Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Big noses, curly hair on empress's coffin suggests deep cultural exchange on Silk Road

XI'AN, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archeologists have found new evidence of international cultural exchange on the ancient Silk Road.
Four European-looking warriors and lion-like beasts are engraved on an empress's 1,200-year-old stone coffin that was unearthed in Shaanxi Province, in northwestern China.
The warriors on the four reliefs had deep-set eyes, curly hair and over-sized noses -- physical characteristics Chinese typically associate with Europeans.
The 27-tonne Tang Dynasty (618-907) sarcophagus contained empress Wu Huifei (699-737), Ge Chengyong, a noted expert on Silk Road studies, said Tuesday.
Ge said one of the warriors was very much like Zues, the "father of gods and men" in Greek mythology.
The coffin was also engraved with deer, tigers and goats.
"It's noteworthy that goats signify tragedy in Greek mythology. The word 'tragedy' itself means 'song of the man-goat singer'," he said.
He said the tragic element coincides with the empress's unhappy life: several of her children died young and she herself lived constantly in fear.
Ge said the exotic sarcophagus is rare for China, where ancient coffins almost always had Buddhist-themed reliefs and murals depicting harmony, happiness and peace.
The elements of Greek mythology on Empress Wu Huifei's coffin suggest cross-cultural exchange was common in Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty, located in today's Xi'an, he said. "There could have even been clergymen from Western countries serving in the Tang imperial court."
Wu Huifei was Emperor Xuanzong's favorite concubine and was posthumously known as Empress Zhenshun, meaning "the virtuous and serene empress."
Her sarcophagus - 4 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high - was stolen from her tomb in the southern suburbs of Xi'an in 2006.
Police said it was then smuggled out of China and sold to a businessman in the United States for 1 million U.S. dollars.
It returned to China in April and has been housed at the Shaanxi History Museum from June.


Special about this is that obviously nobody had noticed this earlier as this coffin is not a new discovery but it was stolen.
The following photo's from the Times of India from the ShaanxiHistory Museum in Xi'an are too small to give any details.

XI AN, CHINA - JUNE 17: The relief of maiden figures on the sarcophagus of Tang empress Wu Huifei (AD 699-737) is seen at Shaanxi History Museum on June 17, 2010 in Xi'an, Shaanxi province of China. The 27-ton stone coffin of Tang empress Wu Huifei (AD 699-737) arrived at the Shaanxi History Museum on Thursday, four years after it was smuggled out of the country. The sarcophagus is 4 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high, featuring flowers and maiden figures in relief. Robbers stole it from Wu's tomb in the southern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, in 2006.


Diwiyana said...

I'm pleased you showed pictures, which were not shown on other sites. But it seems odd that the Greeks should be mentioned. Considering the locale in northwest China, I should think the neighboring people, i.e., such Turkic peoples as Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Kirghiz considerably more likely than Europeans as bearing the big noses and curly hair. Possibly the descendant of a Tokharian or two, being as it's Tang Dynasty.

Khubilai said...

The news itself is fascinating and in itself not so surprising since travelling in the old days happened to take place more often than we think.
Since there are so few recorded travels in written documents we tend to think that it did not happen that often.
Are the figures on the Tang shrine Greek?
No idea as so often there are no detailed pictures to give an idea how these figure(s) look(s).
I tried to have a look at the site of the Shaanxi History Museum ( but that one is exclusively in Chinese and gives no further clues (that i'am aware of).
As I mentioned in the article obviously nobody noticed anything earlier as this coffin is not a new discovery but it was stolen. Strange?