Known as the "Underground Museum" and widely valued by Chinese and foreign archaeologists and historians, this group of ancient tombs is 40 kilometers southeast of Turpan city proper and 6 kilometers from the ancient city of Gaochang. Astana means "capital" in Uygur and Karakhoja is the name of a legendary hero of the ancient Uygur Kingdom who removed the evils from the people by killing a vicious dragon. They are now the names of two local villages.Buried in these tombs are nobles, officials and others from the period beginning in the Western Jin and ending in the middle of the Tang dynasty. Curiously, the tomb of King
Gaochang is found nowhere in the group of tombs, but the renowned general Zhang Xiong of the Qushi Gaochang Kingdom was buried here with his wife and son Zhang Huaiji.Almost all of the corpses in the more than 500
tombs have not rotted; instead they have become dried-up bodies, a phenomenon more unusual than the mummies found in the pyramids of Egypt. Most of the dried-up bodies are complete and intact. Thanks to the dry and hot climate, many paintings, earthen figurines and thousands of other unearthed cultural relics are well-preserved and as color-ful as new ones. The unearthed boiled dumplings of the Tang dynasty are the same shape as those of today and the stuffing of the dumplings is still fresh.Furthermore, on a bail of horse fodder are written the words "Judge
Cen" and"Minister Feng". JudgeCen is the famous frontier poet Cen Shen of the Tang dynasty and Minister Feng is Feng Changqing, the governor of Beiting Prefecture of the Tang dynasty. Most of those buried here were people of the Han nationality, but also some minority nationalities, such as the Cheshi, Hun, Di, Xianbei, Gaoche, and Zhaowujiuxing.
Now three tombs have been opened to visitors. Besides dried-up corpses, there are murals depicting figures, birds and flowers on display in the three tombs.It was classified as an important cultural unit protected by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 1957.