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What was a disaster for the ancient people of Sanyangzhuang is a miracle for modern archaeologists. Up to 70 centimeters of silt from the Yellow River buried the settlement completely, protecting it from the depredations of time. Now excavators are peeling back the layers of dirt to reveal a unique time capsule of Chinese rural life, they reported at the Society for American Archaeology meeting. The digs promise to yield a detailed picture of China's hinterland at the height of the Han imperial state, which matched contemporary Rome in size and wealth.