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Aerial photo taken on Dec. 5, 2023 showing the archaeological site of a tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-25 AD) in Wulong District of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.	Source: Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News

2,200-year-old Tomb Packed With Artifacts and History Unearthed in China

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On December 5, 2023, a major archaeological discovery was made in the Wulong District of Chongqing Municipality, located in Southwest China. A tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-25 AD) was uncovered, remarkably well-preserved and containing a trove of valuable historical artifacts. This significant find was announced by the Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

The tomb's discovery was part of a larger archaeological project, a rescue excavation and preservation initiative. This initiative was undertaken in collaboration with the Baima project, which is associated with the construction of the last in a series of hydropower stations along the Wujiang River in Chongqing. The project received the green light from the National Cultural Heritage Administration and began in March of the same year.

Archaeologists work at a tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-25 AD). (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

Archaeologists work at a tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-25 AD). (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

The Exceptional, Artifact Filled, Han Dynasty Tomb

The excavation team, comprising over 20 experts from various archaeology research institutes and universities, was led by Huang Wei. They unearthed a collection of tombs spanning from the Han Dynasty era to the Six Dynasties period.

Of particular importance was the tomb from the Western Han Dynasty, which stood out due to the exceptional state of preservation and the wealth of artifacts found within.

Laquerware recovered unearthed from a tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-25 AD) are seen in Wulong District of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

Laquerware recovered unearthed from a tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-25 AD) are seen in Wulong District of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

More than 600 cultural relics were recovered from this tomb, including items such as lacquerware, wood ware, bamboo ware, pottery, and bronze ware. These artifacts provide a window into the past, offering insights into the daily life, art, and culture of the era.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this tomb is its year-round waterlogged condition, which has been crucial in preserving the artifacts in an undisturbed state.

Among the findings was a detailed list of burial items, which included a precise record of the year of burial, identified as 193 BC. This list not only catalogued the items but also provided information about their quantity and size, shedding light on the burial customs of the time.

Researchers delicately removing preserved waterlogged wooden part of the tomb. (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

Researchers delicately removing preserved waterlogged wooden part of the tomb. (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

Han Dynasty Treasures

The presence of jade ware among the unearthed items indicates that the individual buried in this tomb likely held a prominent position in society. According to Bai Jiujiang, the head of the Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, this tomb is particularly significant because it contains the largest quantity of lacquered wood and bamboo wares ever found at one time in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. Furthermore, it is the earliest-known tomb from the Western Han Dynasty with a clearly recorded year.

One of many lacquerware containers from the tomb. (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

One of many lacquerware containers from the tomb. (Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News)

Opening Up the Past

The findings from this tomb will be invaluable for archaeologists and historians reconstructing the story of China’s past, as they provide physical evidence and vital research materials for future studies on burial customs and the comparative analysis of artifacts from the early Western Han Dynasty. The discovery is a crucial addition to our understanding of the ancient Qin and Han Dynasties in the Wujiang River Basin.

The excavation and its findings play a significant role in expanding our knowledge of ancient Chinese history and culture. The artifacts and the tomb itself will undoubtedly contribute to ongoing studies and exhibitions, shedding light on a period that shaped much of China's historical and cultural legacy.

Top image: Aerial photo taken on Dec. 5, 2023 showing the archaeological site of a tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-25 AD) in Wulong District of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.     Source: Chongqing Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute/ Xinhua News

By Gary Manners

 
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Gary

Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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