1000-Year-Old Chinese Couple Vanish Making Way For New Motorway
A 1000-year-old “Chinese couple” were pulled out of their brick-walled graves in an ancient cemetery to make way for a motorway. In 2020, archaeologists from the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Hunan Province , in central China, were called out to a discovery at the ancient Tangjiawan cemetery, which was about to become the new Ningxiang-Shaoshan motorway.
The archaeologists discovered scattered charcoal, several pottery shards and a nail that had been used for closing the 1,000-year-old tomb, which contained the married couple’s bodies. A report in China Daily says the couple had been buried together with a window in a dividing wall, or “fairy bridge,” which the archaeologists think served to connect the husband and wife enabling them to further their romance in the afterlife.
Get Them Out of Here, There’s a Digger Coming Through
Thought to have been interred during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 to 1127 AD), the ancient Chinese couple were found lying on a tiled floor in a brick-lined grave with their heads upon a tile pillow. According to a report in the Daily Mail, the lead archaeologist at the site, Yang Ningbo, said the so called “fairy bridge,” or hole in the separating wall, is “a rare find” in ancient Chinese burials.
An archaeologist works at the excavation site of the ancient Chinese couple’s tomb dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) in Nanfentang Village, Batang Township, Ningxiang City, central China's Hunan Province, May 17, 2020. (Xinhua / Liu Jing)
While the ancient Chinese couple had obviously planned to spend eternity together, according to the national newspaper China Daily, their skeletons “have now been removed.” So around a thousand years ago, these two people went through all the effort and costs to arrange their joint burial so that they could be together forever: what then are the mitigating circumstances that might lessen the gravity of them being pulled out of the ground?
You had better brace yourself for this one folks, for according to the Daily Mail report, archaeologists in China first found the tombs in 2007, and they were left alone because they were of such rarity and cultural value. But they were asked, or rather instructed, to excavate the tomb in 2020 due to “the construction of a motorway, which is set to plough through the ancient burial ground.”
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The Abnormalities of Elites
The tomb containing the skeletons was one of several tombs discovered in a cluster at Nanfentang Village and investigated by the Hunan Provincial Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Another tomb was opened at the site dated to the Eastern Han Dynasty, 25 to 220 AD, and it contained 13 objects including an iron cauldron and stand, which are similar to the utensils used today while preparing traditional Chinese hotpot, it was claimed.
With such a diverse cultural mix in mainland China, there were many different burial practices, for example, a wealthy family might have employed a priest to conduct the feast and to appropriate the drink and food offerings to the spirits.
Archaeologist Yang Ningbo told China Today that the few grave goods suggests the occupants were “normal civilians,” who may have had access to some wealth. In an ironic way, Yang Ningbo's word choice was interesting, when he called “common” folk who were “not” in the noble or royal classes “normal.”
Northern Song Dynasty Innovations Caused Rapid Expansion
Putting this discovery in historical context, Emperor Taizu founded the Northern Song Dynasty in mainland China and established its capital at Kaifeng following the collapse of the Tang reign in 960 AD. Having discovered a fast-ripening rice, the dynasty rapidly expanded and developed strong trading connections with surrounding nations.
The giant statue of Confucius and pavilion in one of the ancient capitals of China: Kaifeng. (QIAO / Adobe stock)
For over two centuries, the dynasty innovated not only new agricultural technologies, but also mechanical inventions including printing presses with movable parts, which were not used in Europe until the 15th century, not to mention they developed a much more reactionary and powerful gunpowder, making the dynasty a fearful foe.
The dynasty rebuffed repeated attacks from Kublai Khan and his Mongol forces, but it finally collapsed only a decade after Marco Polo reached Beijing in 1266 AD, where he met the Mongol ruler who had already assumed control of most of the dynasty.
Top image: Photo taken on May 17, 2020 shows the excavation site of the ancient Chinese couple’s tomb dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) in Nanfentang Village, Batang Township, Ningxiang City, central China's Hunan Province. Source: Xinhua / Liu Jing
By Ashley Cowie