Ancient Chinese Burial Customs Exposed at Cliff of Tombs
In China, archaeologists have found thousands of burials on a cliff. The burial ground was in use for over 2000 years. Many important historical artifacts have been uncovered in the tombs. These graves could allow experts to trace the evolution of Chinese burial customs and indeed offer priceless insights into the culture’s religious beliefs over many centuries.
These tombs were found in the provincial capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, which is in the south-west of the People’s Republic. The discoveries were made inside the Chuanxin Innovative Science and Technology Park during construction work in 2015. Archaeologists from Chengdu Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, led by Zuo Zhiqiang, carried out a dig at the site and identified a large number of burials. Ecns.cn reports that the tombs cover an ‘area of 10.34 square meters’ (111 sq. ft.) The burials are cut into the face and on the top of a cliff.
Tombs Cut into a Cliff
The tombs have been cut into the red earth of the cliff. Heritage Daily reports that they are mostly ‘rock pit tombs or constructed from brick’. Some of the tombs have to be supported with wood so they do not collapse. So far, archaeologists have uncovered 6000 burial spaces of different sizes.
This burial site dates from the Warring States period (475 BC), the period before the unification of China to the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912 AD), the last Chinese dynasty. The discovery can provide an insight into the history and burial customs of Sichuan. This region played a very important part in Chinese history and it was often the base for rebellious generals and independent empires, such as the Shu dynasty.
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6000 tombs have been discovered cut into the cliffs. (Sina)
A Glimpse into Ancient Chinese Burial Customs
The archaeologists discovered many artifacts which can provide them with clues to ancient Chinese burial customs. For example, they uncovered terracotta pottery and figurines. Ceramic figures of humans and also animals, such as ducks, were unearthed.
According to Heritage Daily the excavators also uncovered ‘pieces of pottery, porcelain, copper, iron, glass, coins and stone artefacts’. Among the rarer finds are a bronze knife, statues of the Buddha, and some painted miniature ceramic houses and buildings.
Artifacts such as figurines can provide more insight into ancient Chinese burial customs. (thepaper.cn)
Xinhua. Net reports that in ancient China ‘people had the tradition of giving the deceased luxurious burials’. It seemed that the deceased family placed the grave goods in the tombs so that they could use them in the afterlife. In Chinese burial customs, lavish offerings have been a sign of social status. This practice has taken place since the imperial period and continues today.
One of the rich burials found at the cliff site. (CGTN)
The Luck of Finding Undisturbed Graves
What is unique about the burial site is that all of the graves were left intact and were undisturbed for centuries. Xinhua reports that burials ‘of that period were typically robbed by modern-day tomb raiders.’ What is more, the grave goods were still in their original positions and this can help the researchers to better understand the evolution of Chinese funerary customs.
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One particularly important find was from the late or Eastern Han (25-220 AD) period or after, which has been called the M94 Cliff Tomb. Here researchers have found 86 burial goods and hundreds of coins from the period. The tomb clearly belonged to a person of high social rank. Zuo Zhiqiang told Heritage Daily, “The tomb will help us to construct the archaeological cultural sequence and the funeral behaviors, rituals, and concepts of the Shudiya tombs in the late Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period.”
Aerial view of the M94 cliff tomb, including skeletons and grave goods. (Sina)
Work is ongoing at the tomb cliffs and it is hoped that more treasures will be found at the site to reveal even more secrets of ancient Chinese burial customs. More findings from the research will be announced in the near future. The site at Chengdu can help us comprehend the worldview and funerary beliefs of people over an incredibly long period of time.
Top image: 6000 tombs from a timespan of 2000 years provide archaeologists with special insight into ancient Chinese burial customs. Source: 51grb
By Ed Whelan