An honored Zhou Dynasty warrior, buried with a chariot and horses, has been unearthed in China
There is a legend about the battle of Muye in 1046 BC, fought between the 50,000 soldiers of the ancient Chinese Zhou Dynasty and 700,000 from the Shang Dynasty. The legend says Shang soldiers were so unhappy with their leaders that many soldiers fought listlessly and others defected to the Zhou, who won the battle and consolidated their rule in northern China.
Now a burial from the Zhou Dynasty era, China's longest-lasting dynasty, has been excavated that had in the grave an elaborate chariot. The grave contained one chariot decorated with a dragon, brass bells and jade pieces; a chariot of inferior quality; remains of two horses with bronze helmets; pottery shards and stone implements. Who knows if the soldier buried there took part in the battle of Muye? Whether he did or not, he was apparently especially honored by his people as evidenced by the richness of the grave goods.
Archaeologists are excavating Chongpingyuan cemetery in Yichuan County, in Shaanxi Province. Some of the graves have been looted, but archaeologists are still finding valuable grave goods.
The Archaeology News Network blog describes the grave and its artifacts:
“The most important discovery in this excavation was the K1 chariot and horse pit. The pit is a rectangular shaft pit, 7.1m long from east to west, 3m wide from north to south and 2.7m deep, with walls that are almost straight. ... In the pit were two chariots and the bones of each chariot’s two horses. The two chariots were end to end, with the horses’ heads facing east. Chariot Number One … is of high quality with picturesque decoration. The chariot and the two horses [are] in relatively good condition. The chariot body is covered in reddish brown lacquer, with components such as the wooden block under the chariot and the side planks decorated with a red lacquered deformed dragon design. Furthermore, the yoke on the shaft crossbar is decorated with bronze tinkling bells. Both ends of the axel are decorated with bronze caps. On the front of the chariot and on either side of the body are almost square-shaped jade pieces. Apart from an abundance of decoration on the faces of the horses, along with many leather or linen horse abdomen fittings decorated with bronze, there were also two bronze helmets on their heads.”
Archaeologists found many traces of day-to-day living at the cemetery, including pottery shards, stone implements, cooking pits and ash pits. “This shows that in this cemetery area, there existed contemporaneous dwellings. That the cemetery and living area were either in the same place or neighboring each other is perhaps the result of inhabitants adapting to the narrow plateau over a long period of time.” The article at Archaeology News Network did not indicate the years the cemetery was active except to say it was of the Zhou Dynasty era.
Another Zhou Dynasty-era burial, unrelated to the one with the chariots, had a silk ritual garment incorporating tigers, phoenixes and dragons (Photo by PericlesofAthen/Wikimedia Commons)
After the battle of Muye, the king of the Shang people committed suicide by locking himself inside a palace and burning it down around him. Leaders of the Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from 1046 BC to 256 BC, justified their conquest by saying the Shang had violated the Mandate of Heaven or broke with the deities under whom they were said to have ruled. The online Ancient History Encyclopedia says every subsequent Chinese dynasty that took over from an old one would justify the new rule with the same explanation.
Fittings in the form of bronze tigers from the Middle Zhou Dynasty of about 900 BC (Photo by Daderot/Wikimedia Commons)
Some of ancient China's most important figures lived under the later part of the Zhou Dynasty, which was considered a period of artistic and intellectual enlightenment. “Many of the ideas developed by figures like Laozi or Lao-Tsu, Confucius, Mencius and Mozi, who all lived during the Eastern Zhou period, would shape the character of Chinese civilization to the present day,” says the encyclopedia.
A painting depicting the birth of the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi, who said “He who serves a ruler of men in harmony with Tao will not subdue the Empire by force of arms. Such a course is wont to bring retribution in its train.” (Painting by Nyo/Wikimedia Commons)
The Zhou people were native to the region, between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, and did not invade. They consolidated power by making alliances with local tribes before they attempted war with the Shang. Prior to conquest, the Zhou intermittently had made war and co-existed peacefully with the Shang after moving to the Plain of Zhou from the west, where they had faced pressure from barbarians. The Shang considered the Zhou semi-barbarians. The Zhou's ancestors were the Neolithic Longshan people.
Featured image: The chariot with horse skeletons at left in the grave (Photo by Chinese Archaeology)
By Mark Miller