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The 3,500-year-old bone ice skate were discovered in Xinjiang in a high-society tomb. Source: Xinhua/ Global Times

Ancient Animal Bone Ice Skates Found in China’s “Birthplace of Skiing”


During a recent archaeological press conference in Xinjiang, known as the birthplace of skiing, experts announced the discovery of ice skates made of animal bone that are believed to be 3,500 years old! The ice skates, made from cattle and horse bones, were found in a high-society tomb located in the Ili River Valley.

The design of the ice skates is highly similar to those found in ancient Europe, providing clear evidence of communication between China and Europe during the Bronze Age. The reason for ice skating in China’s Xinjiang is yet to be fully explored.

Ice Skates, Skis and Other Artifacts Found Scattered Around Chinese Tomb

“Judging by the scattered pieces, we believe that these wooden wagon parts were deserted by their owners, and detached on purpose, and buried during establishing the tomb,” noted Ruan ­Qiurong, head of the excavation team at the site, in an exchange with Xinhua, the national Chinese news agency. Qiurong also noted that the Gaotai Ruins were a high-class burial site for a herding society and that the discovery is sure to prove useful in studying the burial culture and social structure at the end of the Bronze Age.

In addition to the ice skates, traces of 40 wooden wagons were found at the site, including solid wood wheels, shafts, axles and carriages. Experts believe that the tomb, discovered at the Bronze Age Gaotai Ruins in Nilka County from the 16th to 15th century BC, belonged to a noble herding family.

The scattering of the wooden wagon parts around the tomb site suggests that they were deliberately detached by their owners and buried when the tomb was established. This site has previously yielded 500 other cultural relics, including pottery wares, stone containers, bronze wares and animal bones.

The Gaotai Ruins, made up of a 120-square-meter (1,292 sq ft) stone-made tomb complex and a living area located 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) away from the tomb are part of the Jiren Taigoukou Ruins, discovered in Qialege'e village in the Ili River Valley. The site was discovered in 2016 during a survey conducted by the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and excavations began in 2018.

The Vikings also made ice skates made from bone which fastened with leather straps under the soles. (The Swedish History Museum / CC BY 2.0)

The Vikings also made ice skates made from bone which fastened with leather straps under the soles. (The Swedish History Museum / CC BY 2.0)

Xinjiang: The Birthplace of Skiing and the Altai People

Xinjiang is known as the birthplace of skiing in China due to its long history and unique geographical location. The region is located in the northwestern part of China, bordering several countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. With its high altitude, long winters and abundant snow, Xinjiang is an ideal place for skiing and other winter sports.

The origins of skiing in Xinjiang can be traced back to the nomadic tribes like the Altais who lived in the region over 3,000 years ago. They used skis made from animal bones to travel across the snow-covered terrain during the long winter months. Over time, skiing became an important means of transportation and a popular pastime among the local people.

The Altai people, who inhabit this entire region spanning across Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, have a long history of skiing. For thousands of years, they have been making and using handmade wooden skis for transportation, hunting, and leisure.

The traditional skis are wider and have a curved tip and tail, allowing for better maneuverability in snow. The bottoms are covered with horsehide, which provides good grip and gliding ability. Unlike modern skis with plastic and metal bindings, Altai skis are tied on loosely with leather string, allowing for greater flexibility and a more natural feel while skiing.

Altai skiers also use a single wooden staff for balance and support, which is different from the two poles used in modern skiing. The staff is often adorned with carvings and other decorative elements, reflecting the cultural importance of skiing in the Altai region. Skiing has been a crucial part of their lives and culture, and traditional ski-making and skiing techniques have been passed down from generation to generation, according to a comprehensive New York Times report.

Modern-Day Altai Skiing Reconnects with Its Roots

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in Altai skiing among outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers. Some companies now offer guided tours and trips to explore the Altai region and experience the traditional skiing culture. The Altai people's unique skiing techniques and equipment are being studied and appreciated for their historical and cultural significance, as well as their practical applications in modern skiing.

In the early 20th century, Western-style skiing began to gain popularity in Xinjiang with the arrival of European explorers and missionaries. They introduced modern skiing techniques and equipment to the region, which quickly caught on among the locals. Today, Xinjiang is home to numerous ski resorts and has hosted several international skiing events, including the China Xinjiang International Ski Festival.

Despite its rich skiing history, Xinjiang's ski industry has faced some challenges in recent years due to political and social issues. However, efforts are being made to promote and develop the region's winter sports industry, including the construction of new ski resorts and facilities.

Archaeological finds like recent discovery of ice skates in Xinjiang serve to reignite interest in a region that is coming out of a COVID-induced hibernation. These rare finds also help archaeologists to understand the subject of cross-continental historical and cultural exchange between China and Europe.

Top image: The 3,500-year-old bone ice skate were discovered in Xinjiang in a high-society tomb. Source: Xinhua/ Global Times

By Sahir Pandey


Duluk, E. 27 February 2023. “3500 year old bone ice skates found in China” in Now Archaeology. Available at:

GT. 16 February 2023. “The birthplace of skiing: NW China’s Xinjiang” in Global Times. Available at:

Kang, L. 26 February 2023. “3,500-year-old bone ice skates unearthed in Xinjiang tomb” in Global Times. Available at:

Qin, A. 19 February 2023. “Some believe China was the birthplace of skiing” in The New York Times. Available at: 


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I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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