The entrance to the tomb found in Datong, China

1,000-year-old Chinese tomb contains spectacular murals, touching poems, and ceiling of star constellations

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Time tells that bamboo can endure cold weather. Live as long as the spirits of the crane and turtle.

These are the poetic words beautifully painted on the wall of an ancient tomb discovered in a near-perfect state of preservation in Datong City, northern China. Although the tomb occupant was missing from the 1,000-year-old tomb, the finding has nevertheless provided an in-depth understanding of its owner through the presence of vivid murals depicting scenes from his life. Another surprising feature of the tomb is a ceiling richly decorated with stars and constellations.

The ceiling of the tomb depicts stars and constellations painted in red

The ceiling of the tomb depicts stars and constellations painted in red. Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics.

Live Science reports that the finding was first made in 2011 by the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology, and published in the Chinese journal Wenwu. However, the discovery has only just come to light in the English-speaking world following a translated paper published in Chinese Cultural Relics .

According to Live Science, the ancient tomb is a circular shape and depicts scenes from the daily life of the tomb’s occupant, who is believed to have been a Han Chinese man with high-status. A small statue in the tomb measuring 3.1 feet (0.94 meters) shows a smiling man seated on a platform and wearing a long black robe. The researchers speculate that the statue was used as a substitute for his body, a practice that was quite common among Buddhists at the time.

Statue found inside the tomb

Statue found inside the tomb, which is believed to show the tomb’s occupant. Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics.

1,000 years ago, China was controlled by the Liao Dynasty (also known as the Khitan Empire), which ruled over Mongolia and portions of the Russian Far East, northern Korea, and northern China from 907 to 1125 AD. Khitan was a multicultural empire that incorporated Han Chinese into the government, and it is possible that the tomb’s occupant was one such member.

The murals in his tomb depict the man’s travels with horses and camels, as well as a scene consisting of a deer, crane, bamboo trees, yellow turtle and a touching poem, of which one line has been provided above (the remainder of the poem has not been made available).

One of the murals depicts a black and white cat with a ball in its mouth and a black and white dog next to male and female attendants. There is an empty bed between the animals. 

Scene depicting an empty bed with two pets on either side as well as male and female attendants

Scene depicting an empty bed with two pets on either side as well as male and female attendants. Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics.

A surprising feature of the tomb is its ceiling, which is richly decorated with stars in a bright red color. The "completed constellations are formed by straight lines connecting the stars in relevant shapes and forms," the researchers wrote.

Featured image: The entrance to the tomb found in Datong, China. Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics.

By April Holloway

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