is elusive.

Interestingly, the caves are all different sizes. Some are over 100 feet wide with vaulted ceilings and columns supporting them. Others are much smaller. One million cubic meters of rock were likely removed to produce the caves. They were all carved using long parallel, chiseled strokes. Some carvings adorn the caves, wrapping up the sandstone columns. The most carved example of the caves is now open for tourism. The mystery of their construction and use are ongoing, and even 2,000 years later the caves continue to endure.

The Longyou Caves are a mysterious series of ancient manmade caverns in China which continue to baffle and impress archeologists.

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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