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Cao Cao Could Not Hide Forever: Remains Finally Confirmed As Chinese Warlord


Archaeologists in China are convinced they have found the tomb and remains of Cao Cao, a famous Chinese warlord who rose to great power in the final years of the Eastern Han Dynasty 1,800 years ago. Cao Cao made a careful plan before his death to keep his final resting place a secret – 72 coffins were carried to 72 separate burial sites on the day of his funeral. But it seems it wasn’t enough to keep the location of his real tomb a secret forever.

According to the South China Morning Post , archaeologists discovered the ruins of an enormous mausoleum complex with two constructions, an underground tunnel, and the remains of an adult male in his sixties and two women inside. Although the tomb was first found in 2009 and excavations took place from 2016 to 2017, the initial claim was met by scepticism . However, confirmation of the find has now officially been made public after the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology concluded that the remains almost certainly belonged to Cao Cao.

Experts also believe that adult male remains found in the smaller of the two constructions belong to Cao Cao’s first son, Cao Ang.

The site of the large mausoleum complex believed to hold the remains of Cao Cao and his first son. Credit: 163.com

The site of the large mausoleum complex believed to hold the remains of Cao Cao and his first son. Credit: 163.com

Tomb Discovery

The tomb, covering an area of 740 square metres, was first found in 2009 in Xigaoxue Village, Anyang County, Henan, while workers at a nearby kiln were digging up mud to make bricks. The local authorities knew of it only when they seized a stone tablet carrying the inscription 'King Wu of Wei' — Cao Cao's posthumous title — from grave robbers who claimed to have stolen it from the tomb.

They also dug up more than 250 artifacts, including gold, silver, pottery, paintings, a sword, scabbard, and 59 engraved stone plates logging the name and amount of articles buried in the tomb. Most significantly, was the discovery of stone tablets attached to eight weapons and artifacts, bearing the inscription: “This is what the King of Wei Wu used”.

The tablets are the strongest evidence that the tomb belongs to Cao Cao as experts have said that it is unlikely there would have been so many relics inscribed with Cao's posthumous reference in the tomb unless it was in fact Cao’s.

The entrance to the tomb believed to be Cao Cao’s. Credit: En.people.cn

The entrance to the tomb believed to be Cao Cao’s. Credit: En.people.cn

Cao Cao, Powerful Eastern Han Warlord

Cao Cao (155 to 220 AD) was the penultimate Chancellor of the Eastern Han dynasty who rose to great power. Although he is often portrayed as a cruel and merciless tyrant, Cao Cao was also praised as a brilliant ruler and military genius.

In the late second century, Cao Cao emerged as one of the main warlords in China as the Han Dynasty crumbled. He successfully built up the state of Wei in northern China, ruling from 208 AD until his death in 220 AD. Soon after his death, his son Cao Pi formally removed the last Han emperor from the throne and started the Wei Dynasty.

A re-enactment of a speech given by Cao Cao on the eve of battle

Cao Cao Did Not Want to be Found

Historical records suggest that Cao Cao went to great lengths before his death to keep his final resting place secret. He made a will that stated his burial site should not be identified, and according to legends, he had 72 coffins created that were transported to 72 different sites on the day of his funeral. The transporters were all killed to prevent each of those locations from being revealed.

South China Morning Post reports that Cao Cao’s will was ignored. Zhou Ligang, a researcher at the Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, said that Cao Cao’s son, Cao Pi, did not want his father’s resting place to be hidden and had a great mausoleum constructed to honor his death.

“Experts believe that the son later ordered the destruction of the monuments on the surface for fear that his father’s tomb would be targeted by opponents or robbers,” reports South China Morning Post.

It has not been reported on which evidence exactly the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology has reached this conclusion or if the previous sceptical arguments have been answered.

A museum is currently being built at the site and is expected to open to the public in three years.

Top image: The Mausoleum where the remains of a man in his sixties were found. En.people.cn

By April Holloway

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