Prehistoric Porn in Xinjiang, China (Petroglyphs at Kangjiashimenzi)

Prehistoric Porn in Xinjiang (Hilarious Petroglyphs!)

September 29, 2016 | 12 Comments

Kangjiashimenzi (康家石门子) is a collection of ancient petroglyphs that were carved into the side of a massive red-basalt rock in China’s remote region of Xinjiang. These carvings have been dated to about 2000 B.C. and they are believed to be the world’s earliest recordings of an ancient fertility ritual.

Some call it an archeological wonder. Others have jokingly labeled it “prehistoric porn”.

The Kangjiashimenzi Petroglyphs in Xinjiang, China

The 2015 Xinjiang travel guide by FarWestChina.com

This isn’t the kind of place you’ll find listed in any China travel guide or even on most maps of the region.

I had read about these petroglyphs a few years ago and quietly added them to my growing Xinjiang bucket list.

It wasn’t until this summer that I decided to see if I could find this place. So I jumped in my car for yet another fun Xinjiang road trip (check out my first XJ road trip here).

VIDEO: Re-Discovering Xinjiang’s Petroglyphs

As you’ll see in the video below, I was in a race to see if I could find this place before the sun set. I ended up getting there so late that I decided to sleep outside instead of trying to look around for a hotel that was most certainly a couple hours drive away!

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What is Kangjiashimenzi?

Kangjiashimenzi is a collection of Eurasian art that involves 83 figures participating in some odd type of sex ritual. The rock is located within the Tianshan range a few hours west of the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi and was first discovered by Chinese archeologist Wang Binghua.

The Kangjiashimenzi rock carvings in Xinjiang, China

Almost a decade later, American archeologist Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball studied the location in depth. It is from her writings and drawings that we get most of our current understanding of this ancient petroglyph.

It’s a good thing, too. To my untrained eye, these carvings looked like nothing more than fancy stick figures and a few animals. Little did I know that these petroglyphs are emphatically ithyphallic (a fancy word for ‘erect penis’)!

Drawings of the Xinjiang petroglyphs

In fact, four different scenes from this fertility ritual are depicted on the side of the rock, which starts about 30 feet above the ground and progress downward.

Where is this Xinjiang Petroglyph?

Jeannine refers to Kangjiashimenzi as “monumental art located in an awe-inspiring locale” and I agree with her. Facing away from the rock carvings, I could see layer after layer of tree-covered hills that extend far into the distance.

Road trip through the Tianshan in Xinjiang

Kangjiashimenzi is buried deep in the heart of Xinjiang’s Tianshan range, a good 4-5 hours west of the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. After leaving the comfort of the smooth G30 national highway, I followed along the little-known Taxi River (塔西河) for more than an hour as I drove deeper into the mountains.

There is no paved road that leads here, only a series of gravel paths that twist and turn through the mountains. There are no signs to offer direction, so I was left to rely on an outdated map I hoped was accurate.

A motorcyclist in Xinjiang

Nobody I know in Xinjiang had ever been here or even heard about it. Honestly, I had no idea if I would even be able to find this place.

Dreams of Archaeological Tourism

Turning off the gravel road, I came up to a run-down building that looked like it was once a small tourist centre. The place was a bit creepy but it was the first positive indication that I was headed in the right direction.

One sign near the entrance informed me that tickets to see the petroglyphs were 20 RMB. There wasn’t a single soul around to collect the money. A nearby parking lot was overgrown with weeds.

It’s obvious that someone had attempted to turn Kangjiashimenzi into a tourism attraction following its discovery. The project was doomed from the start, though, not just because of a remote location but also because of politics.

An aerial view of Kangjiashimenzi

You see, the Kangjiashimenzi figures were determined not to be Han Chinese in origin, a fact which seems to contradict China’s historical claim to Xinjiang. It may not seem like a big deal to us, but this simple contradiction was enough to cause officials to limit research and access to Kangjiashimenzi for over a decade.

Keep in mind that during this same period of time, China was facing a similar problem with all of the mummies it was digging up in Xinjiang. It wasn’t until genetics studies confirmed that Xinjiang’s earliest inhabitants were neither Chinese NOR Uyghur in ethnicity that the government breathed a sigh of relief. Research could continue and access to these historical relics granted.

The mummies fared just fine. Places like Kangjiashimenzi became a ghost town.

Carvings on the Wall

Today, a small green fence is the only protection offered these 4,000 year-old petroglyphs.

Standing up against this fence, I initially had a difficult time locating the carvings. Like I stated earlier, I’m not an archeologist and had no idea what I was looking for.

But as I looked closely, the figures became clearly distinguishable. What surprised me most was the size of the carvings. I expected a few inches or perhaps a foot or two in height.

Instead, I came across figures that were taller than I was – up to 9.5 feet! All of the sudden, the entire rock face came alive with figures dancing all around! The hours of driving were worth the effort – how many times can we get up close and personal with art that was created 4,000 years ago?

Conclusion | Xinjiang’s Petroglyphs

Clearly this isn’t a place that the average tourist will have an opportunity to visit. However, it’s yet another indication of the diversity and complexity of Xinjiang’s history.

It’s also a great reminder to me of why I love exploring Xinjiang: ancient history, beautiful scenery, the thrill of discovery…and prehistoric porn.

What more could you ask for?

Sunset over the tianshan in Xinjiang, China

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

Leave a Comment

  1. Surrounded in the Great Southwest by petroglyphs, I am always amazed to see more in other places. This must have been a very sacred site for so many to have occurred in the area. Some petroglyphs we find in New Mexico were recorded at a travelers resting area. Hands and various kinds of drawings that show direction, birth and animals make no sense to me, but I have seen some in Hawaii that show a sacred birthing site. This Chinese group of drawings is most interesting. The style is so universal!

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    Josh Summers on October 5th, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    So interesting, Sally! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Josh, you are always the great adventurer. You are so lucky to live in a place that offers so much history, culture, mystery, and wonder. We are glad you are having a great time in Xinjiang. Your writings, videos, and photographs are always welcome in my inbox. Thanks.

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    Josh Summers on October 5th, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I count my blessings – I’m glad you enjoy the adventures as well, Bill!

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  3. Great video Josh. Any idea who the people group were who drew the petroglyphs?

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    Josh Summers on October 5th, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    The original report by Dr. Davis-Kimball says this:

    “In Eurasia, many thousands of petroglyphs were carved most likely by Indo-Iranians, Bronze Age sedentary populations of the second millennium BC and Early Iron Age nomads from the first millennium BC. From at least 2000 BC, these peoples inhabited steppes and intermountain valleys as far east as central Mongolia. Their carvings are found in southern Siberia and Central Asia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgryzstan. In Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, China, early populations relating to those of Central Asia carved petroglyphs on rock outcroppings which also date to the second and first millennia BC. Petroglyphs carved by Early Iron Age peoples along the Karakorum Highway leading into northern India, are closely related to those of the Altay Mountains and southern Kazakhstan.”

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  4. Hi Josh,
    I spent time wandering Xinjiang’s Tianshan range
    and Silk Road in 1985. Glad there are still new things to find.
    I was thinking of coming back this November.
    Have you been to Ping Tian ski resort?
    Is it still being developed?
    Would it be open for skiing late November?
    Any other ski ideas, like around Heavenly Lake (Tianchi)?
    Enjoying your blog!
    Patrick

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on October 5th, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Hey Patrick, unfortunately that’s a great project that never got off the ground due to governmental red tape. The best ski resort is the Silk Road ski resort near the Nanshan OR there is another resort right near Tianchi.

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