A well-preserved skeleton in one of the 18 tombs that had several types of grave goods in the Ruins of Yin, an area called the Chinese cradle of civilization.

Archaeologists Discover Undisturbed Tombs of Ancient Nomads in the Cradle of Chinese Civilization

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Archaeologists in China’s Henan Province have excavated about 90 tombs, 18 of which contained golden earrings and turquoise artifacts, bronze and iron pots, and short swords. The 18 graves, of the Xiongu nomads who came from the north, date back about 1,800 years.

Around this time, the Xiongu nomads were making inroads into Chinese Han territory, settling down, and setting up dynasties of their own.

Some of the ruins where the graves were found date to the earlier Shang Dynasty and cover 24 square kilometers (9.26 square miles). The ruins include a palace district, a residential area, workshops and the tombs area - with the more recent nomads’ brick-lined graves. Experts estimated the age of the tombs by examining soil samples and the grave goods.

Shen Weixi, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told CGTN.com:

The tomb chambers were built with bricks, which is not like the typical tombs on the Central Plains. They likely date back to the period from the late East Han to the Wei and Jin Dynasties, about 1,800 years ago. There are two rings on each bronze pot, and they were used to hang up the pots for cooking. Traces of smoke were found on them, so the pots were all used. From their shapes, we would say they were related to the northern nomadic tribes of Xiongnu.

There are two rings on each bronze pot, and they were used to hang up the pots for cooking.

There are two rings on each bronze pot, and they were used to hang up the pots for cooking. ( CCTV)

He said researchers could tell the graves were not of the Han people because of the artifacts contained in them and the way the tombs were constructed. The graves, which were laid out in orderly rows, had not been disturbed or robbed in all this time. They were unearthed near the Ruins of Yin palace area in Anyang City in Central China.

The archaeologists found the skeletal remains of a person about 160 cm (5.25 feet) tall. Experts will do DNA testing in an attempt to determine where these nomads originated. The tombs are relatively small, Xinhua reports .

The oldest known written Chinese characters were discovered in the Ruins of Yin. The characters were incised onto tortoise shells and bones.

Chinese Oracle Bones, Shang Dynasty Linden-Museum, Stuttgart (Germany).

Chinese Oracle Bones, Shang Dynasty Linden-Museum, Stuttgart (Germany). ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

An Ancient Origins article by DHWTY in March 2016 explained more about Shang Dynasty oracle bones:

Oracle bones (known in Chinese as 甲骨, transliterated as ‘jiǎ gǔ’, and literally translated as ‘shells and bones’) are a type of artifact best known for its association with the Shang Dynasty (roughly from 1600 BC to 1050 BC) of ancient China. As these artifacts were used for the purpose of divination, the bones came to be called ‘oracle bones’ in the English language. In the Chinese language, by contrast, the name of the objects is derived from the type materials they were made of, i.e. turtle shells and animal bones. Apart from providing us with information about the beliefs held by the people of the Shang Dynasty, oracle bones are also significant as they form the earliest known major body of ancient Chinese writing.

Anyang City has a 3,600-year history and has been dubbed the cradle of Chinese civilization. Archaeologists have been excavating there since the late 1920s. They have found palace and temple foundations, bronze and jade artifacts, lacquerware and green glazed porcelain.

Shen Wenxi told Xinhua his team has uncovered evidence showing that the area called Dasikong Village, where the tombs were found, had been inhabited since the Shang Dynasty. The 18 nomadic tombs are, however, far more recent than the Shang.

Excavations will continue at the tombs site through November, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said.

Excavations will continue at the tombs site through November, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said. (Screenshot from Culture Express via CGTN.com)

Xinhuanet reports that a tomb containing similar artifacts was unearthed in Dasikong in the 1950s.

Top image: A well-preserved skeleton in one of the 18 tombs that had several types of grave goods in the Ruins of Yin, an area called the Chinese cradle of civilization. Source: CCTV

By Mark Miller

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