Artifacts from A Late Shang-Dynasty Royal Tomb

                ---Hou-chia-chuang Tomb No.1001---

     The last phase of the Shang dynasty began about 3,300 years ago, when the Shang ruler P'an Keng moved his capital to a site at what is now Hsiao-t'un village in Anyang county, Honan province. Twelve kings ruled there during the following 273 years, and the culture of the Shang people flourished. When these kings died, they were usually buried under large grave-mounds north of the Hsiao-t'un site, across the Huan River in an area called His-pei-kang in the township of Hou-chia-chuang. From the fall of 1934 to the spring of 1935, archaeological teams from the Academia Sinica Institute of History and Philology carried out extensive excavations at one of these tombs (No. 1001), which produced some of the most important finds in modern Chinese archaeology.

     When finally excavated, the tomb was a large southward-facing cross-shaped pit. The legs of the cross were ramps leading down into the earth, the north-south leg was about 69 meters long and seven meters wide, while the east-west leg was about 46 meters long. The actual burial chamber was at the intersection of the ramps, in the lowest part of the pit, and was shaped like the Chinese character ya. This area was 10.5 meters below ground level and contained traces of a wooden structure, also ya shaped; the structure was 9.7 meters from north to south (with an entrance at the south end) and 11.2 meters from east to west. It was three meters high, so that the roof would still have been 7.4 meters from underground when the pet was filled in. This structure originally contained the sarcophagus of the Shang king (thought to be one of the earlier rulers of the late Shang period) along with the funerary goods that were customarily buried with late-Shang rulers. Unfortunately, grave-robbers began to rifle the tomb at an undetermined date, and most of the more valuable treasure was removed; even the king's bones were scattered. Thus when the Academia Sinica archaeologists uncovered the tomb, they found only a small portion of the original contents.

     Although the funerary items excavated from this tomb were relatively few in number, they nevertheless constituted a considerable find, including stone and bone carvings, white-clay pottery, jades and bronze vessels. The free-standing stone carvings are lively and realistic depictions of animals, and the stone tigers and owls among them have since become especially famous. Other important finds included a carved bone hsun or ocarina, one of the earlier know examples of a Chinese wind instrument, and two ladle like ssu utensils, also of carved bone, whose colorful painted decors indicate that the traditional Chinese hair writing-brush was being used for painting during the late Shang period. The white-clay pottery found in this tomb represented a new stage in the cultural development that had begun with the previously-known painted and black-clay potteries of the Late Neolithic period; its decorations were knife-carved, a clear departure from the painted pottery. Moreover, the finely-carved decorative motifs on the bone objects show that the Shang people possessed the tools and techniques for working such hard materials. These motifs are in the same style as those on the pottery and bronzes of the time, and brilliantly display the Shang artisans' genius for capturing living movement in simplified, expressive patterns that are the precursors of traditional Chinese decorative design.

     Besides the strikingly beautiful funerary objects, the excavation also yielded large numbers of human bones. These were the bones of sacrificial victims who had either allowed themselves to be buried alive or were killed outright at the time of the king's burial. Those who apparently died voluntarily included soldiers, ceremonial attendants and the king's servants, but most frightful was the discovery of the bones of at least fifty-nine people who had been decapitated like cattle on the southern ramp of the tomb as part of the burial ceremonies. After the central structure had been buried, the ramps leading to it were gradually filled in with layers of earth and groups of decapitated victims were buried in each layer, the heads of all the victims were collected and finally buried in the uppermost layer. The victims were separated according to age, with youths between fifteen and twenty years of age in the lower layers and adults in the middle and upper layers. It is possible that these people were prisoners of war captured by the Shang king on a campaign against the Ch'iang nomad tribe of the northwest, who were the traditional enemies of the Shang. In all at least 164 sacrificial victims were found in various parts of the tomb, an indication of the awesome grandeur of a Shang king's funeral.

   The exhibition  in National Palace Museum Taipei, comprises most of the important materials from the Tomb 1001 finds selected by the Academia Sinica Institute of History and Philology. Emphasis is placed on the great beauty and advanced craftsmanship of the various carved objects, and photographs of the actual excavation process have been included in order to give an impression of the vast scale of construction of the grave-mound of a Shang king.

( extracted from exhibition catalogue of  National Palace Museum )



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