A team of archaeologists has captured a snapshot of rural life in the village of Sanyangzhuang in western China during the Han Dynasty, over 2,000 years ago.

Researchers found that the town, though located in a remote section of the Han Dynasty kingdom, appears quite well off. Exploration has revealed tiled roofs, compounds with brick foundations, eight-meter deep wells lined with bricks, toilets, cart and human foot tracks, roads and trees.

There is an abundance of metal tools, including plow shares, as well as grinding stones and coins. Also found have been fossilized impressions of mulberry leaves, which researchers see as a sign of silk cultivation.

The research was presented at the Society for American Archeology meeting in St. Louis is April and highlighted last month in Science.

"One could make the argument that this is where the Silk Road began," says T.R. Kidder, professor and chair of anthropology in Arts&Sciences at Washington University.

Sanyangzhuang tiles set aside to repair a Han house.

(Photo Credit: Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology)

Kidder thinks the excavation site, discovered in 2003, could be substantially larger than is currently known. The flood of sediment that buried the town also covered an area of more than 1,800 square kilometers.

Excavation has revealed two more buried communities beneath Sanyangzhuang. "This sedimentary archive goes to all the way back to the Pleistocene era," says Kidder, who has experience digging in silt-laden sites near the Mississippi River.

"We have a text written in dirt of environmental change through time that's associated with the flooding of the Yellow River and it's environmental relationships. We have an opportunity to examine an entire landscape dating from the Han and periods before," he says.

Excavated remains of a wall near the site could reveal a walled town, which is still buried in the silt.