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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

China’s Wall Even Greater Than Once Thought

April 20, 2009

According to a new survey of China’s Great Wall, the nation’s most famous monument of antiquity is significantly longer than experts had previously estimated.

The two-year project, carried out by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, employed state-of-the-art technology such as global positioning systems and infra-red light in their survey of the wall.  The new measurements put the wall’s length at 8,851.8 kilometers (5,488.1 miles), almost 4,000 kilometers longer than previously accepted estimates of about 5,000 kilometers.

Originally constructed to protect against invasion from foreign armies, the defensive monolith is actually composed of some 6,260 kilometers of stone wall, with an additional 360 kilometers of trenches and 2,232.5 kilometers of naturally formed protection, like hills and rivers.  The thickness of the wall varies from 4.5 to 9 meters (15-30 feet) and is up to 7.5 meters tall (25 feet) in some places.

Previous approximations of the wall’s length were derived primarily from historical records, some of which were conducted using measuring techniques considered primitive by modern standards.

While state officials have expressed joy at finally clearing up the ancient question of the how long the Great Wall really is, they also voiced concerns about its rapidly deteriorating condition.

Experts on the survey team reported that several portions of the wall may be in jeopardy of disappearing completely due to natural erosion as well as China’s rapidly expanding transportation system and civic projects.

“The Great Wall is under great threat; climate change and the country’s massive infrastructure-building being the biggest two,” Shan Jixiang, director of the SACH, was quoted as saying.

Sections of the wall have been severely damaged in recent years, largely on account of China’s explosive growth as developers clear space for roads and other construction projects.

“The long wall of 10,000″ ““ the Great Wall’s literal name in Chinese ““ was built, rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century B.C. to the 16th century.  The Ming Dynasty is generally credited for making the biggest contribution to the wall between 1368 and 1644 A.D.

At the peak of its strategic military significance, the Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million men. It has been estimated that somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of constructing the wall.