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2,100-Year-Old Royal Tomb Discovered in China

2,100-Year-Old Royal Tomb Discovered in China

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Archaeologists in China have announced the discovery of an ancient tomb belonging to a King Liu Fei, who ruled over the Jiangdu Kingdom in China 2,100 years ago, according to a report in Live Science.  The spectacular mausoleum, which contains three main tombs and eleven attendant tombs, was found to contain more than 10,000 artifacts, including several life-size chariots, dozens of smaller chariots, a weapons cache, musical instruments, and thousands of relics made of gold, silver, bronze, jade and lacquer.

The 490-metre-long burial complex was first discovered in 2009 in Xuyi County in Jiangsu, and has been excavated over a number of years. The results of the excavations have just been published in the journal of Chinese Archaeology. 

King Liu Fei died in 128 B.C. during the 26th year of his rule over a kingdom named Jiangdu.   At this time, China was one of the largest and wealthiest empires on Earth, however, the power of its emperor was not absolute. During this time a number of kings co-existed under the control of the emperor. These kings could amass great wealth and, at times, they rebelled against the emperor.

About seven years after Liu Fei's death, the Chinese emperor seized control of Jiangdu Kingdom, because Liu Jian, who was Liu Fei's son and successor, allegedly plotted against the him.

"Liu Fei admired daring and physical prowess. He built palaces and observation towers and invited to his court all the local heroes and strong men from everywhere around," wrote ancient historian Sima Qian (145-86 B.C.), as translated by Burton Watson. "His way of life was marked by extreme arrogance and luxury."

Such extravagance was also reflected in his burial, where archaeologists found that Liu Fei had been surrounded by a vast assortment of goods for the afterlife. Around his burial chamber were numerous smaller chambers, which were stashed full of weapons, including iron swords, spearheads, crossbow triggers, halberds (a two-handled pole weapon), knives and more than 20 chariot models (not life-size).

A small selection of artifacts found in Liu Fei’s tomb

A small selection of artifacts found in Liu Fei’s tomb. Credit: Chinese Archaeology

Liu Fei had also been well provided for with more than 100,000 coins, a kitchen, food, and cooking equipment for the afterlife. Several clay inscriptions found held the seal of the "culinary officer of the Jiangdu Kingdom."

Unfortunately, the king’s tomb had been disturbed in antiquity and the king’s body had been removed, with just a few pieces of his coffin remaining. From the remaining fragments, researchers were able to determine that the inner coffin was originally lacquered and inlaid with jade plaques.

An adjacent tomb, whose occupant is unknown, contained one of the most significant discoveries within the mausoleum – a completely intact jade coffin – the only undamaged jade coffin ever discovered in the history of Chinese archaeology.

Featured image: The recently-discovered Jiangdu mausoleum. Credit: Chinese Archaeology

By April Holloway



Tsurugi's picture

So should we infer that the body was somehow more valuable to the erstwhile looters than all the material wealth in the mausoleum?
Or perhaps they were not concerned with material wealth at all...but then one wonders, for what purpose did they abscond with the corpse?

Or perhaps there is a corpse, but it is of "inconvenient lineage"...

You're right, it is certainly odd.

angieblackmon's picture

yes you did. how odd.

love, light and blessings


Tsurugi's picture

Did I read that right? The tomb was looted in antiquity, but the so-called looters took the body and left all the loot?

aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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