Archaeologists have discovered ancient ice skates made of animal bones in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region of northwest China. Announcing the incredible find at a recent press conference, researchers said the ancient skates were created from ox and horse bones are likely to be 3,500 years old.
Located at the intersection of China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang is a mountainous region that is widely regarded to be the birthplace of skiing. Cave paintings found in the Altai mountain range and dated to around 10,000 years ago appear to show hunters on skis, while the Altai people who inhabit the area maintain an ancient tradition of hand-crafting wooden skis for transport.
The newly-discovered ice skates were unearthed at the at the Bronze Age Gaotai Ruins, which form part of the larger Jiren Taigoukou site in the Ili River valley. Consisting of a 120-square-meter (1,291-square-foot) burial complex and a residential area, the Gaotai Ruins are thought to house the remains of a noble herding family from the 15th and 16th centuries BCE.
Though it’s not clear if the ice skates were used for hunting, transport or another purpose, the archaeologists say they are highly similar to bone skates found in ancient Europe. This, they say, provides clear evidence for communication between China and Europe during the Bronze Age.
Also discovered around the tomb were dozens of components of wooden wagons, including 11 wheels and more than 30 other parts such as shafts, axles and carriages. "Judging by the scattered pieces, we believe that these wooden wagon parts were deserted by their owners, and detached on purpose, and buried during establishing the tomb," excavation team leader Ruan Qiurong reportedly explained at the press conference.
"Our preliminary judgment is that [the wagons were] used during the construction of the high platform tomb. [They were] dismantled and buried consciously after being abandoned,” said Qiurong in a separate statement.
According to the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, the Gaotai Ruins represent “the largest, highest-[class], and best-preserved stone tomb architectural remains of the Bronze Age found in Xinjiang and even the Eurasian [landmass].”
In addition to the ice skates and wagon parts, archaeologists have uncovered more than 500 relics at the site, including pottery, stone tool, animal bones and bronze ware. As excavations continue, researchers hope to learn more about the burial culture and social structure in the Altai mountains during the Bronze Age.