Recreating the Past in a Cart Fit for a King: Experts Restore Rolls Royce of Ancient China
Chinese media are calling an ancient cart that experts replicated with computers and other modern and ancient techniques “ancient China’s No. 1 luxury car.” The wooden parts of the cart had disintegrated in the time since it was made in China’s Gansu province about 2,400 years ago and then buried in the Majiayuan cemetery.
CNTV calls it a royal conveyance dating to the Warring States period. The cart is now at the Emperor Qinshihuang Mausoleum Museum. CNTV reports that the Xirong people made the cart. These were a people that once inhabited the outlying area of Huaxia. The cart itself was a big project both in the past and present:
“The wooden part of the cart has rotted and disappeared. This caused us a lot of difficulties in restoring it,” Yu Suihuai of the Northwestern Polytechnical University told CNTV. “Based on the existing information, we used logical deductions and inferences, and finally got a scientific result.”
Archaeologists began carrying out excavations at the Majiayuan Cemetery in 2006, states an article in the journal Chinese Archaeology . They found several chariots, of which only traces remained. The cemetery has 59 tombs and sacrifice pits. The article says many delicate objects were discovered in the tombs.
The largest tomb was the only one that had whole horse carcasses buried with the owner. All of the horses were adorned with ornaments and arranged in a squatting position. That grave was looted, and practically everything was taken except the remnants of the chariot and ornaments -but it appears some valuable items were left behind by the robbers. The ornaments included glass beads and faience beads, gold mask ornaments, carnelian hook-shaped pendants and bronze and gold masks and gold and silver tack for horses and chariots. There was also a yoke pole finial made of bone. The bronze pieces are a chariot and horse tack.
The gold and silver items include a horse and chariot tack and ornaments, and eight human mask-shaped ornaments made with gold foil. The faces have circular eyes, protruding eyebrows and nose and beards painted black. The tomb included other ornaments in the shape of fans and rectangles that are inlaid with carnelian and turquoise.
Some of the decorative items found in the largest tomb include these items as described in the journal Chinese Archaeology. ( Chinese Archaeology )
The article at Chinese Archaeology does not say if the other graves were looted or not, but they too contained some valuable items, including of gold and silver, and animal heads.
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Other tombs from various eras have been found with chariots in China.
For example, a set of elaborate tombs surrounded by 28 chariots and 98 horses was unearthed in the province of Hubei in China in 2015. Ancient Origins reported in January 2015 that the discovery dates back 2,800 years to a time when high-ranking nobles demonstrated their power and strength through the ownership and display of horse-led chariots.
Researchers excavated 30 elite tombs of various sizes in the city of Zaoyang. They date back to what is known as the Summer and Autumn Period in Chinese history (770 – 476 BC), which corresponds roughly to the first half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, and was characterized by the creation of powerful states and the birth of a wealthy merchant class.
Sacrificial horses discovered in the tomb of Duke Jing of Qi of the Summer and Autumn Period; animals sacrificed were placed in Chinese tombs for many years, perhaps to accompany their human occupants to the afterlife. ( Rolfmueller/CC BY SA 3.0 )
Another grave , from about 3,000 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty era, 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. Archaeologists in June 2015 were excavating Chongpingyuan cemetery in Yichuan County, in Shaanxi Province when they found the grave. Some of the graves in Chongpinguyan were looted, but archaeologists were still finding valuable grave goods.
The Zhou Dynasty chariot with horse skeletons at left in the grave (Photo by Chinese Archaeology)
Many other beautiful pieces, including gold decorations, jewelry and a belt, bronze vessels, chariots and other items from the Majiayuan burials of 2,400 years ago can be seen in the PDF of the Chinese Archaeology article about the excavations of the cemetery.
Featured image: The cart from 2,400 years ago was reconstructed using original workmanship techniques with digital modeling and modern design. (CNTV photo)
By Mark Miller