Nov. 2002 - Discovery
The first section of the Great Wall of China was constructed in the central portion of the country around 688 B.C., Chinese archaeologists announced at a recent academic conference in Henan Province.
If their claim holds true, the Great Wall is over 400 years older than previously thought. Before the announcement, the first official work on the wall generally was attributed to Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.).
At the conference, Xiao Luyang, director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences, said that the earliest portion of the wall measures 497.12 miles long. It zigzags in inverted "u" shapes across the present day counties of Lushan, Yexian, Fangcheng and Nanzhao in southwest Henan.
This section of the wall is in surprisingly good shape, considering its age and the fact that it was first constructed using only local stones, with no mortar or other adhesive.
It is part of the longest structure ever built, as the Great Wall - visible from space - extends over 4,500 miles across northern and north-central China. Constructed entirely by hand, with some sections in brick as well as stone, the Great Wall winds through mountainous regions and borders some desert areas. Towers break up the wall, and were believed to have once served as lookout posts. Xiao indicated that historical records link the earliest known portion of the wall to the Chu Kingdom (1100-223 B.C.). Dong Yaohui, president of the China Great Wall Society, was quoted in China's People's Daily paper as saying, "We can even call (the Chu people) the 'father of the Great Wall.' "
Prior to their association with the wall, the Chu were mostly known for producing one of China's most famous poets, Qu Yuan. During the Chu period, China was divided up into many small kingdoms that frequently waged wars with each other for territorial rights. The political environment may have led to the construction of the wall.
"Many historians now believe that the wall, or walls, were built to mark territories, similar to the way that forts were built here in the States," said Michael Nylan, professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on early Chinese history and culture.
She explained that the wall is really more like a series of walls strung together. In addition to marking land ownership, they were used for relaying messages.
Because historical writings indicate that walls were being built early in China's history, Nylan believes it is only a matter of time before an even older section of the Great Wall is found or identified.