Ancient China From Above (2020) s01e02 Episode Script

Mysteries of Xanadu


allan: It's tiring, the
winds blowing, its icy cold.
This is so steep I don't know
how they got the bricks up here.
The great wall of china.
It's like being on
the top of the world.
Endless wall, endless
watchtowers all the
way to the horizon.
It's like nothing you
could ever imagine.
It's been studied for decades,
but now new technology
is revealing its secrets
like never before.
I'm allan maca.
An archaeologist and expert
in ancient civilizations.
And I'm going to investigate
china's distant past
from a whole new
perspective, space!
Today, state of the art
satellites see the world
in stunning detail,
and reveal hidden archaeology.
Enabling us to recreate
a lost ancient world,
invisible to the naked eye.
Working alongside
leading chinese experts,
my team and I will travel
to some of the country's
most remote and
incredible landscapes,
and with cutting edge science,
investigate previously unknown
cultures, lost cities and
devastating cataclysms.
This is ancient china as
you've never seen it before.
Just outside
china's capital beijing,
10 million people a year come
to marvel at the great wall.
This is the biggest manmade
structure on the planet.
But the only way to really
see just how vast it is,
is from 500 miles
above the earth.
Using satellite images, I'm
going to track the great wall
across towering
mountains and remote desert.
Exploring massive defenses.
They would just
start raining down fire
and arrows from above.
Meeting archaeologists as
they unearth its ancient past.
Wow, this is amazing you've
literally just found these.
And revealing
its long hidden secrets
Sarah: This looks really cool.
Allan: To discover if this
great monument could be
even bigger and far older than
we'd ever thought before.
I'm starting my mission 70
miles north of beijing in the
rugged mountains
of jinshanling.
At a part of the wall
that's remained unchanged
for hundreds of years.
You see pictures of the
great wall in tourist books,
but this is something else.
Out here in jinshanling,
satellite data shows
how the wall crosses
seemingly impossible peaks.
And every few hundred feet,
huge stone structures.
On the ground, these towers
reveal meticulous engineering.
Look at how beautiful this is.
Really formal arches here,
lots of space,
windows all the way around.
You have a 360 degree
view over the landscape.
It's incredible.
This is just one of
around 25,000 watchtowers
built by the ming dynasty,
who ruled china
from 1368 to 1644.
Between the towers,
ingenious defenses.
I'm seeing these strange
holes along the wall
that open to the outside.
What they would have done is
they would have taken about a
five-pound rock,
hollowed it out,
stuffed it with gunpowder, put
a wick in there and literally
just rolled it out
the hole, and boom.
No more invaders.
The ming went to these
extraordinary lengths,
to combat a mortal enemy.
From space, satellites
reveal vast grasslands to
the north of the wall.
Wild enough today, in
the days of the ming,
this was home to
tribes of nomadic horseman.
The mongols.
These fearsome warriors had
been attacking and pillaging
china for centuries.
The ming built the
great wall to keep them out.
Now, 600 years later,
chinese experts are using
science and technology to
reveal its secrets.
Sarah: Everywhere I look
I see watchtowers on the
top of the mountaintops.
Allan: Near a
remote section of the wall.
Sarah: This
view is unbelievable.
Allan: Canadian
archaeologist sarah klassen is
on her way to meet one of
the teams carrying out this
ground-breaking work.
Li zhe and professor zhang
from tianjin university are
using drone data to create
a 3d model of the entire
ming dynasty wall.
It's the most complete
scan ever attempted.
Sarah: Without this technology
doing something like this
would not be possible
just look at the landscape,
you'd have to scale up all of
those cliffs and map all of
these features it would take
decades if it would even be
possible at all.
Allan: The new scans reveal
the incredible achievements
of the ming in some of
china's most extreme terrain.
Even on completely
impassable ridges,
they still succeeded
in erecting towers.
Sarah: Can you
show me what you've done here?
Allan: And within
the scans, new discoveries.
Li zhe has spotted
mysterious openings,
along the base of the wall.
Using his data, I'm
heading 120 miles east,
to investigate.
Allan: Look at this
rugged landscape.
Check out this ridge, see the
watchtowers up on the ridge,
that's where the wall is.
The wall is snaking all the way
down to this saddle over here,
that's where I want to go
Today, the wall
here has crumbled away,
but originally it would've stood
as tall as a three-story house.
Can you imagine solid wall all
the way down from this ridge,
then all of a sudden
there's this door?
Clear through to daylight.
It's completely baffling,
why would a defensive wall
have a doorway running
right through it?
Yeah. This is a pretty
small, compact space right now
but without all this rubble
here this would have been
the size of a person,
they would have just
walked right through here.
The crazy thing is, you know,
this is not some random
hole in the wall.
This thing is
incredibly well built.
Look at all these
bricks, just a perfect,
beautifully made arch.
So this was planned
and the question is why?
Li zhe has found more
than 50 of these doors
along this
part of the wall.
And it's thought they could
be used by scouts sent out
to spy on the enemy.
But the data are
revealing something else.
The ragged edge revealed
in this scan isn't a
decayed doorway,
but the entrance to a hidden
tunnel that was once bricked up,
before being smashed open.
Sarah: This looks really cool.
Allan: This new discovery
is completely different from
any of the other openings
li zhe has found.
Potentially a way of
launching a sudden attack.
Allan: Smashing open
this thin layer of bricks,
allowed the ming
forces to ambush the enemy.
Before li zhe's discovery,
experts had no idea these
hidden tunnels even existed.
It's an incredible find.
Allan: The latest
technology is revealing that
the wall is far more
than a simple barrier.
It's a complex
military system.
The big question is, just
how far does it stretch?
Using satellite images, we can
reconstruct how the ming wall
extends far to the west.
From mountain ranges,
through wild grasslands
and into barren desert.
Right to its end, where
the ming stopped building.
Here, at the very furthest
reaches of their empire
A huge construction.
Far greater than any
of the thousands of
towers along the way.
What is it?
And what was it for?
To find out, I'm going to
follow the wall to a far-flung
corner of western china.

allan: I'm
investigating the secrets of
one of the world's
greatest ancient icons.
Using satellite data, I've
tracked the great wall all the
way from the mountains east
of beijing to the gobi desert,
a 500,000 square mile expanse
in the far north west of china.
Just over here I can
see sections of the wall.
The feat of engineering
required to build something so
far out here, in just this
barren desolate environment,
just kind of boggles the mind.
After hours following the wall,
something massive
emerges from the desert haze.
A mighty fortress.
Today, the modern city
of jiayuguan is nearby,
but 600 years ago this
fortress would have stood
alone in a
desolate wilderness.
I never imagined I'd
ever see something like this,
all the way out
here in western china.
The great wall
terminates in the mountains
just a few miles south of here.
Making this incredible structure
the wall's final gateway.
The last fortress at the
furthest edge of the ming
dynasty's vast empire.
Look at how massive this is.
This rivals any gate or
battlement anywhere in the
world at this time.
Here, you really get a
sense of the ambition,
the engineering and the
immense power of the ming.
A deep moat, walls
up to 36 feet high,
and watchtowers on
every corner form three
layers of defense.
And even if the enemy
does make it inside;
there are traps designed to
create devastating kill zones.
You walk into this
courtyard and if you're an
invading army, they
can close those doors,
close those iron doors
there and you're trapped here,
and all of a sudden they would
just start raining down
fire and arrows from above,
and your invading
force is doomed.
This is an ingenious military
strategy all set and fixed in
the design of this
incredible fortress.
It's massive, but also
meticulously built.
The precision of construction
here is amazing and,
you know, the emperor
demanded that and there's this
legend that says the architect
told the emperor,
he said I can tell you the
exact number of bricks it will
take to build this fortress.
He said it would be 99,999.
And incredibly, at the end of
construction there was just
one brick left.
And that brick is set over
there on that little ledge,
as a kind of mini monument to
the incredible precision and
design of this fortress.
Its position, right at the end
of the ming dynasty's great wall
earned it the name 'the first
and greatest pass under heaven'.
But this fortress is just one
small part of a megastructure
like nothing else on earth.
Just one end of their
great wall of china.

until we had images from
space, experts didn't know
how massive the ming dynasty's
great wall really was.
But now, chinese experts
have calculated it's
5,500 miles long.
That's over 1500 miles more
than previously thought and
long enough to stretch
from new york to los angeles,
and all the way back again.
But new technology is
also unearthing secrets,
that take us beyond the
great empire of the ming.
1200 miles away, sarah
has set up a base camp in
the shadow of the great wall.
We know the fortress of
jiayuguan marks the end of the
ming wall but the satellite
data reveals something else.
Sarah: Oh wow.
Allan: Chinese
experts have told sarah about
another section, even
further into the desert.
Sarah: If I zoom
in on the satellite imagery
I can see that this part of the
wall is much more eroded than
other parts of the wall.
So that might suggest that
it's older than the parts of
the wall built
during the ming dynasty.
Allan: This wall stretches
far beyond the ming fortress
continuing west for
hundreds of miles.
Sarah: The wall is
completely straight in the
middle of this desert.
There is absolutely
nothing else around here.
I can't imagine why they would
need to build a wall here.
Allan: So what's going on?
I'm heading west in
search of answers.
I want to know, just
how old is this wall?
Where does it go?
And if the ming didn't
build it, who did?

allan: I'm now more than
230 miles west of
the fortress of jiayuguan.
I'm here in the kumtag
desert and it's one of the
harshest environments I've
ever been in in my life.
You know, very
little grows here,
the temperatures are
literally below freezing.
It's a hell of a place to
imagine finding archaeology.
Sarah's guiding me
to faint traces of
what looks like an
even older wall,
that she's spotted on
the satellite data.
If I get up here, I think
I can get my first glimpse.
Wow, this is cool and it's
not exactly what I expected.
And it looks
kind of primitive.
I wanna see more, I
wanna get up closer.
Here in the middle of nowhere a
stretch of ancient wall.
And it looks very different
from anything I've seen so far.
This is a very distinctive
kind of material.
We have rammed
earth packed down,
with a reed foundation.
These are reeds!
This is actually, you
know, a type of thick grass,
pressed in there to
serve as a foundation to
hold the wall stable.
This framework is an
ingenious way of building
even with the desert's
loose sand and gravel.
But if the ming didn't
build this then who did?
To find out, I'm
meeting zhang junmin,
the head of a team from
the gansu institute of
relics and archaeology,
who are digging for answers.
This is so cool,
tell me what you have here.
Zhang: These are two
arrowheads we found nearby.
One is bronze and one is iron.
You can see that
it's still sharp.
Allan: I've never seen this
shape to an arrowhead before,
you know where it's basically
three sided like this.
Is that common?
Zhang: We found lots of these
along the wall in this area.
These arrowheads are very
typical of the han dynasty.
Allan: 1500
years before the ming.
Before the roman
empire formed in the west.
And cleopatra
ruled ancient egypt.
The han dynasty rose to power.
They oversaw a
golden age of art,
culture and
economic prosperity.
They're so well preserved,
I'm just amazed.
Look at that edge.
It's just incredible.
The form is just so
clear and beautiful.
These tiny arrowheads
reveal something momentous,
that the wall here is
more than 2000 years old.
It's an even earlier
great wall of china,
that once stretched
for over 6000 miles.
Much of the famous ming
dynasty wall was simply built
right on top,
1500 years later.
Battered by desert winds
for over two millennia,
what remains of this
ancient stretch of great wall,
are just fragments of what
was once a mighty barrier.
It's kind of hard just looking
at these ruined sections
of the wall to get a sense of
what it looked like originally,
so using historical sources
and archaeological evidence,
we've made this pretty
phenomenal digital
of what the wall might
have looked like.
It's just amazing, wow.
When it was first built,
the wall would have
stood up to 20 feet high.
This thing was enormous.
I can only imagine being part
of an invading nomad army and
coming up against this wall
and thinking you know maybe
it's better to just go home
because this was formidable.
Another discovery, just
unearthed from the desert
sands that suggests the
wall was about more than just
defending chinese territory.
Zhang: We found
this coin nearby.
It's a wuzhu coin
from the han dynasty.
Allan: Wow this is
amazing, you've literally
just found these.
Zhang: It may be they were
left here by merchants.
Allan: These merchants may
have been traveling along
a series of ancient trade
routes, known as the silk road.
Established by the han, the
silk road stretched from china
through central
asia and india,
to modern-day turkey,
egypt, arabia and rome.
It brought huge wealth to
china and had to be defended
at all costs.
So the great wall was not just
about protecting the empire.
It also served to protect
china's gateway to this vital
artery of global trade.
But there's something
else intriguing here.
Alongside the wall,
more ancient remains.
Rising from the desert, a
mysterious, eroded structure.
My tech team, ryan kastner
and eric lo, are joining me,
and working with experts
from peking university,
we're going to investigate.
Allan: I'm on a
quest to uncover the secrets
of the great wall of china.
And my tech team is
working with researchers,
ma li, wu yunan and
ma qinglong from
peking university
to investigate what seems
to be a mysterious tower,
built near an
ancient section of wall.
Ryan: So they're
flying the drone now,
we're going to first do sort
of a lawnmower pattern over
the top to get the aerial
view of the tower there.
Allan: The drone takes hundreds
of images of the structure,
which will combine
to make a detailed
three-dimensional model.
After that, the team will scan
a four mile section of the
wall for traces of
any more remains.
Ryan: Using a drone
to be able to fly will
save us a lot of time.
A drone can go a lot
faster than we can on foot.
Allan: Hours of flight, and
1500 individual pictures later.
Ryan: Hey guys come on in.
Allan: And I've
come to check out the results
with archaeologist and leading
han wall expert yang jun,
who'll help us
interpret our findings.
Allan: Alright guys so
show me what you got.
Ryan: Alright so, to
give you some context,
you can see the wall
from the satellite
imagery very clearly.
If you look it's a
nice linear feature here.
Allan: But switching to
the 3d elevation model,
reveals details not visible
in the satellite imagery.
Ryan: So if we look
actually in this spot here,
right where it bends there,
there seems to be a clear,
clear bump there.
That doesn't
seem to be natural.
You can see in the
elevation model,
the redder it is,
the taller it is.
And it's a five or six
meter tall mound there.
It seems to make a whole lot
of sense to us that that would
be another tower.
Allan: Yeah because it turns
at an angle and cuts back south.
Ryan: Right exactly exactly, so
that would be a natural spot
where you'd want to look
out to see on all sides
where everything was.
Allan: The structure's height
and strategic position
suggests it may have
been a watchtower.
Then ryan spots
something totally unexpected.
Ryan: You can see
a clear structure,
another tower that
was behind the wall.
Basically on top of a hill.
Allan: This is
really interesting.
Did they build
towers off the wall?
Yang: From our research
we've found most of the towers
were along the wall, but there
are a few that are outside it.
Allan: It'sbizarre,
some of these towers
are deep in enemy territory,
miles beyond the wall.
Were they really just
simple watchtowers?
Or could there be
more going on here?
600 miles away, in a vault
at the gansu jiandu museum,
are ancient relics which
could hold the answer.
Jenny: Ni hao.
Xiao: Ni hao.
Allan: Research director,
xiao congli has agreed to
show our historian,
dr chai-hui jenny liu,
these amazing finds.
Jenny: These are wooden slips,
they are about the length of
a ruler.
The wood looks well preserved.
On it you have
these writings in ink.
Very fine writing.
Allan: Buried in
the desert for 2,000 years,
these slips were unearthed in
what was once the office of
a military commander.
And they contain
instructions for soldiers
stationed at the towers.
Jenny: Ok they're
really hard to make out.
Oh, first of all on the
very top there is one dot,
and that tells you that's
the beginning of the rules.
And the first two
characters is xiongnu?
That means the huns.
Allan: The huns
were feared nomadic horseman,
who roamed the northern
grasslands 1,000 years
before the mongols.
Jenny: So the rule here is
talking about what you should
do when the huns
come into the border.
(speaking mandarin).
Jenny: So the next
characters say you must
raise a flag on the pole
(speaking mandarin).
Raising this flag, a
marker known as a peng,
could only have one purpose,
to signal other towers.
And there are even rules
for what to do at night
when flags can't be seen.
Jenny: By night start a
fire on top of tower.
(speaking mandarin).
Jenny: And do not put it
out until the morning.
All towers that see this light
should also light and it goes
all the way down the defense
line until it reaches the
commandry where
the soldiers are.
(speaking mandarin).
Allan: And the slips even
contain instructions
on how to signal how many
enemies were attacking.
Jenny: So let's say you
have more than 1,000 huns and
that's what they've sighted.
There is a very specific
signal that they must send,
so that without words the
commandry would know there are
1,000 rides coming toward us.
Allan: This tells us the towers
we've mapped in the desert,
including those deep
in enemy territory,
are not simple watchtowers,
they're beacon towers.
Part of a complex
early warning system.
Using our drone data, we can
now reconstruct a complete 3d
model of what they
may have looked like.
Built over 2000 years ago,
they were made of rammed
earth clad in plaster.
And stood up to 26 feet high,
with platforms on top where
the fires were lit.
And thanks to the incredible
insights revealed in the
wooden slips we now know
that these towers formed a
communication system,
designed to provide early
warning, of an attack,
and pass it for hundreds
of miles along the wall.
What the han created
is remarkable,
but were they the first to
build a defensive wall to
protect their empire?
To trace the wall
back to its very roots,
I need to travel even
further back in time.
To the reign of a tyrant of
unrivaled power and ambition.
The man who conceived
of another of ancient
china's greatest icons.
The terracotta warriors.
Allan: I'm in the city of xi'an.
Having travelled over 1,000
miles from the deserts of
the far north west.
This was once the
ancient capital of china.
I want to trace the
origins of the great wall,
but to do that I need to
go back in time to the
formation of china itself.
And explore the story of
china's first emperor.
I'm starting out with
his most famous creation.
The terracotta warriors.
I've been reading about
this for years and years but
this is my first time here,
and I'm telling you nothing,
nothing prepares you
for this experience.
This is literally one of the
greatest achievements in all
of ancient civilization,
anywhere in the world.
More than 6,000 figures.
Row upon row of
soldiers and commanders.
An entire army
immortalized in clay.
And all built for the
first emperor of china,
qin shi huang di.
From where I'm standing there's
no two figures that are alike.
The uniforms are different;
their facial expressions
are different, right down
to the mustaches.
This tells me about the power
that the emperor was able to
summon, in his
lifetime as a ruler.
This is extraordinary.
From space, we can see
that the huge hangar that
shelters the terracotta
army is just one tiny part
of his massive
mausoleum complex.
And at its center, is this.
Hidden within this
strange looking hill,
is the emperor's tomb.
It's never been opened.
Archaeologists don't yet know
how to excavate it without
destroying the contents.
But I'm meeting
doctor zhang weixing,
who has been using
seismic scanning technology,
to glimpse what lies beneath.
What do you know
about what's in there?
Weixing: We know there's a huge
burial chamber under the earth.
It's 160 meters by
140 meters in size,
and 30 meters deep.
And within that there's a
huge nine level platform.
Allan: Ancient
texts say the tomb contains a
replica of the cosmos
with pearls as stars,
rivers of liquid mercury,
and even deadly booby traps.
It sounds far-fetched,
but professor zhang
has found evidence
that suggests there may be
some truth to the legends.
Weixing: We found
some unusual things.
When we scanned we
detected very high levels
of mercury in the air,
so we know there is mercury
inside the huge burial chamber.
Allan: Wow, holy smokes.
These findings suggest there's
truth in the ancient texts.
And that means there may also
be truth in what they record
of another of the emperor's
construction projects.
A huge defensive wall.
The first great wall of china.
Though little remains today,
the records show it stretched
for nearly 2000 miles
across northern china.
They also reveal the human cost
of the emperor's ambition.
He forced 300,000
soldiers and half a million
laborers to work on
its construction.
And for many, it
was a death sentence.
They died of
starvation or fatigue,
or in some cases they
were flogged to death.
But it cemented emperor
qin shi huang di's place
in all of world history.
After an incredible
journey spanning
thousands of miles and
reaching far into the past,
I'm nearing the
end of my quest.
But one intriguing
mystery remains.
Did the first emperor really
conjure up the idea for a
great wall, right
out of thin air?
To find the answer, I need
to go back even further,
to a time before his
bloody rise to power,
and before the
formation of china itself.
Allan: I want to
investigate one final mystery
surrounding the
great wall of china.
Just how did the first emperor
get his idea to build a
colossal defensive wall?
That question has taken me
300 miles north of xi'an,
to the loess plateau.
I'm following satellite images
to mysterious lines of rocks
and steep earth banks the
remains of a primitive and
clearly ancient wall.
There's pieces of pottery,
scattered all over here.
All around,
clues to who built it.
I mean, this
piece is just commoner.
Commoner, like cooking jar,
and the designs on the outside
tell me this is very early.
We're talking
about pre-qin empire.
2200 years ago, at a time before
the first emperor came to power,
china was divided into
seven warring states.
To protect their territories,
each state built their own
defensive walls.
Incredibly, these are the
remains of a wall built before
the formation of china itself.
This is pretty cool.
In 221 bc, the king of
one of the warring states,
qin shi huang di, is
waging bloody war.
He crushes all other states,
unites china and declares
himself the first emperor.
With his newfound power,
he combines the warring
states existing walls,
and builds new stretches,
to create one huge
defensive shield,
over 3,000 miles long.
The first true
great wall of china.
His incredible construction
would be extended and
developed by the han dynasty.
And over 1,000 years later,
the ming dynasty would take
things even further, creating
the monument we see today.
The great wall
was not one single thing,
it was a mesh of many
walls that span a
huge periods of time.
I mean, truly china is
defined by its walls.
My investigation has taken us
right across china,
to the edge of empire.
I've tracked the great wall
back to its very roots,
more than 2,200 years ago.
And revealed how it's
not one wall but many,
that evolved over the
centuries into an
astonishing military
We always knew it
was big, but now,
using the latest satellite
imagery and cutting-edge
technology, chinese
archaeologists are revealing
that this world icon is even
greater than we ever imagined.
It's more than twice as
long as previously thought,
spanning 13,000 miles.
Long enough to stretch
half-way around the earth.
On this journey I've learned,
that the great wall was as
alive and dynamic as the
generations of
people who built it.
It's the result of struggle
and achievement spanning
more than 2000 years.
It's not just an enduring
symbol of ancient china,
it's the story
of china itself.
Captioned by cotter
captioning services.
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