The Chinese lay claim to inventing almost everything – from football to golf – so it will come as no surprise that skiing is the latest to enter the list. The New York Times ran an extensive report this week about a cave painting in Xinjiang Autonomous Region that depicts five hunters on skis. According to Chinese archaeologists the painting dates back more than 10,000 years, or more than 2,000 years before the next earliest ski artefact on record.
The US newspaper says international academia is slowly coming round to the idea that skis originated in this part of the Altai Mountains, rather than in Scandinavia as previously thought. Historian Shan Zhaojian has led the work on the cave painting and he thinks recognition of Altai’s skiing history will get greater prominence as the 2022 Winter Olympics approaches, which China will host. Shan hopes a new skiing museum will be funded in the Chinese region, to press home China’s contribution to Alpine sports.
However, the New York Times article points out that there is some controversy as to whether it is the country’s dominant ethnic group, the Han Chinese that are featured in the cave painting. Kazakh minorities in the nearby village of Khom say the Han never skied and that it was their own ancestors who are in the painting. To this day the Khom’s Kazakhs still handmake their own wooden skis and cover them in horsehair. Other skiers in the area – Mongolians and Tuwas – are also ethnic minorities. But determining which racial group was being depicted 10,000 years ago can hardly be considered a definitive exercise. “There is no consensus that any of the ethnic groups of the Altai can stake a claim as the rightful heirs of the painted skiers – thousands of years of conquest, including when the region came under the rule of the Qing Dynasty in the mid-1700s, have left such a determination all but impossible,” surmises the paper.