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Home >> Sci-Edu
UPDATED: 19:01, December 14, 2006
2,500-year-old boat coffin to reveal mysterious Chinese kingdom
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With abundant cultural relics, a boat-shaped coffin dating back nearly 2,500 years has unearthed recently in southwest China's Sichuan Province, giving expectation to reveal true history of a mysterious kingdom in the area.

Located in a construction site in Feilong Village of Heshan Town in Pujiang County, the coffin was discovered on Dec. 5 by workers when they were conducting mud-digging 1.5 meters deep underground.

The Pujiang County was part of the Shu Kingdom, which has kept mysterious because no written record about its history and culture left over in the past 2,500 years.

According to Liu Yumao, an expert of Chengdu Institute of Archaeology, the coffin, belonging to the Warring States period (475 BC - 221 BC), was made of a 7-meter-long rare wood material nanmu with a diameter of 1.6 meters.

The wood was cut into halves and hollowed in the middle where laid the dead body and funerary objects.

The archaeologists discovered two bronze kettles and "duns" beside the coffin, and a number of broken bronze wares which were believed to be the fragments of the bronze kettles and "duns".

Bronze kettles and "duns" are wine vessels in Warring States period and seldom unearthed before in Sichuan Province, said Liu. "Judging from the appearance, they bear obvious characteristics of the culture of Chu State and probably come from provinces of Hubei and Hunan."

These bronze wares were impossible to be possessed by ordinary families, so the tomb probably belonged to a noble family in Shu kingdom, according to Liu.

After lifting the coffin cover weighing several tons with the help of a crane, archaeologists found that much mud was deposited in the coffin due to a square hole cut by robbers in the cover,

Hundreds of funerary objects were found in the coffin, including bronze ware, lacquerware, pottery ware and wood ware, which are believed to be the largest in number ever found in China.

"The pieces of lacquerware are amazing," said Jiang Cheng, deputy director of Chengdu Institute of Archeology. "Its wood and bamboo kinds are vivid in color and exquisite in figure."

Only accessible to nobles with high status, the lacquerware are quite precious in the Warring State period, the value of which could equal to bronze wares, according to Jiang.

Archaeologists also discovered bronze spears, bronze knives, bronze rings and bronze swords inside the coffin.

Large amounts of plant seeds and kernels were also unearthed.

By putting plant seeds and kernels in the coffin, ancient people hoped the dead could enjoy an affluent life in the other world, said Jiang.

Botanists will conduct research to identify the kinds of the seeds, Jiang said.

The historical relics also include a well preserved wood comb, a bridge-shaped coin, a black jade and a coin-sized seal of "Bashutuyu".

The coin-sized "Bashutuyu", discovered when the archaeologists were cleaning up the silt under the coffin, was a bronze seal with symbols similar to "King" in seal character on both sides and bud-like veins on the top and bottom, said Jiang.

The seal, also discovered in Xuanhan County and Xingjing County of Sichuan before, was still a riddle in Chinese archaeology, said Liu.

"The controversy now focuses on whether they are mysterious characters in ancient Ba and Shu areas, or primitive symbols of wizardry, or marks to distinguish different families."

Ba and Shu areas refer to two ancient states in the present Sichuan province. The Ba people lived around the provincial capital of Chengdu, and the Shu people lived around Chongqing, the largest city of Sichuan.

"A series of archaeological discoveries manifested that ancestors in Ba and Shu areas had enjoyed a developed civilization prior to Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC), but no records have been found to explain it."

"If we work out the seal, we can reveal the riddle, which is of great significance to understand the origin and development of the Ba-Shu culture." Liu said.

The bridge-shaped bronze coin dating back to the Spring and Autumn period (770 BC - 476 BC) and Warring States period (475 BC - 221 BC) was quite rare. It took on a shape of a half ring with two ends slightly tilting, and was carved with checked veins.

The coin was named "bridge coin" as it resembled China's traditional stone bridge, Jiang said.

Besides the coin were several bronze coins in currency during the Warring States period, cast with two Chinese characters of "Banliang".

The black jade, with a diameter of 10 centimeters and bud-like veins on the surface, was the last one unearthed.

Jades were exclusive to nobles in ancient China, which further proved that the tomb master is a noble of Shu kingdom, according to Liu.

According to Long Teng, an archaeologist from the local institute of cultural relics management, the most valuable item unearthed from the coffin is a 2.1-meter-long wooden quant, marked with colored drawings.

"It was the same with modern quants," Long said, adding that the discovery is helpful to resolve a controversy that whether the coffin should be called "boat coffin" or just simply "wood coffin."

Many experts preferred the "boat coffin", but they had no evidence. The discovery of quant is the evidence, he added.

"With the further archaeological excavation, more boat-shaped coffins will be discovered in this area," the expert said.

Boat-shaped coffins were used in burial ritual peculiar in the ancient Ba-Shu area. "The discovery is of great value to the study of the origin and development of culture as well as economic exchanges of the Shu Kingdom, he said.

Historical records show people of Shu Kingdom lived along rivers and boats were part in their lives, so they preferred to use boat-shaped coffins for burial, the expert said.

Source: Xinhua


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