Timeless Mystery: How did a Swiss Ring Watch End up in a Sealed Ming Dynasty Tomb?
A mystery continues to surround the curious excavation of a strange artifact and those who recovered it from the depths of an ancient tomb in China. When archaeologists reportedly recovered a modern-looking, mud-encrusted artifact from a 400-year-old sealed tomb, their astonishment was apparent. For some, this type of discovery could have only meant one thing—it was evidence of time travel. Was the discovery real? Was it a hoax? Could the find have been an intriguing artifact out of place and time?
In 2008 it was reported by several news outlets that a team of archaeologists had made a puzzling discovery. Reports described the team as comprised of archaeologists and journalists filming a documentary at a dig at a sealed tomb dating to the Ming Dynasty in Shangsi, southern China. As one of the coffins was being cleared of soil before being opened, a strange thing happened.
Interior of the Dingling Tomb, a part of the Ming Dynasty Tombs, collection of mausoleums built by the Chinese Ming dynasty emperors. Representational image only. Wikimedia Commons
“When we tried to remove the soil wrapped around the coffin, suddenly a piece of rock dropped off and hit the ground with metallic sound,” said Jiang Yanyu, a former curator of the Guangxi Autonomous Region Museum, according to reports. “We picked up the object, and found it was a ring. After removing the covering soil and examining it further, we were shocked to see it was a watch.”
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The strange metallic object was said to be a small golden ring, with a watch face on its front, approximately two millimeters thick. Tiny hands on the watch showed time had frozen at 10:06. Most astonishing of all, the back of the diminutive watch was said to have the word “Swiss” or “Switzerland” written in English.
The enigmatic ring-watch found in a 400-year-old sealed tomb in China. Where did the ring come from? How did it get in the tomb? ( Image Source )
“Swiss Made” is the term used in recent decades to show that product has originated in Switzerland, especially relating to watches.
How was it possible that a tomb sealed for 400 years and dating to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) had come to hold an artifact that could only have been created after the establishment of the present state of Switzerland, (in 1848; previous to then it was known as The Old Swiss Confederacy) and the ring-watch is said to date back only a century?
“This is the earliest dated watch known. It is engraved on the bottom: Philip Melanchthon, to God alone the glory, 1530. There are very few watches existing today that predate 1550; only two dated examples are known--this one from 1530 and another from 1548. The perforations in the case permitted one to see the time without opening the watch.” Public Domain
How could such an artifact have been discovered so out of place and out of time?
OOPArts are “out-of-place-artifacts,” a description of unique and little-understood objects from the archaeological record which fall into the ‘anomalous’ category. To some, these objects have been found when and where they should not be (such as the Antikythera mechanism , the Maine Penny , and even the Nazca Lines ), and thus challenge the conventional understanding of history, and may even reveal that humanity (or otherworldly beings) had a different degree of civilization or sophistication than described and understood by officials and academia.
There are many theories as to how a modern-looking Swiss ring with a watch face might have been discovered by Chinese archaeologists from a 400-year-old sealed tomb.
Some researchers cite the possibility of time travelers who came from the future and who dropped a modern ring in an ancient location, accidentally leaving their anachronistic possession behind. The evidence for this is scant, but it is an intriguing idea.
However, it is also within the realm of possibility that the so-called ‘sealed’ tomb was not as secure as the Chinese officials and archaeologists had presumed. Early tomb-raiders or explorers gaining access to the tombs secretly cannot be ruled out, although there are no reports on any of the ancient Chinese artifacts having suffered damage or theft—something which might be expected if the tomb was entered.
Still others comment that if the strange timepiece/jewelry had been dropped in the last century or so, a rodent might have taken it and burrowed into the tomb.
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The Great Unknowns
There is still much that is unknown about the story of the Swiss watch in China.
Was the tiny artifact an actual working mechanism with gears, and moving hands? Or was it simply a mold or pressing of a watch face into metal?
Ring-watches, fashionable jewelry pieces, are not unheard of but they were not popular until after 1780 in Europe. In 1588 Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have worn a special ring-watch with a protrusion which would scratch her finger as a clever “alarm”. Additionally, in 1755 Caron, a Parisian watchmaker created a ring-watch that was wound with a key. However, this is all academic, as the ring-watches were not known to be in vogue during the Ming Dynasty, and in its reported condition the ring doesn’t seem to have been a protected grave-good. Indeed, it is said the ring was on the outside of the coffin, and seemed to fall away with a light touch.
A locket ring which belonged to England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Representational image. Wikimedia Commons
Finally, there is a lack of background evidence surrounding the entire episode. Though the story has been reported and widely circulated by media outlets, there seems to be little information on the background of the archaeologists and journalists involved in the story. It has never been revealed which tomb in particular was being excavated, by whom, nor any additional information on the coffin itself.
Could it be that this whole incident is a hoax; disinformation from start to finish?
The strange mystery of the tiny metal ring-watch has remained thus far unsolved. There is no clear evidence to prove it as a definite OOPArt, nor enough facts to condemn it as a mere hoax. What is certain, however, is that it is a story which ignites the imagination and urges us to reconsider how it might have come to be nestled in a Ming Dynasty tomb before its time.
Featured image: The ring or watch said to have been found by Chinese archaeologists in 2008 at a centuries-old, sealed tomb. ( Image Source )
By Liz Leafloor
Thornhill, C. 2008. Mystery as century-old Swiss watch discovered in ancient tomb sealed for 400 years . Mail Online [Online] Available here.
Ancient Code, 2015. The mystery of the Swiss watch from the Ming Dynasty. [Online] Available here.
Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie , 2015. History of Watchmaking [Online] Available here.
Garnham, E. 2008. Tomb raiders baffled by Swiss watch found in ancient tomb . Express[Online] Available here.