Archeology and History of the Silk Road

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

Discovery of mural tombs of Song Dynasty in Shandong, E China

Two mural tombs were excavated in Laizhou, Shandong province, East China, April 2014. Mural tombs though have been discovered in this region before, most of them are poorly preserved. These two tombs dating back to the Song dynasty provide rich information about the history of mural tomb in this region.
 
Tomb M1, heading towards south, has a brick-chamber whose style is a mimic of wooden structure. The plane of M1 is a square with length of 2.5m. The tomb is about 3m in height including a pavilion roof. Due to the destruction, merely the passage corridor, the west and the north walls of the chamber and part of the roof are preserved. The bricks were built into bracket-set pattern. Brick-structured pillars are found at the corner with red background and black-stroked diamond pattern. Murals were painted upon a white ash layer, depicting a set of elaborated tables and chairs on the west wall. The mural on the north wall pictures a red door guided by a green dragon on the east and a white tiger on the west. Burial goods and skeleton were not discovered due to the destruction.



 
The description of the tomb was carved on the west wall in the passage corridor which is identified as ‘buried at the 8th of August, the 2nd year of Xuanhe’.
 
Tomb M2 is also a brick-chambered tomb in a wooden-like style. The tomb is facing to the south (orientation 190°). The tomb is consisted of the passage corridor, tomb gate, sealed gate and chamber. As the chamber roof is not preserved well, only the tomb gate, the passage corridor and part of the chamber were excavated.
 
The passage corridor stretches from the south wall of the chamber. The tomb gate is located at the south side of the corridor. The ground is paved with sands and the walls are spread with a layer of white ash.

 
The sealed gate, tomb gate and the chamber gate are all built with bricks. The sealed gate is vault shaped which is made of 23 layers of bricks.
 
The plane shape of the chamber is round with diameter of 2.56m. The height of the chamber now is 2.35m. The coffin base is situated against the north wall with height of 0.3m and width of 1.55m. The base is built into a Sumeru shape with three layers of decorations. The top decoration includes engraved lotus. The middle part depicts three windows through which three dancing lions can be seen. The bottom is the foundation which carved several fruits symbolizing good fortune. 

 
The chamber can be divided into three sections horizontally. The bottom part is straight walls on which a set of relief mural including windows, tables and chairs are carved. In the middle section, bricks are constructed to show the design of bracket systems while the upper section is the roof in vaulted style.

 
Although the tomb is heavily disturbed, two skeletons were discovered. One skull is well preserved. The rest of the skeletons however, cannot be further identified. The coffin is not preserved either. In terms of burial goods, only a pair of grey clay jars is recovered in fairly good condition.

 Murals are painted upon a layer of white ash in the straight walls. The tables, chairs, doors and windows in the mural were engraved on bricks, standing out from the wall surface. Brown, red, black, yellow and white colours are used. The mural includes two parts with the top part depicting bracket systems in colour and the lower part painting a living scene with lamps, tables and windows. It is interesting that a ‘hockey stick’ was painted lying against a chair in the west wall mural. It seems a stick for a kind of sports called ‘Chui Wan’ (strick the ball) in ancient China.
 
The written record shows that M1 was buried in 1121 A.D. (the 2nd year of Xuanhe), which is the end of the north Song dynasty. According to the pottery style displayed in the tomb, M2 can date to the Song dynasty as well. A complicated technology was adopted to build the coffin base in M1 which involves moulding, pasting and firing. Such technology has been rarely seen in other burials. It is the first discovery of ‘Chui Wan’ sports stick in the Jiaodong region, providing new evidence on the development of sports in ancient China.  (Translator: Dong Ningning)


From: Chinese Archaeology

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