Deep within China near the ancient capitol of Xi'an lies
a series of pyramid mounds virtually unknown outside the
country. Entwined with the reality of these remote tombs,
lies a legend of an even greater pyramid seldom seen; a
pyramid of such size and grandeur as to put all the other
pyramids of the world to shame. This is the legend of the
white pyramid of China.
Interest in Chinese pyramids was greatly increased by the
1994 publication of Hartwig Hausdorf's Die Weisse Pyramide
later translated into English under the revised title The
Chinese Roswell (1998) in which he briefly describes
his travels through China in search of the legendary great
white pyramid of China. Hausdorf never locates his prize,
but he did return from China with a series of photos of
pyramid mounds that have been widely published in books
and magazines and circulated on the Internet.
These photos sparked a renewed interest in a story that
is over 50 years old, but has never been satisfactorily
explained. Hausdorf cites very few sources in his book,
but it is possible to track down where he appears to have
gotten much of his material. The original source for Hausdorf's
claims of a white pyramid apparently comes from Bruce Cathie's
The Bridge to Infinity (1983), in which Cathie recounts
the story of US Air Force pilot James Gaussman.
As Cathie tells it, during World War II, Gaussman was flying
a routine mission between India and China when he suffered
engine problems that forced him to descend to a lower altitude.
In his report to an intelligence officer, he is quoted as
"I banked to avoid a mountain and we came out
over a level valley. Directly below was a gigantic white
pyramid. It looked like something out of a fairy tale. It
was encased in shimmering white. This could have been metal,
or some sort of stone. It was pure white on all sides. The
remarkable thing was the capstone, a huge piece of jewel-like
material that could have been crystal. There was no way
we could have landed, although we wanted to. We were struck
by the immensity of the thing." 1
How Cathie came into possession of Gaussman's report is
not indicated. In fact, there are no sources cited for Gaussman's
story. This of course has not stopped numerous books and
websites from quoting the tale as established fact. In an
article for the December 2002 issue of Fortean Times
entitled the "The White Pyramid," researcher Steve
Marshall poses the possibility that the Gaussman account
may simply be an inaccurate retelling of a very real and
well-documented sighting made by Colonel Maurice Sheahan,
the Far Eastern director of Trans World Airline.
Sheahan's encounter was presented in 1947 in the March
28 edition of the New York Times, under the headline
"U.S. Flier Reports Huge Chinese Pyramid In Isolated
Mountains Southwest of Sian [Xi'an]." In the article,
Sheehan is quoted as saying that the pyramid he saw seemed
to "dwarf those of Egypt" and he estimates its
height at 1000 feet and its width at 1500 feet. If these
dimensions are accurate, this structure would indeed dwarf
the pyramids of Egypt, the largest of which stands only
450 feet tall.
Sheahan places the location of the pyramid at the end of
a long inaccessible valley at the foot of the Qin Ling Mountains
about 40 miles southwest of Xi'an. Near the main structure
he describes a smaller pyramid and at the near end of the
valley are hundreds of small burial mounds visible from
the Longhai railroad. In describing the structure he says,
"I was impressed by its perfect pyramidal form and
its great size." However, nowhere in the article does
Sheehan describe the pyramid as being white, nor does he
mention a crystalline capstone.
No photos accompanied the original New York Times
article and photos were similarly absent in articles based
on the same United Press story printed in other newspapers
around the globe. A
photo of the reported pyramid does not appear until two
days later in the New York Sunday News for March
30, 1947. This photo has since been the focus of endless
scrutiny and speculation. However, its origin and indeed
what it actually shows has never been satisfactorily resolved.
Sheahan places the pyramid that he saw at the end of a
valley within a mountain range. However, the published photo
shows a structure lying isolated out in the open on a flat
plain. Sheahan's description of the structure as having
a "perfect pyramidal form" also contrasts with
the flat topped appearance of the mound shown in the photo.
With these mysteries and tantalizing clues in mind, I determined
to try to shed some light on this intriguing story. Through
the wonders of modern satellite imagery it is no longer
necessary to inspect a location in person, especially when
searching for something as large as a 1000-foot tall pyramid.
My search began with a visit to the Space
Imaging website where it is possible to browse satellite
photos from around the world for free. To see the full,
high-resolution images one must pay several hundred if not
thousands of dollars. However, because of the size of the
target sought and its perfectly symmetrical form, high-resolution
images were not necessary. If the pyramid existed, it would
surely show up on the freely available satellite photos
from Space Imaging.
I proceeded to spend several days downloading dozens of
detailed satellite images and overlaying them upon a map
of the region. Using satellite photos taken of the pyramids
at Giza for size comparison, I sought pyramidal forms from
the target region in China. What I found was quite startling.
Spread across the landscape were scores of pyramids of varying
size. One in particular seemed to closely match the size
of the Egyptian pyramids, at least in its perimeter.
There was just one problem. These pyramids were in the
wrong place. The pyramids I had located lay several miles
northwest of Xi'an near the city of Xianyang. Furthermore,
none of them appeared in the mountainous territory south
of Xi'an. They all lay out in the open upon seemingly flat
ground. I believed I had located the pyramid from the famous
photo, but its location did not remotely match the description
given by Sheehan.
I searched further among the hills and valleys of the Qin
Ling Mountains southwest of Xi'an, but I could find no pyramids
at all. In again referencing the target size of the pyramids
at Giza, it soon became apparent that due to the strongly
undulating terrain, there were simply no spots flat enough
to even attempt construction of a pyramid of the size described.
Clearly, something was wrong.
Enamored by the mystery, I determined to visit China myself
and attempt to reconcile some of these conflicting stories.
To read Hausdorf's description of his journeys to China
brings up images of a clandestine operation as he ventures
secretly into China's "Forbidden Zone." The notion
of the pyramids lying in a forbidden zone appears to have
started with the publication of Robert Charroux's Masters
of the World (1967). This concept has been repeated
over and over in various publications with no attempt made
to verify its veracity. In fact, none of the pyramids I
had located resided within any such restricted zone.
With visa's in hand, my friend Eric and I traveled from
Beijing to the ancient capitol city of Xi'an now most famous
for the terracotta army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang on display
just east of the city. As
the plane descended low through the clouds I searched the
smooth green landscape below and to my utter surprise I
could make out pyramids already! I fumbled through my carry-on
bag, searching for my camera and was able to snap off a
few shots before we landed. Maybe these pyramids wouldn't
be so hard to find after all I thought.
Our time in Beijing had taught us how few people in China
actually speak English. Now, arriving in a much smaller
city we were prepared for things to be even more challenging.
After gathering up our baggage, I decided to purchase a
map of the region. Maps of the area around Xi'an were virtually
impossible to come by in America and while I knew the relative
locations of the pyramids in relation to the main city,
I needed a map that actually had street names on it if I
hoped to describe my desired destinations to a cab driver
or local guide.
As I unfolded my new purchase, I came across a small portion
of the map devoted to an overview of the region with places
of historical interest denoted. To my surprise, many of
the locations were signified by small images of pyramids!
I opened my bag and took out my photocopies of the satellite
maps I had prepared. A quick comparison of the two showed
an almost identical match.
While I could neither read nor pronounce the names written
on the map, I now had a page I could use to show locals
exactly where I wanted to go. My excitement was already
building as we began our bus ride from the airport to the
city of Xi'an. After the sighting from the plane, I kept
a careful watch out our window on the bus and was soon rewarded
with glimpses of dozens of mounds of varying shapes both
distant and near.
Arriving at our hotel, we were greeted by a representative
of the travel agency we had booked our room through. Tourism
in Xi'an has skyrocketed since the discovery of the terracotta
army just outside the city with local travel agencies offering
a variety of packages designed to suit most tourists' needs.
However, we weren't normal tourists. Sitting down with our
tour guide Daniel, I spread out before him the maps, satellite
photos and information I had gathered. From the look of
surprise on his face I wouldn't have been surprised to learn
that Daniel thought I was some sort of spy.
He explained to us that tours around Xi'an are generally
divided between an eastern tour that visits the terracotta
army and a much less popular western tour that visits some
of the burial mounds scattered throughout the region. Many
of these mounds he explained matched the pyramids I wanted
to visit. We tried to negotiate with him for a customized
tour that would take us beyond the normal stops of the pre-planned
western tour and while he tried to be flexible, Daniel admitted
that he was not familiar with all the locations I wanted
to visit. However, he would be happy to help us as much
as he could.
The next morning, we met Daniel in the lobby and climbed
aboard a small van that would finally take us to the pyramids
I had sought for so long. Our first stop was the largest
pyramid I had identified from the satellite photos and is
known locally as Maoling Mausoleum. Its
shape is now somewhat obscured by a covering of young trees,
yet the structure still makes for an impressive sight. Photo
in hand, I quickly identified the burial mound before me
as the same one depicted in the black and white photo from
Making the steep climb to the summit, I surveyed my surroundings.
Both near and far were smaller burial mounds of differing
shapes and configurations. The view was impressive, but
I was struck most of all by the fact that I had made it.
I had finally arrived at this place I had spent over a year
researching and examining in satellite photos. After all
the talk of forbidden zones and inaccessible valleys, here
it lay out in the open for anyone to admire.
Looking around me, I saw no foreign tourists and Daniel
assured me that most of the people he brought here never
took the time to climb the mound, being satisfied with merely
viewing it from a distance. But the pyramid was certainly
well known to the locals. Atop the summit, a dozen people
walked or sat leisurely and one family was even enjoying
a picnic lunch.
I knew from the satellite photos, that this pyramid's measurements
around the base nearly matched those of the largest pyramid
in Egypt. However,
it was not until I climbed it and then researched it locally
that I discovered its exact height. Unlike the 1000 feet
that had been claimed, the burial mound actually measures
a little less than 150 feet in height.2
This is about one third the height of the Great Pyramid
in Egypt. I must say though, that after descending the mound
and nearly losing my footing on the treacherous slope, I
really can't imagine it being much steeper.
Unlike the pyramids of Egypt with their carefully carved
and fitted stones, Maoling Mausoleum is composed of densely
packed earth. It stands as the largest and most impressive
of 11 Western-Han imperial mausoleums and is the final resting
place of Emperor Liu Che (also known as Wu Di) who reigned
from 157-87 BC, making the tomb over 2000 years old. Chinese
history tells us the tomb took 53 years to complete and
was filled with precious burial objects, some of which have
avoided the plundering of grave robbers and are on display
at a nearby museum.2
our tour, we visited several other burial mounds, but none
were as impressive as the first. Some of the mounds could
be entered after paying an entrance fee and many of them
had small museums available onsite displaying artifacts
recovered from the mounds. It struck me as odd that the
grandest burial mound of them all required no entrance fee.
In an area where tourism is so active it seemed strange
that such an impressive site was left out of the agendas
of most visitors to the region.
Over the next few days we took time to visit the other
sights in the area, including the burial mound of Emperor
Qin Shi Huang who unified the country in 221 BC. Emperor
Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum has been the subject of endless
speculation in its own right due largely to legends of the
unimaginable wealth it is reputed to contain. In Records
of the Historian: Biography of Qin Shi Huang, Han historian
Sima Qian describes a burial chamber containing miniature
palaces and pavilions with flowing rivers and surging oceans
of mercury lying beneath a ceiling decorated in jewels depicting
the sun, moon and stars.
Indeed the burial chamber was built as a miniature replica
of the emperor's expansive empire complete with five holy
mountains. History tells us that all the artisans who worked
on the construction of the tomb were murdered in order to
protect its secrets. To this day, the burial chamber remains
unexcavated and continues to hold its secrets.
It is believed that Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum once stood
almost 330 feet in height although the ravages of time have
decreased these dimensions considerably to just 150 feet.
From north to south, the burial mound measures almost 1700
feet and from east to west it has a length of just under
1600 feet.2 These measurements
give the tomb a volume exceeding that of the Great Pyramid
in Egypt, making it an awe-inspiring sight to behold. Still
because of Qin Shi Huang's tomb's gently sloping sides now
distorted by a dense covering of trees, Maoling Mausoleum
remains the more impressive of the two mounds for anyone
searching for true pyramids in China.
While in Xi'an, I also visited as many bookstores as I
could in search of any information available on other pyramids
in the area. While books are plentiful in Xi'an, English
books are relatively rare. I was able to dig up a few pieces
of useful information however. Confirming my original identification
of the pyramid from the 1947 photo, I found this item in
the English tourist book Xian: Places of Historical Interest
(2002), under the section describing Maoling Mausoleum:
"In the 1930's, an American pilot, taking photos in
the air, took Maoling Mausoleum for his discovery of a 'pyramid'
in China." Despite listing an incorrect decade (dates
and numbers are often mixed up in this English translation),
this book would appear to offer the final bit of proof in
offering a conclusive identification for the 1947 photo.
However, one mystery remained. Did the photo printed two
days after the publication of Sheahan's original account
actually depict the pyramid identified in his sighting?
Colonel Sheahan was an experienced pilot and in his account
he places the pyramid he saw as lying 40 miles southwest
of Xi'an. Maoling Mausoleum lies about 25 miles northwest
of the city. Even a casual visitor to China will notice
that even the simplest English is often misspelled and words
are often omitted, switched around or used improperly. Is
it possible that southwest and northwest were merely mixed
In a private correspondence with bible student E Leslie
Carlson in 1961, Sheahan admitted that the original published
height of the pyramid he saw was incorrect. He gives the
correct height as being closer to 500 feet tall and not
1000 feet as originally published. The discrepancy occurred,
he explained, during the conversion from the Chinese li
to meters to feet.3
But if Sheahan was able to clarify this error later on,
wouldn't he have also pointed out any mistakes between northwest
and southwest? Also, Sheahan places the location of the
pyramid at the base of the Qin Ling Mountains. These mountains
lie approximately 30 miles south of Xi'an. The only way
to reconcile the story as reported with the published photo
is if the photo shows a structure distinct from the pyramid
Colonel Sheahan reported.
Is it possible that somewhere among the remote valleys
of the Qin Ling Mountains a pyramid does indeed lie virtually
unknown to the outside world? My intensive search through
satellite imagery indicates that this is not the case. At
least not in an area approximately 40 miles southwest of
the city of Xi'an. While in the city I spoke with Daniel
about the possibility of renting a helicopter or small airplane
us out over the Qin Ling Mountains, but he assured me that
such a thing would be impossible. I knew that I would have
to leave Xi'an with only half of the mystery solved.
After Xi'an, our next destination was Chengdu, a city that
coincidentally lies southwest of Xi'an. As our plane flew
up above the Qin Ling Mountains I strained my eyes for a
glimpse of the landscape below me. Even from several thousand
feet the steepness of the mountains was apparent and I could
make out no valleys wide enough to build a pyramid of the
size reported. It's possible that something still lies out
there among the formidable peaks, but the Qin Ling Mountains
won't give up their secrets easily. As our plane rose up
above the clouds, obscuring my view of the terrain beneath
me, I was left with only fantasies of what might lie undiscovered
Share your thoughts on China's pyramids at the UnexplainedEarth