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Left, ancient alchemy painting. Right, The artifact known as the ‘Nanjing Belt’ seems to be proof of the existence of aluminum in early China. Source: Left; primopiano/Adobe Stock Right; Soul-guidance

The Enigma of the Nanjing Belt: How Could this Out of Place Artifact Exist?


Some important archaeological discoveries simply don’t fit the mold. Seeing the light of day after many centuries, they bring us so much confusion and redefine the modern narratives, leaving us desperate for more answers. Granted, such discoveries are rare, but when they are made, they certainly raise a big cloud in the scientific world. One such discovery was the so-called “Nanjing Belt”, an exquisite relic from early medieval China that contained aluminum - an alloy that wasn’t created until the 1820s! Who could have crafted such an artifact? And is it actually aluminum?

The Nanjing Belt and Its Many Mysteries

Modern China is an ever-expanding nation, bustling with activity and near-constant construction. And, naturally, when you dig and prepare for construction, you are bound to stumble on a new and exciting archaeological discovery. Exactly this happened in 1952, during the first phase of building a special sports field for the Jingyi Middle school of Yixing City in the Jiangsu Province of China. A worker’s spade broke through the ground, revealing an ancient and forgotten tomb. An investigation soon began, and when it was understood that the tomb dates to the distant past, archaeologists arrived at the site. They had plenty to see.

Within the tomb was discovered a skeleton - apparently of an important individual - together with its burial goods. Through an extant inscription, it was deduced that it was the tomb of Zhou Chu, a noted 3rd century AD general from the Western Jin era, who died heroically in 297 AD, fighting the barbarian invaders. Of special interest in his tomb were the remnants of a luxurious belt - at that point fragmented - with the leather portions long ago rotted away. These fragments, 17 of them, were scattered around the skeleton’s hips, where the belt was fastened. At first glance, there was nothing extraordinary about them - that was until further research was done.

Some of these metallic belt fragments were made from silver and copper, but some of them were almost entirely from aluminum, with up to 10% of copper and 5% of manganese. Before you ask yourself what is so odd about this, remember that aluminum is a very difficult metal to smelt and was supposedly not isolated until after 1827. In fact, the large-scale production of aluminum from bauxite by electrolysis was achieved only in 1889. So, how did aluminum find its way into 3rd century China? The scholars were baffled.

Aluminium artifact found in a 3rd century Chinese tomb. (Soul-guidance)

Aluminium artifact found in a 3rd century Chinese tomb. (Soul-guidance)

A Discovery That Defied Common Knowledge

Soon after the stunning discovery, the Chinese scientific circles were stirred. Thorough analysis was required of all the metallic pieces discovered. The first tests were conducted by Nanjing University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and they found that the tested pieces were an alloy containing mostly aluminum.

Such a claim caused a big shock, as everyone knew that aluminum is very difficult to isolate from bauxite, as a pure metal, without using a lot of electric power. Nevertheless, further tests were conducted, on other pieces as well, revealing that not all of them were from aluminum. Others were made from an alloy that contained mostly silver.

Between 1958 and 1959, the third round of tests was conducted at Qinghua University, where it was finally firmly concluded that the primary metal in the alloy was aluminum, with other fragments made from silver alloy.

From this point on, there were other studies over the decades - many of which tried to change the narrative that was established early on. One theory stated that the aluminum belt parts were irregularly shaped, and could have been parts of modern aluminum tools that were left by potential grave robbers before the discovery was made. While it is possible that grave robbers entered the grave before the very first arrival of the archaeological team, it is not certain that anything of the sort occurred, or that they dropped aluminum fragments.

Some sources claim that there were other similar belt buckles amongst other ancient Chinese relics, containing parts made from aluminum. They were never studied, however, and their presence remains unconfirmed. Either way, the Nanjing Belt left a deep whirlpool in the Chinese and global scholarly circles. It provided an enigma that was never fully resolved.

The Tomb Veiled in Mystery

Sadly, there isn’t much more that is known about the Nanjing Belt or the discovery of the ancient hero’s tomb. Popular sources are exceptionally vague on this topic - perhaps for a reason? Officially, the tomb of Zhou Chu is not mentioned. The mentions of this 1952 discovery are reserved only to the fringes of the online scholarly communities, and we cannot say why.

Popularly, the writer Erich von Däniken, in his famed work “Chariots of the Gods”, wrote of this discovery and claimed that the traces of aluminum alloy are a clear proof of ancient aliens visiting Earth and sharing deep knowledge with ancient civilizations.

Could such a thing be true? We do not know for certain. Could it, on the other hand, be possible that the ancient Chinese found a way to create an aluminum alloy through methods lost to history and the knowledge of man? If it is so, then there truly are deeper secrets hiding in the world’s history.

Top image: Left, ancient alchemy painting. Right, The artifact known as the ‘Nanjing Belt’ seems to be proof of the existence of aluminum in early China. Source: Left; primopiano/Adobe Stock Right; Soul-guidance

By Aleksa Vučković


Lloyd, E. 2017. Aluminum Was Used At Least 7,000 Years Ago – Long Before the Metal’s Official Invention In 1825. Available at:

Unknown. 2011. The Nanjing Belt. Beachcombing. Available at:

Various. 1980. Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5. Chemistry and Chemical Technology. University of Pennsylvania.

Aleksa Vučković's picture


I am a published author of over ten historical fiction novels, and I specialize in Slavic linguistics. Always pursuing my passions for writing, history and literature, I strive to deliver a thrilling and captivating read that touches upon history's most... Read More

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