What were these structures?

In the Beijing area Great Wall I have found remains of what looks like a small living or storage space along the Great Wall not connected to towers or other features.

Based on design and materials I felt that they were built at the same time as the Great Wall rather than being added later.

Based on design and materials I felt that they were built at the same time as the Great Wall rather than being added later.

Sometimes there is very little space to pass by along the wall. Was this part of the design or just an incidental result?

One was on the spur wall south of Mutianyu (40°25'41.70"N 116°34'3.64"E), and one was to the east of Sancha village (40°27'40"N 116°24'43"E).

They were located close to normal towers.

The nearest towers were not unusually large or situated in an especially strategic location. The Mutianyu spur wall seems well protected by the main wall and Sancha is located in a very mountainous area, so one could say that these are relatively invulnerable locations.

Maybe they were storage for food or weapons in an area where there would have been more soldiers, or people of a much higher rank.

Smokestack ovens?

What are these? Wish I knew!

This photo will help illustrate towers and ovens.

The Great Wall in this area never had any bricks except for fortresses, which used adobe bricks.

It seems like these ovens would be for signaling except that they are lined up parallel to the wall. If they were perpendicular then I would be convinced. But since they are parallel I can't figure them out. It's as if they were intended to signal someone far away from the wall (which is pretty straight for long distances in the desert, unlike the winding paths through the mountains).

The number of ovens used corresponding with the size of the attack sounds right. And I am not convinced that they would necessarily be on top of the Wall. They would be better protected behind it where they are located.

On example of the Qin Great Wall.

Location well known ...


Just a thought: Since they are / were parallell to the wall, that means that if each of them produced a bit of smoke, then you might in fact want them parallell so that 7-8 of them together would produce a lot more clear and stronger smoke channel that could be seen from far away.

The effect of the 'ovens' (or artistic artifacts) being almost parallell to the Great Wall enhances the effect for the smoke seen from other soldiers along the Great Wall.

Impossible explanation:

- Signalling was not made by "lighting fire and produce some smoke". There had signals be coded (as far as I have read at least the amount of enemies arriving. Since this information is _absolutely_ useless when not being told where it happened there must have been coded some spatial information as well).

- As you know (having travelled along this section of Great Wall) the towers are so close to each other that every complex message would rather been transported by a horseman than by lighting a row of fires.

- I still regard it unprobable that _if_ those had been signalling devices their information traveled along the wall. The poblem I have here is that I don't see any place perpendicular to it where the information would have been read.


A possible explanation (an idea of Chen Huai): flagpole basements.

But even this does not explan the varying number of these items.


Fascinating issue...

Several thoughts come to mind after reading through the research on this thread.

Orientation of the stacks:
Maybe the direction of the stacks is NOT to warn the other towers on the wall. Could one consider the possibilities that there was a central brigade that would react to each of the signals?

Once the signal was viewed the brigade could travel to that section of the wall where the additional defense was needed. This makes sense logistically because it is easier to maintain a single brigade location instead of each of the sentry locations. The resources to maintain such a long region is immense.

Is it also possible that the Chinese Army had a form of Morse Code where a sequence of towers showing smoke would mean a specific command or status for their post.

If various colors of smoke were created the number of characters would increase the amount of commands available.

Just a theory... no way to prove its validity without documents from that time period.

Hi Professor Thump,

_every_ new and additional thought can lift us up to understanding.

From the Han Dynasty (and we can assume that these items had the same function in all Dynasties which show similar patterns (Qin, Han, Ming so far)) we know that there has been a 'morse system', indicating the attack of 100, 1000 or 10000 men. I also read that for the Ming it is assumed that the severity of the attack (or the need) was coded somehow like 'easy', 'heavy' or 'dramatical'. I do not know about historical sources concerning the Ming Great Wall.

By now I believe that we see an alert system to the closest supporting troops. But I nevertheless lack the real understanding of it yet.


It is getting more and more mysterious.
This seems to me to be a Han tower: 39°46\'33.54\"N 98°55\'54.15\"E.

It shows two (!) rows of \"ovens\", one containg 6 and one containing 5 ones.

They are sited at two sides of the tower.

If they had been in use at the same time of operation we can assume that their aim was not to produce smoke but only fire. We can assume that the wall surrounding the tower was high enough to hide the fires for one signalling direction to the other and vice versa. We also have to assume that the two rows had different signals to send to both directions, otherwise they would have been built at the towers side (E or W) and could have been seen from both sides.


Okay... So lets list what we know:

1. In almost every case the ovens are parallel to the wall.
2. In two cases this is not so. Some of the ovens run perpendicular.
3. Some are also on the tops of hills. Which would indicate signal activity.
4. In all cases they are close to a watchtower.
5. In most cases the row of ovens were pointing diagonally NE - SW. This maybe primarily due to the wall path direction being similar.

Local Resources:

Wood was not available, so they would have had to burn dung from their horses, cows or camels.

Water is a premium There would be more traffic close to rivers.

High points were critical for the towers line of sight.

Other things not considered:


Would this be a ritual of Confucious, i.e. the burning of the money? Doubtful


If you added specific elements to the fuel, could you vary the smoke stream (contrails). This would be a big communication advantage.

Edit: I also added some additions to Chinook's "What are these" This includes more areas that could be ovens or towers. (Qin?) Also a wall path is included.

Wow, what a contribution. Thx a lot.

[QUOTE=Professor Thump;8084]Okay... So list list what we know:

1. In almost every case the ovens are parallel to the wall.[/quote]

I have to object. At the moment I don't have the time to make a statistic but it is more striking that looking at all of them that they are built in the most probable direction of information flow. Prior I was not convinced those were made for signalling, after looking at such a large number of them I today am convinced.

[quote]2. In two cases this is not so. Some of the ovens run perpendicular.[/quote]

See above. It is striking that the ovens at comparable locations all run in the same direction. Perpendicular for example at a large number in Ningxia/Sanguankou.

[quote]3. Some are also on the tops of hills. Which would indicate signal activity.[/quote]
I agree. About all of them are at places of high visibility to either neibouring towers or to a direction support could be assumed.
[quote]4. In all cases they are close to a watchtower.[/quote]
All found so far. They seem to be an integral part of the tower architecture of towers, all of the same kind. Through all dynasties like Ming, Han, Qin. It is striking that "ovens" occur very often to towers neigbouring "oven"-kind towers.
[quote]5. In most cases the row of ovens were pointing diagonally NE - SW. This maybe primarily due to the wall path direction being similar.[/quote] I will make a short statistics tomorrow.

Local Resources:

Wood was not available, so they would have had to burn dung from their horses, cows or camels.

Whether wood was not available is absolute unclear. Clear is that climate and vegetation have changed significantly between Qin/Han times to the end of Ming reign/today. For producing smoke in the eastern sections wolf dung was used. I never heard of the use of cattle droppings.

Water is a premium There would be more traffic close to rivers.
I do not get this point. Do you see more "ovens" close to rivers? Keep in mind that the water abundance has changed dramatically in the last centuries along the Great Wall.

[quote]High points were critical for the towers line of sight.

Other things not considered:


Would this be a ritual of Confucious, i.e. the burning of the money? Doubtful
[/quote] We can object this. The towers do not show any kind of such a thing and they served in such vital functions that we don't have to assume that. Confucianism was also no part of the Qin world.


If you added specific elements to the fuel, could you vary the smoke stream (contrails). This would be a big communication advantage.
[/quote] As stated earlier we can object the "ovens" where used to produce smoke. They are so close to each other in most cases that there was no visible spacial resolution for someone a kilometer away. Smoke also is to wind sensitive. By today I am sure the only use of the "ovens" was during nights and they had been used for signalling fires, not smoke. In daytimes the communication was done by either a single smoke producing fire or by flags.

[quote]Edit: I also added some additions to Chinook's "What are these" This includes more areas that could be ovens or towers. (Qin?) Also a wall path is included.[/QUOTE]

The points you call "These" are holes in the ground and not little towers. I know that because I walked by ;-). This area is Ming-only, there is no Qin wall in the west of Gansu and never had been.
The path you show is well detected and will be contained in our upcoming Ming file. Thx for that, the HR image was added recently.


To give new fuel to the discussion:

There are towers with "ovens" which show to a direction where nothing is. And nothing (very probably never had been). How does this fit in the current understanding as a signalling device?


3737°38'42.92"N 106°30'43.65"E (to the northeast)
37°38'4.75"N 106°31'40.36"E (to the southwest)
39°53'33.89"N 98°53'20.82"E (to the east)

Any ideas?


Many "ovens", maybe 10, meaning that different signals in two directions could have been sent at once.

37°38'52.33"N 106°0'4.86"E


As if I was not puzzled enough. Some towers show a very long line of up to ten "ovens", some towers have two rows which could have served for the communication in two directions. These have two rows, but parallel! Please help!

38°12'9.74"N 105°46'32.88"E

38°11'5.36"N 105°46'20.59"E


I wish I could help but it's absolutely perplexing.

how about? the chinese did invent gun powder. and these might be just huge "cones" like we burn on the 4th of july. different chemicals will emit different colored flames, and from the size of those it would be visible for many miles.

This one might help to solve the problem:
39°46'53.41"N 98°12'38.64"E

The ovens are parallel to the Wall. We can easily see that there was _no_ signalling prependicular to the ovens orientation since the terrain is rising about 10 m to the east, making the row of ovens invisible from a far distance. This is an argument for those who assume the ovens provided smoke signals rather than direct fire signals.

I am unhappy to understand this and I regard it disappointing since all I believed to be understood so far is obsolete.


I have seen these referred to as "furnace mound" in a few places on the Internet...

Furnace to my understanding is something hollow, which these "ovens" obviously are not. Did any place tell something about a probable usage of these?

This text seems to have spread around the Web, as often happens, and so it's hard to tell its original source.

I agree, the original source might be hard to find. But many of the statements on this site can be checked. It is a good starting point, we will see how much will survive.

[QUOTE=Kim;8959]Tower with remains of small (signal) towers on each side:


Nice photo!

This evening I had a nice meeting with some guys from and asked them about these.

It seems they are called Horse Face (mamian 马面).

Some of them might be older than Ming (Han) although they are located at Ming wall/tower.

Depending on how many fires the smoke/flame from each horse face would be used to signal the size of the enemy army.

This information rises more questions than answers:

Mamian is a well known term for protuding short walls to protect the main wall. Is there two times the same word in use?
Han items at Ming walls? Maybe in rare cases. Most times they did not use the same locations for building walls/towers and all that. We also know these things from Qin towers!
Why are there some installation with five (by far the most) but others up to 12 ovens (in one line)?
Was there ever a complete analysis of them?


Sorry, I'm just the messenger

You think these were for old weapons like bow and arrow, or for modern use with rifles?

Is it just me, or does it seem like the lines should be at the same height at the inside (shooter's position) and different heights towards the outside? When you move a weapon up and down to aim higher and lower, that's the kind of arc you would naturally make. To align with these lines, wouldn't the shooter have to move their body higher and lower? :thinking:

I notice each line bisects a hole that appears to have been filled in. Would those holes have been some kind of mounting location for the weapon?

Ok, this is a long question, all dealt in this thread and a file wich grows by every new found tower of this type.
We initially were absoult unclear what aim these little towers/ovens/whatever had.
We came to the conclusion that they must by signalling devices. The discussion showed that signalling in the direction of the line of these items is improbable (the eye of the observer can not resolve the different fires/smoke signals). So we have to assume the signalling direction is prependicular to the line/row.
We found convincing pairs of towers and signalling directions for Qin, Han and Ming towers. But here (my last post) we have nearby towers with perpendicular "signalling direction" and the first Ming tower should be signalling to the south. But there is higher elevated terrain close to it. Fires should not be visible from a distance, smoke is not that much probable (a lot of wind in these deserts).



Yes, clear, I am already aware of this discussion about lines of beacons but I did not notice them in your newly given coordinates so I thought it was something about these towers, not the beacon-lines.

We have to think of COLOURED SMOKE SIGNALS

I remember the discussion between our GWF members was about smoke or fire beacons (signalling), or production of bricks to build the wall (clay-ovens)

We agreed on beacons, right?

I understand very well a line of fires or smoke-signals only works if you can see them from a specific angle: perpendicular will be the best, in line with the beacons will be the worst.

The system will be then:

beacon line in line with the Great Wall will be to communicate with troops behind the wall, in the hinterland, like fortresses, camps, watchtowers.

beacon line perpendicular with the Great Wall will be to communicate with troops further on at the same wall.

The idea was, if I remember well, 1 smoke column for 100 approaching Hsiung Nu/Mongol horsemen, 2 smoke columns for 200, 3 for 500 and 4 for 1000 and 5 for 10.000 horsemen approaching to warn the garrison troops somewhere behind or along the Great Wall. I don\'t know the exact numbers given. Something like this? Is that right?\r\n\r\nIf all smoke columns have the same colour, it will be impossible to count them if the watcher/receiver of the signal stands far away in line with the signals\r\nBut if the columns have different colours (my Osprey book on Ming armies mentions this) it will be possible to see different collumns, even when watching them from a bad angle, since no smokecolumn goes all the way straight up in the air.\r\nThink of white, grey, black, brown or reddish smoke.\r\nIt is known the Qin and Han used wolve-shit to produce a dark colour.\r\nSo this is a possibility of different colours of smoke going up in the air together.\r\n\r\nAnother possibility is every beacon has its own colour: one for white smoke, one for black etc...\r\nSo in this case not the number of smokecolumns but only the colour makes the difference between the different signals.\r\nThat means it does not matter at all which way the beacons are lined in because only one of them has to burn at the time.\r\n\r\nAlso wind should not be a big problem as long as different colours of smoke are used, even not when a higher ground is taking the direct sight at the beacon away.

Found this on the interent, I made some words of interest larger
There seems to be many many possibilities for signalling and I see no reason why all the sources mentioning colored smoke should be served off.:tsktsk:

Signal towers, also known as beacons, beacon terraces, [COLOR="Black]smoke mounds [/COLOR](because of the various substances, including wolf dung, that were burnt), mounds, or kiosks. Communication between the army units along the length of the Great Wall was of prime importance. Not only was it necessary to be able to summon reinforcements in the event of an attack but it was necessary to be able to warn other garrisons of the movements of enemy forces. Making full advantage of hill tops and other high points along the wall for their location Beacon towers were built.

These would vary from being complex structures of more than one storey in height to simple beacons. During daylight hours smoke signals were widely used and to create varying colors and density of smoke many different materials were used. Possibly one of the most bizarre of these was wolf dung! At night lanterns and beacon fires were used. Other means of signaling included the use of flags, clappers, drums and bells. The invention of gunpowder also proved to be an asset to the signal system as the firing of cannon made a sound that could carry over long distances. Codes were devised that included a combination of cannon fire and smoke signals as well as other devices. For example, during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) a single column of smoke plus a single gun shot would indicate the approach of a hundred enemy soldiers. Multiple columns of smoke combined with an appropriate number of gun shots would give an indication of the size of the invading army.

From another internet source, just to give some detailed information of interest:

'They used a mixture of wolf dung, saltpeter and sulfur to create dense smoke that's easily seen from a distance. By passing the message from tower to tower, they were able to relay a communiqu

Another source mentions different colors of fire in stead of different colors of smoke:

Ming dynasty: Fire signals made use of color by addition of such fuels as sulphur or salpeter. Signal derricks (an old form of semaphore) could raise fire baskets covered in different colors of silk or cloth.

source: Chapter 'Great Wall of China' from the book 'Military Communications'

I still don't believe in different colours. I heard of signal flags, maybe this is a misinterpretation of ancient drawings showing flags (banners!). I just don't believe in complex signalling.

Information about how much soldiers attacked would be absolutely useless when travelled more than let's say 10-20 km. What use could anyone in the hinterland (German word!) make of the information "5000 soldiers attacking a tower in the west"? Absolutely nothing. Without spatial resolution this information was useless. I only believe in local signalling (from tower to tower, from tower to relais tower, from relais tower to fortress, from tower to garrison town. I believe in a row of signals only perpendicular to the wall (to alarm the next biggest camp of soldiers). The amount of soldiers needed was important but should not be overestimated.

Wolf dung is known to have been the most frequent used smoke producing material, there is a word in Chinese containing "wolf dung" for beacon towers. Will look it up later. I believe in prepared wolf dong (sulfur, ...) and I also believe in acoustic signalling. About everything else is only speculative. Unless there is some written document from Ming times (and I never have heard about this) I don't believe in about anything.


why would they not use different colors of fire? it is easy to make a green or white flame using different materials; using gunpowder the flame would go quite high. at night, this would be an excellent method of signalling, coupled w/ cannon shot(s) to alert drowsy watchmen, a large flame could been seen for many li. reproducing that color flame would allow for quick long distance communication; dumping gunpowder on hot coals would produce an almost immediate flare up, i think it is very possible they would have done this.

Everything we no so far is that they used wolf dong. I can believe in different fire colors but I do not believe in simultaneous use of them. In my opinion the transported information was only very restricted, like "enemy approaching" or " more enemy approaching".


I imagine it would just be confusing if they tried to have several different colors at once. i hope that somewhere information on this still exists. where is qi jiguang when you need him?

Taken in Ningxia, I think it is Ming Tower above the mountain in front of the Ming Wall.

I count 10 of these things. Are they graves or what?

Might these ovens have been used to produce warmth for people stationed in the tower? :thinking: It doesn't make sense, though, why there would be as many as 8 of them lined up ... it's an interesting question!

Never ever. The ones I have walked along (Jiayuguan) are more as high as a person and somewhat closed. I thought of ovens for pottery, but why aligned and why should all tower inhabitants of Jiayuguan do pottery in their spare time ...

Horizontal lines

I noticed these prominent horizontal lines at the eastern side of the Lianhuachi Great Wall. I can only assume that the wall was originally built to the height of the line and then later the height of the wall was increased to its present height, leaving the line showing the obvious, earlier position of the top of the wall.

While following Robert's track I found this one: 37°17'14.69"N 104° 0'20.40"E



This must be one of the wackiest threads on the forum...

While walking the 'desert stretch' to San Guan Kou, I came across this disused bunker. See decorative figures to the right? They reminded me about the discussion going on here. Perhaps this was a way for the guards that didn't get in to art college to express themselves?

Just a thought that crossed my mind when I saw the site on the picture :cool1:

This must be one of the wackiest threads on the forum...

The race goes on. 40°9'31.11"N 113°15'6.78"E

If signalling direction is perpendicular to the "ovens" row it means they informed Datong. Seems logical to me.


Here we see a row of "oven"-like structures. I assume we see the (very detoriated) remnant of the according tower here: 37°55'8.87"N 102°27'38.10"E


I have seen these referred to as "furnace mound" in a few places on the Internet...

Furnace to my understanding is something hollow, which these "ovens" obviously are not. Did any place tell something about a probable usage of these?

The next one: 39° 8'39.24"N 106°34'17.15"E

4? 5? ovens, signalling direction SSW?


Architecture of Great Wall of China just says:

furnace mound (for making smoke as signal in case of invasion)

This text seems to have spread around the Web, as often happens, and so it's hard to tell its original source.

I agree, the original source might be hard to find. But many of the statements on this site can be checked. It is a good starting point, we will see how much will survive.


Around here: 37°36'42.96"N 106°32'23.07"E

Probably a Han tower (found by Lodewijk): 39°13'48.86"N 100°19'9.37"E

To where did this line communicate? I have no idea: 38°17'8.47"N 102°18'54.89"E

Same here: 38°15'16.06"N 102°27'4.25"E to make it all worse a line perpendicular to the two previous ones: 38°14'59.37"N 102°29'2.50"E


Maybe a (very old) tower of this kind in Xinjiang: 43°47'41.95"N 90°27'13.10"E


Taken in Ningxia, I think it is Ming Tower above the mountain in front of the Ming Wall.

Very, very probably a Qin tower.


Big oven company small ovens

Here are few old photos about small towers riddle were posted in Chinese Great Wall forum, Only one person had said it just like a milestone (setup per 5km distance ) and function as rest station. Please just enjoying take a look ,and not to expect me to discuss it on Chinese Great Wall forum further more.:D

Hi andarchen,

thx a lot for your energy to help us. The photographs are marvellous.
But there arise more questions than answers.

- A rest station? I don't believe this. And the 5km distance is not evident. We do not see that on GE. There are regions where about every tower shows these ovens, there are hundred of km where no such oven shows up.
What reason should a rest station have for such ovens? I do not understand that.

The photographs are very interesting, they show kinds of towers I have never seen before. I am absolutely puzzled about their location.


Let we figure out the answer by using huge google search machine, I believe answer will come out someday anyway.

Thanks for posting those photos. They are fascinating!

Ningxia riddle

Ningxia is _very_ well protected by Great Wall. As you can see on our map (and on about every Great Wall map at all) the Ningixa Wall forms "shoulders", from the west it guards over the Yellow River, building an absolutely safe border. It is hard to imagine that attackers could both cross the river sucessfully and surmount the wall. On the east shoulder we find about the highest walls and with very high towers every 300m, the wall being a double wall here.

The western flank of north Ninxia is well protected by the Helan Mountains, which are apparently impassable for an attacker, especially on horsebacks. The rare passes through the mountains are guarded by (very short) effective Wall sections. Member Kim has visisted one of them and as we can see this are no real dangers to the safeness of Ningxia.

What is the riddle? The north of Ningxia is right on a "highway" from Mongolia, an attacker just has to follow the Yellow River, even on both sides. So far we did not find any protective installation. The very narrow north, where the Helan Mountains meet the River there are some indications of Walls (can be seen on our map), but nothing compared to the rest of the Ningxia walls (wich are about the highest and best preserved walls of the entire Great Wall). It is absolutely unthinkable that there had not been anything. Where have the forts/fortresses been? Wich was the main defense line (or were there many)? Yinchuan itself had been one of the "Nine border garrisons of the Ming".

We have found Great Wall maps which show these lines but we could not identify them on GE. Some maps (even in good books!) show wall on the Helan Mountain ridge what I personally don't believe.

The fortification of the Ordos had been built with such a high effort, nothing compared to that in the north of Ningxia.

Furthermore Ningxia has been a major invasion point where 1226/1267 AD the Mongols invaded and eradicated the Xixia empire (and killed about all of the Ningxia inhabitants). From there they conquered whole China and established the Yuan Dynasty. The strategic importance of Ningxia is evident. The impact of the Mongol invasion was the reason the Ming guys built walls with such a high effort we today see in the best preserved, highest and strongest walls (the Beijing walls!).

Even on the east bank of the Yellow River we did not find any fortification at all. Where did it go? We see walls at the Yellow River bank in areas which are about impossible to reach by horsemen and we do not see _anything_ here, were the Yellow River bank is absolutely flat and easy accessible from the Ordos.

Our map there still contains many wrong or even unclear findings, only some beacon towers will prove to be "real" findings. The walls found by us are either something else than Great Wall or at least absolutely insufficient for the protection of this important weak point.

It is possible that there is information in local museums, it is _very_ probable that in Ningxia there are people who know the solution of this issue.

I myself have spent nights by searching for the defense lines on GE. In such intensively used farmland it is very hard for a wall to survive but there _must_ be still some indications left. We hope you can help us to find them.


Since we got so much understanding by posting the "Ningxia Riddle", which turned to the "Ningxia Problem" i hope our collaboration can help in this.

There is a clear line of Ming Great Wall shown to Lanzhou in many maps (even in the better ones). Up to now I did not get something like a clue where it was, where to look for. The GE material is very poor around Lanzhou, maybe we can learn more from ancient sources. Is there any knowledge here around? What about Great Wall in the Xining area, it should be related. Probably not Ming, but Qin? Any hints?


First I want to say how totally impressed I am by all the work that has been put down in this forum. I have been studying maps for quite some time now, and the more I go in to different areas of the Great Wall, and all the information you have about them, the more impressed I get!

So - a big :bow: to you all :-)

As some of you know, I am about to set of on a one year walk 'along' the wall. The more I have looked at the route, the more I have seen that walking the 'entire' length of the wall might not be done as long as long as I live since some areas are unpassable, and some places one does not know where the wall once went.

With great help from Bryan, Chinook and Kim, I have compiled a version of my 'Planned route'. But since things change so quickly, I have changed the name to 'Tentative route' which I feel leaves me more free to diverge from it either because things become too dangerous, or because you guys in this forum find new interesting parts of the wall. (I will be gone a whole year hopefully)

So here follows the Tentative route for my walk. I will be posting it on the website in about one week, but if any of you see some major flaws, I would be grateful to hear about them. The route has a few comments on them with reference to earlier feedback from forum members.

Here are a few comments on the route and some choices made.

1) This is not necessarily a map of the Great Wall, but the best way of walking along the wall. At unpassable places, the Tentative route shows where I intend to walk - not the wall.

2) The route North of Beijing is not finalized.

With reference to Marks walk
3) 9 -> 18 April - I have tried to refine the route to follow RMM and Mapsource Great Wall.

4) 2 September -> 15 September - This section seems to be a bit of a mystery.

5) 20 September -> 7 October - Have changed original route to follow both Mapsource and RMM Great Wall routes which follows the Mongolian border line

Many thanks to Bryan, Chinook and Kim for aiding this process!! (And the detective behind the Ningxia riddle.

It's 1:44 AM here now, so time for bed...

Looking again and again for Qin Great Wall (triggered by the map Kim has shown in the "Ningxia Riddle" thread) I am prett sure that the wallish structure I found about a year ago (35

Welcome from me too.
It is nice to see your are enthusiastic about the Great Wall. I have deep hope you can help us to solve the "Ningxia Riddle", we definitely need that for the understanding of the whole Ming Great Wall. Feel free to ask if you don't understand the meaning of it.


My main areas of work are Beijing and Tianjin. But I frequently head out towards Jilin and Yinchuan.

We have a lot of open questions with the Ningixa Great Wall! From Yinchuan you could do great work for us, help us to improve the Great Wall map and to solve the "Ningxia Riddle"! There are many questions only can be answered locally.
Ningxia is known as the Great Wall museum, so a lot of Great Wall fun is waiting there for you!
My hopes rise.


Heartfelt Thanks

Hi you guys.

I am truly overcome with the kind way you have welcomed me into the Forum :surprise:.

Very flattered and greatful for your confidence in me, I know that while I am here, I will endeavour to help you extend your knowledge of the Great Wall.

Yes Chinook, I do need an explanation as to the "Ningxia Riddle", :confused1:, If you can give me the background and requirements, I can see what I can do for you, when I am in Yinchuan next.

Kind regards


Hi Chinook.

Thanks for the detailed information re the missing sections of the Great Wall.

Now I may be repeating something you have already considered - here goes.

I have been looking carefully at the path of the Yellow River and come to the following thoughts.

The plain over which the river flows over is relatively flat - looking at the contours and elevation detail on GE.

There are numerous shadows of past lakes, old river beds and sedimentation deposits all along the banks of the river. Again these shadows can be clearly seen on GE.

The floodplain in some places is as much as 10 to 15km wide.

I have also looked at some of the many photographs of the area, which show how flat and wide the river plain is.

Now I have come to the conclusion, that we need to look at the ancient path of the Yellow river, through the centuries. The river is well known throughout history for changing its course and is responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people who live on it's banks.

This is partly due to the vast amount of sediment it washes down from the surrounding area (hence the name Yellow river).

It is within the bounds of possibility that

a - the original mud, hard packed and adobe walls have been completely eroded away by the rivers natural flooding and course changes.

b - the path of the river has altered so much that the supposition that the wall was used in conjunction with the river as a defence line, is true, but the actual wall remains are now far away from the original course of the river as it is now.

Surely, when the rebuilding of the wall was done during the Ming era, the importance of the gate to and through Ningxia, would have been included in the defence plans.

Obviously when I get up into the area, I can see the river course changes at first hand. But maybe just a thought to consider.

I have looked at the main Great Wall files and am very impressed at the sheer volume of work and attention to detail (it could also be described as

For a long time I have been thinking about how a river could be an effective barrier, if not defended by an army. It is known that for long distances the defense system we call the Great Wall relied on the Yellow river as a sufficient barrier.

Here is the way i develop my Great Wall&fortresses map in Chinese:

Base the Great Wall path you three guys made, i verify it by means of reading the book in 1987 named "On-site investigating report of Ming Great Wall", and using BaiDu electronic map to find all locations book mentioned. You might use same way with your Chinese partner help to solving Ningxia riddle.

I would like to join solving Ningxia riddle as long as it does not affect the developing progress of my Great Wall map in Chinese.

Book link:

Baidu map link:

On-site investigating report of Ming Great Wall

Thank you for the book information and link. It sounds very interesting! Does the book contain maps and/or GPS coordinates?

Does it have any relation to this book?

How about our friends at the Chinese Great Wall forum, maybe they have some detailed information regarding the Ningxia area?

Here follow some findings from the walk I did a few days ago along what the Forum has found of Great Wall in Northern Ningxia.

I came walking from the South, and was a bit too far East compaired to the most Western point of the suspected Great Wall. The reason for this was that I followed a few, but very long, irrigation channels when walking Northwards. This made for easier walking with a little softer surface, no cars and lorries and shade now and again.

I hit the suspected Great Wall at 38 59 834/106 25 971, and followed the line Northeastwards. I was dissapointed in the beginning as I saw no signs of the Great Wall. The area was agricultural, and some spots seemed to have been converted to agriculture fairly newly. I walked past several suspected beacon towers, without seeing any positive signs that they were there. When I got to the outskirts of a very small village at 39 00 852/106 24 760 I suddenly saw a great Great Wall just behind some buildings. It was at least five metres high.

Asking the inhabitants of the houses, they confirmed that it was the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. They told me it continued for a while to the NW.

I had to backtrack a little as there was a small water channel so that I thought I couldn't follow the Great Wall closely going NW. It continued to 39 01 093/106 24 544 only torn down because of a pump station for pumping water to an elevated irrigation channel going to the NE.

The wall was well preserved. At the end point, I got to a river bed that was about a hundred metres wide. On the other side, there was an orchard with low and dense trees growing. I saw no sign og the Great Wall continuing there. And to be honest I was pretty exhausted as it was getting very hot. I backtracked through the very small village to get som more water.

When I got to the outskirts of the small village again, I followed a path slightly further S. (About 50 to 100 metres) The reason for this was that I had noticed a slight mismatch between the beacon tower points I had noted on the GPS, and the actual findings.

Walking SE I now had a road and irrigation channel to the left (North), and the rail road to the right. I found now positive signs of beacon towers here, and suspect they may have been torn down when the fields were prepared. I saw some markings in the ground that could have looked like remains of a fortress, but on closer inspection they were provasoric irrigation channels.

Then i got to the next small village, and asked for the Mind Dynasty Great Wall. The guy I asked nodded, and pointed me on the way I was walking. On the other side of this second small village, there was more evidence of the Great Wall, but not as well preserved as the first place. From 38 59 710/106 26 198 there was Great Wall heading ESE as projected by the forum. After leaving the second small village it became more prominent in the landscape. I walked into desert with a lot of scrubs growing on the ground, and also on the Great Wall camouflaging it. The beacon towers where exactly where they were projected. Nice work guys!! ;-)

The only problem with the walking was that there were irrigation channels that were just a bit too wide to cross. So I had to make some detours. A lot of the time I was walking on the Great Wall which was fun. I followed the Great Wall till 38 58 984/106 28 275 and then had to detour to walk over a bridge that I thought went over a river. Later I saw it only crossed the railway line, so there was not real need to take the bridge. When I got to 38 58 661 / 106 29 354 I called it a day, and marked the end point of the day. I will return tomorrow, and follow it the last 3 km before heading Southwards.

Thank you very much for the information guys! I will make some pictures now, and send them with this post. Sorry for the delayed report (Andreas ;-)

Picture comments

China_02682_100809.jpg - First sighting of the Great Wall at 39 00 852/106 24 760

Pics from hereon are going to the NW.

China_02683_100809.jpg - A little further to the NW of the previous picture taken from the South

China_02684_100809.jpg - And a little further

China_02686_100809.jpg - These dogs where sleeping a second before. The one to the left was trying to attack big time...

China_02688_100809.jpg - Had to walk on the Northern side because of the dogs. From this side the Great Wall was 2 metres higher, and I estimate 6-8 metres at places. You can see my walking stick in the foreground.

China_02690_100809.jpg - Beacon tower

China_02692_100809.jpg - Can just make our a 30 cm high line that followed the line of the Great Wall

Pics from hereon are to the SE of the first picture

China_02695_100809.jpg - A dirt road and slightly elevated irrigation channel to the left (North) At first I thought the Southern bank of the irrigation channel could have been the Great Wall, but found no sound evidence of this. And it didn't line up well enough with the Great Wall I had spotted either.

China_02697_100809.jpg - This might have been a beacon tower, but it didn't look too convincing. I think unfortunately that they are gone in this area.



China_02707_100809.jpg - The Great Wall left the populated area. Scrubs and irrigation channels.

China_02708_100809.jpg - Probably a beacon tower

China_02710_100809.jpg - Soft earth at the sides, and just that little bit too wide...

China_02712_100809.jpg - Another Beacon tower along the Great Wall


Hi Robert,

1. Thx for the photos and the report, I will comment later.

2. What an ugly format do your coordinates have? "38 59 834/106 25 971"? Could you tell us the format and how to convert?

Or convert it yourself for us?

3. You followed to the "Northeast". From the point I assume you hit the wall it should either run southeast or northwest. Please clarify.


Re: Ningxia riddle

I think 38 59 834/106 25 971 is 38°59.834'N, 106°25.971'E. It is hard to type in those degree signs with a keyboard.

Excellent field work Robert!

It's great to get some of our map work confirmed by visits and of cause see some rare photos from this spot :applause:

I still hope to visit Ningxia next month and hopefully go to this location also.

Thanks for sharing!

And thanks for the feedback. This is just a small thanks for all the work that you have put in to this forum!!

I'm off again tomorrow, so some quick replies:

The ugly format is from my GPS the last three digits are' as lsanderson points out. I wrote fairly quickly, so didn't have the time to put all the have the time to put all the °\'s and \'\'s in :-)

And I'll change the format now... nNortheast should be Northwest as you point out chinoook. (Made the mistake several places, and thought I\'d sorted them all out)

Hey Kim - you\'ve chosen a very sensible time to visit the region... ;-)

I'm getting really tired of the intense heat now, but looks like things are about to cool down for good, so that's a relief. Enjoy your trip!! I hope you get to see al the parts that you hope to see!!

Thanks Bryan

Thx again, Robert, for the photos and the additional insight.

I started this thread and called it "Ningxia riddle" because I was absolutely puzzeled by the lack of information and understanding. Once again: The area northwest of the Yellow River in North Ningxia is highly exposed to attacks (which had been there!) and not easy to protect. The information we had at that time was absolutely insufficiant and not satisfactory.

Due to our mutual work (Roberts visit there and photos, andarchens text research, map work of Kim and others) we can now regard the "riddle" solved:

1) The Helan Shan is the barrier to the west. There has never been a wall along it's ridge (as sometimes shown even in good books). The mountain itself is a barrier which is about unpassable. Those who have seen it will agree.

At some selected places there are some small valleys wich have been protected by Wall-and-Tower installations which would at least control whether someone had scaled the mountain and finally came down. These installations don't show too much concern about these possible leaks.

In the southwest (Sanguankou) we see about the highest and strongest walls of all.

2) There had been an additional wall parallel to the Helan Shan in the northwestern "inner" section. I assume mainly to add control rather than a really needed barrier.

3) The most crucial point, the "open North" has been protected by a single wall which Robert recently visited. This wall has been one of the strongest Walls (as I read from Roberts photos; I hope Robert will comment), pretty much protected by a high number of beacon towers and several fortresses inside. This protection is in the same order of strength than comparable walls around (Ordos section, Zhongwei, ...). The comparatively short wall together with a high number of soldiers and a good alert system probably was one of the strongest barriers along the Great Wall.

I often asked myself why there was no double wall (as in the close Xiaolongtou section) with much more prominent towers (as there). But the stated can be the answer. A single strong wall with lots of guarding soldiers (unlike at the desert section around Xiaolongtou!) was even stronger!

4) The eastern Ningxia barrier was the Yellow River. Undoubtedly aligned by a wall which we can not find any more. This problem kept me busy for a long time. I have spent nights to find beacon towers or anything else along the Yellow River but could not find anything. I simply could not accept that there was no protection here. As I recently learned the Yellow River has changed its course significantly in the last centuries due to the lift of the Qinghai Plateau. The river is told to have moved by 2km to the east in the last century. Extrapolating this and looking at the map I understand that the river was close to Yinchuan in historical (Ming) times. We would have to look for Great Wall items around there. It is more than probable that there was wall on the western bank (think of winters and the ease for an enemy to cross the river then) and that it has been destroyed due to intense farming work in these areas. Maybe these are remnants of the western bank protection:

38°10'37.48"N 105°59'42.35"E

38°8'37.58"N 105°58'30.72"E

5) Everything on the east bank has been washed away by the moving YR except one tower on higher elevation:

39°9'46.37"N 106°52'0.84"E

I consider the "Ningxia riddle" which had cost me so many sleepless nights solved. Thx a lot guys!


Do we still have any unsolved questions in Ningxia? My contact in Ningxia has confirmed that his factory will most likely have time for my visit in September - final confirmation will be in the beginning of September.

I guess the northern area in Ningxia still need some attention?

How about the paths in this area 39°4'45.13"N 106°33'29.68"E ?

Well, the major question "How did the Ming defend North Ningxia and why can't we find evidence for strong fortifications" has been solved. I agree with you that there are some interesting questions left, not only in the north.

I assume you mean the path here: 39°5'46.20"N 106°30'46.09"E.


I would also go here: 39°12'2.76"N 106°39'1.63"E, this could be the second Ming defense line. Why are there no towers?

I will try to go there if possible.

Was this a third defense line: 39°21'35.96"N 106°40'53.31"E? Is it maybe Qin or even nothing? Are there real towers?

I will keep that place in mind.

38°10'33.67"N 105°43'3.48"E: I am pretty pretty sure this is Qin Great Wall. This need to be confirmed.

Looks like a difficult place to reach, so might not be this time.

38°16'31.29"N 105°56'12.48"E: This is at least possible Qin Great Wall (I former assumed it is Han but there is no Han wall supposed to be around (Qin wall is!).

I will keep that one in mind also.

Not at all. There is a large windfarm there, a road to there I have already used and is in pretty good shape.

38°10'10.39"N 105°45'56.48"E

Then you had a walk of about 3km in the plain.

I did notice that, but with my Hebei experience I have learned to respect/fear those kinds of roads - or at least my car has. Maybe the quality of this kind of roads is better in Ningxia.

Especially here it is _very_ good. The transported all the wind turbines have been brought there, there are many cars going there and away every day. You can even buy things there (Robert did) or have a meal in the cantine (I did) ;-).

So absolutely no excuses not to explore the Qin Great Wall!


That sound very tempting then :wink:

I just got the plane tickets today, so I will be going to Ningxia on September 10 and return September 13. That gives me at least one weekend to look for Great Wall :w00t:

I found this Ningxia map i a book about the history of Ningxia:

I've don't remember seeing other maps with Ming wall in this area: 37

This is marvellous work, Kim! The paths are very correct, obviously the Qin wall at Guyang.

I have seen maps with wall at the shown location and read about it but was always sceptical. But now I start to believe and wait for HR imagery.


I only managed to find a few books in Ningxia with only a few pages describing the Ningxia Great Wall. When my wife has time I will ask her to try to find some information in the books. The book with the map was almost 500 RMB and only contained a few Great Wall related pages, so I just grabbed my camera to take a picture of the map.

Anyhow it is of incredible value since it shows us a Wall where we did not expect one.


Well done! :applause:

[QUOTE=chinoook;6566]Anyhow it is of incredible value since it shows us a Wall where we did not expect one.


btw, two model landscapes in the Yinchuan Museum also showed a wall here.

I know this is not the right place for map submissions, but since we are discussing the Ningxia riddle here, I choose to put it here.

What do you think about this one:

I forgot a pin for the tower here: 37

I think you found it (I did not when looking there :().

It is hard to imagine that there was no defense to the west and no continuation at least to the mountain in the west.

And yes, it is not the right submission location here. The "Ningxia riddle" was the question how did the Ming defend to the north, not where the is any Wall in Ningxia.


Well, this section was already discussed a bit in this thread, and the findings seems to end that discussion: yes, there is wall in that location!

The Hole Riddle

I just published my Kelan Great Wall review. I posted a gallery there named "Regular Pattern of Holes". I have never seen such a regularity and don't understand at all what they have been made for. Do you guys have any idea?

To me this is no question at all.
These holes are visible in so many Dutch castles and city walls, as well as German and other european ones.

The purpose and meaning of the hole is to attach wooden constructions for repairing the wall after time or war has damaged it.

The holes are meant for putting poles or beams in - horizontally - and they can be studded with vertical poles. Different rows of holes are for attaching different lines of poles, to provide wooden walkways on different levels for craftsmen and masons to repair the walls.

The reason these holes are permanent in the walls are to provide a wooden construction as soon as possible, like in times of war, when there is no time to loose building a wooden construction for repairing the wall before another enemy attack will follow.

In this city wall of Elburg you can see lots and lots of small square holes for attaching temporary wooden constructions - for repair.
These holes are much smaller and look very different from the artillery- and musket loopholes which are also visible in this wall.

The holes are present and visible in the backside of the city wall too.
Some pierce the walls from back to front, a horizontal pole does not have to be studded by a vertical one.

The holes in the tower are less deep. Probably they are filled in/up to provide (modern) inhabitants more warmth.

Re: The Hole Riddle

Thanks for your reply.

My impression when out there was the same. But it is difficult to explain. The lower row is at about only 50cm height, the higher one at 1,5m. The whole wall was not higher than 3,50m on the inner side (i.e. without crenelation).
I did not have the impression that an outer walkway was necessary. And if, more important on the outer side. There you don't have these holes at the Kelan Great Wall.
A damage to the wall as a result of fights is also _very_ improbable. Unlike with European fortresses there was no heavy infantry involved (and would be very unlikely there due to the terrain's profile). The only threat to these walls was decay and this was (probably) no problem at that time (strong mortar connecting the stones).

What, and where, is this?