Archaeological Treasure Trove! 21 Royal Han Tombs Unearthed in China
Along a mountainside in China, a collection of tombs with a potentially regal past lay buried for millennia—but not anymore.
Archaeologists excavating an archaeological site in Changsha unearthed 21 vertical pit tombs containing over 200 artifacts, the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in a Tuesday, Jan. 10 news release via Xinhua, China’s state-affiliated news outlet.
Many of the tombs were found side-by-side, aerial photos of the site show. On one end of the site, three tombs are in a row. On the other end, four tombs are lined up together. Pairs of tombs may have been the joint burial of a husband and wife, the release said.
All of the tombs are about the same age, dating back 2,000 years to the Western Han Dynasty, the release said.
The Western Han Dynasty was the earlier half of the Han dynasty and lasted from about 200 B.C. to 25 A.D., according to Britannica.
Because of the particular arrangement and similar age of the burials, archaeologists concluded the collection of tombs is likely a family buried together in an ancient mausoleum.
The tombs were found on a mountainside near a royal tomb, the Taohualing Han Tomb, and a burial area.
Considering this proximity, the 21 tombs may be the royal family, archaeologists said.
One of the rare tombs unearthed in Changsha had relatively complete traces of an outer coffin shaped like “Ⅱ” or like double ‘I’s, the release said.
A line of five decaying pillars was also found in the tomb, photos show. These ruins indicate the tomb might be a double layer structure, a tomb structure rarely found in the Hunan province.
The collection of tombs can be grouped into two types: tombs with passageways and tombs without, archaeologists said. The tombs mainly contained pottery artifacts, researchers said.
However, also unearthed were: two iron relics, walls covered in glaze, a mineral known as talc, and a tan-colored talc disk with a rhombus and circle pattern. Photos show the talc disk.
In addition, archaeologists found coins, pottery stoves, pots, and utensils at the site, according to a news release from the Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.
Other sections of the Changsha archaeological site have not yet been excavated but may contain more findings, Hunan officials said. Changsha is the capital of Hunan Province and about 665 miles southwest of Shanghai.
The ancient capital Luoyang site in today’s Henan Province has recently discovered over 80 meters of water channels dating back to the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420). It indicates the mature techniques of building water conservancy facilities and the dynasties’ capability of water resource utilization and environmental upgrade back then.
The excavation on the Qianqiu Gate site of the ancient palace started in 2021, and the researchers later found the large-scale underground water channels beneath the gate site’s square.
So far, four water channels have been discovered, all stone culverts running side by side from southwest to northeast. The channels were confirmed to be built together and follow a unified construction planning, said Guo Xiaotao with the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Such water conservancy facilities with large-scale layouts and delicate designs are the first to be spotted during the excavation work on the Luoyang ancient city.
The manhole covers above the channels also have square holes to facilitate rainwater collection. The water channel ruins are believed to have introduced water sources outside into the palace city and then allowed the water to flow into lakes of the Xiyou Garden in the north of the imperial palace.
The facilities were likely part of the garden’s water diversion project inside the ancient capital city’s palace and later reused by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), said Liu Tao with the institute.
The discovery further explores the royal garden layout of Luoyang at that time and serves as a historical reference for modern urban water resource utilization, Liu added.
Luoyang city site, located in today’s Luoyang in Henan, has a history of over 1,500 years, while for about 600 years in its vast history, it served as the capital city for many dynasties in ancient China.
Hundreds of 4,500-yr-old tombs found in central China
Archaeologists have found more than 300 tombs dating back around 4,500 years in central China’s Henan Province, which are of great significance to studying the burial system and social structure of prehistoric China.
Located in the Suyang relics site in the city of Luoyang, the tomb complex covers an area of about 15,000 square meters, and all of the tombs are earth pits in a rectangular shape, according to the Luoyang Municipal Institute of Archaeology.
“The tomb cluster is large in size and can be traced back to the transition period from Yangshao Culture to Longshan Culture. It is extremely rare to see this in Zhongyuan, a region known as the central plain area,” said Ren Guang, head of the excavation project on the Suyang site.
Archaeologists have unearthed nine tombs so far, and the skeletons of 10 people have been found in the tombs. Some of the tombs show evidence of having been seriously damaged by tomb raiders.
Preliminary excavation showed that the tomb complex can be traced back to the early stage of the Longshan Culture, Ren said.
The discovery of the tomb cluster has great academic value, Ren said, adding that it can help researchers better understand the burial system during this period, while also providing important clues for the study of social complexity and the civilization process in the Longshan Culture.
The Suyang relics site spans more than 600,000 square meters. The Luoyang Municipal Institute of Archaeology launched excavation work at the site in early 2021, and it is still in progress.
Skeletons of 5,000-year-old Chinese ‘giants’ discovered by archaeologists
Archaeologists in eastern China have found 5,000-year-old skeletons of people experts say would have been unusually tall and strong.
According to the measurements of bones in the graves at the site in Shandong province, a number of the people would have measured at 1.8m or taller, with one man estimated to have been 1.9m, Xinhua news agency reported.
Although not particularly unusual by 21st-century Western standards, it is thought their height would have seen them tower over many of their contemporaries.
“This is just based on bone structure. If he was a living person, his height would certainly exceed 1.9m,” Fang Hui, head of Shandong University’s school of history and culture, told the agency.
Locals in Shandong see their height as a defining characteristic. A study conducted in 2015 found the average height of 18 men to be 1.753m, compared to the country’s national average of 1.72m.
Confucius, who was born in what is now the Shandong province, was reportedly 1.9m tall.
The excavation site in the village of Jiaojia, near Jinan City, has been found to hold 104 houses, 205 graves and 20 sacrificial pits. A number of colourful pots and jade articles were also recovered.
Archaeologists have been uncovering artefacts and bones from the late Neolithic people since last year, who are understood to have lived mostly off pigs and millet.
The people living in the region 5,000 years ago are believed to have had relatively comfortable lives; the rows of houses that have been excavated suggested their living quarters had separate bedrooms and kitchens, according to China Daily.
The area is also believed to have been the political, cultural and economic centre of the Chinese region.
Taller men were found buried in larger graves, which could be due to them having a higher status and having access to better food.
An ancient coin hoard containing 1.5 tonnes of coins from the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties has been discovered in Jiangsu Province, east China.
The coins were strong together with straw ropes and arranged in tidy stacks.
The underground remains were unearthed in Shuangdun Village, Jianhu County of Yancheng City. The pit mouth of the hoard was square, 1.63 meters long, 1.58 meters wide, and 0.5 meters deep.
Bronze coins connected in series with straw ropes were neatly layered and paved inside. Most were from the Song Dynasty.
The coins that were discovered were well-preserved, and the majority of them had legible inscriptions, indicating a significant value for further study.
In ancient China, such hoards were often buried in the ground so as to preserve precious porcelain, coins, metal tools, and other valuables, said the researchers.
Seventy wells were also found around the coin hoard, which was near the battle frontline of the Song and Jin troops, making the researchers wonder whether the excavation site belonged to a hutted camp.
The majority of the coins in the hoard are Song dynasty wens.
Bronze wens were the common currency until a severe copper shortage forced the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) to issue lower-quality and lower-value coins. Iron was difficult to mint and rusted quickly once in circulation.
Due to a lack of bronze coinage, the government was forced to cut military wages in half in 1161, resulting in the invention of paper money.
In 1170, the state began to require that half of all taxes be paid with Huizi paper currency stepped into the breach.
A 5,000-year-old large house has been discovered in China’s Yangshao Village
Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology archaeologists have excavated the ruins of house foundations dating back more than 5,000 years in the Yangshao Village site in Central China.
The country’s China.org.tr reports that the remains of a large building with rammed earth have been discovered, though to date back to the neolithic Yangshao Culture – which was active in the Yellow River basin as far back as 3000 BC.
It is the first time archaeologists have discovered house ruins at the Yangshao Village site in Mianchi county, which was first excavated in 1921. The fourth archaeological excavation at Yangshao Village started on August 22, 2020, and is still ongoing.
In addition to the foundations, which are estimated to cover over 130 square meters, archaeologists discovered trenches and various artifacts, including a jade axe, that provide information about the community that once inhabited the site.
Excavation is still ongoing, which means that more information about the prehistoric Yangshao people may be discovered in the future.
According to speculation, it dates from the late Yangshao Culture period, according to Li Shiwei, director of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, who is in charge of the excavation site.
“This is the first time that large house ruins have been discovered since the excavation of the Yangshao Village site in 1921. The findings can provide new materials for studying the types, shapes and building techniques of houses during the Yangshao Culture period,” said Li Shiwei.
The findings show that the settlement in the Yangshao period had a large population, prosperous development, and complete defense facilities.
The Yangshao culture (Chinese: ; pinyin: Yngsháo wénhuà) was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively in northern China along the valleys of the Wei River and the middle Yellow River (Huanghe). The Yangshao culture, which dates from around 5000 BCE to 3000 BCE, is one of China’s earliest settled cultures.
Yangshao, the first excavated representative village of this culture, was discovered in Henan Province in 1921. The culture thrived primarily in Henan, Shaanxi, and Shanxi provinces. There are over a thousand Yangshao Culture sites, including the Banpo Site in Xian and Jiangzhai in Lintong County, Shanxi Province. Shanxi is considered the center of this culture because it has the most Yangshao sites.
While little is known about the Yangshao culture, information gleaned from archaeological excavations of tombs and tribal villages has provided a rudimentary picture of prehistoric life in China. Furthermore, the geometric paintings that adorn Neolithic vessels are some of the earliest evidence of the origins and evolution of Chinese calligraphic writing.
While these designs are purely abstract and do not constitute a written language, the patterns, motifs, and use of paint all contribute to our understanding of the intellectual and aesthetic environment that would eventually foster the creation of Chinese symbols.
Stone Tools Offer Clues to Rice Domestication in China
A new Dartmouth-led study analyzing stone tools from southern China provides the earliest evidence of rice harvesting, dating to as early as 10,000 years ago. The researchers identified two methods of harvesting rice, which helped initiate rice domestication. The results are published in PLOS ONE.
Wild rice is different from domesticated rice in that wild rice naturally sheds ripe seeds, shattering them to the ground when they mature, while cultivated rice seeds stay on the plants when they mature.
To harvest rice, some sort of tools would have been needed. In harvesting rice with tools, early rice cultivators were selecting the seeds that stay on the plants, so gradually the proportion of seeds that remain increased, resulting in domestication.
“For quite a long time, one of the puzzles has been that harvesting tools have not been found in southern China from the early Neolithic period or New Stone Age (10,000—7,000 Before Present), the time period when we know rice began to be domesticated,” says lead author Jiajing Wang, an assistant professor of anthropology.
“However, when archaeologists were working at several early Neolithic sites in the Lower Yangtze River Valley, they found a lot of small pieces of stone, which had sharp edges that could have been used for harvesting plants.”
“Our hypothesis was that maybe some of those small stone pieces were rice harvesting tools, which is what our results show.”
In the Lower Yangtze River Valley, the two earliest Neolithic culture groups were the Shangshan and Kuahuqiao. The researchers examined 52 flaked stone tools from the Shangshan and Hehuashan sites, the latter of which was occupied by Shangshan and Kuahuqiao cultures.
The stone flakes are rough in appearance and are not finely made but have sharp edges. On average, the flaked tools are small enough to be held by one hand and measured approximately 1.7 inches in width and length.
Our hypothesis was that maybe some of those small stone pieces were rice harvesting tools, which is what our results show.
JIAJING WANG, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ANTHROPOLOGY
To determine if the stone flakes were used for harvesting rice, the team conducted use-wear and phytolith residue analyses. Phytolith refers to the silica skeleton of plants.
For the use-wear analysis, micro-scratches on the tools’ surfaces were examined under a microscope to determine how the stones were used. The results showed that 30 flakes have use-wear patterns similar to those produced by harvesting siliceous, or silica-rich, plants, likely including rice.
Fine striations, high polish, and rounded edges distinguished the tools that were used for cutting plants from those that were used for processing hard materials, cutting animal tissues, and scraping wood.
Through the phytolith residue analysis, the researchers analyzed the microscopic residue left on the stone flakes. They found that 28 of the tools contained rice phytoliths.
“What’s interesting about rice phytoliths is that rice husk and leaves produce different kinds of phytolith, which enabled us to determine how the rice was harvested,” says Wang.
The findings from the use-wear and phytolith analyses illustrated that two types of rice harvesting methods were used—“finger-knife” and “sickle” techniques. Both methods are still used in Asia today.
The stone flakes from the early phase, 10,000—8,200 BP, showed that rice was largely harvested using the finger-knife method in which the panicles at the top of the rice plant are reaped. The results showed that the tools used for finger-knife harvesting had striations that were mainly perpendicular or diagonal to the edge of the stone flake, which suggests a cutting or scraping motion, and contained phytoliths from seeds or rice husk phytoliths, indicating that the rice was harvested from the top of the plant.
“A rice plant contains numerous panicles that mature at different times, so the finger-knife harvesting technique is especially useful when rice domestication was in the early stage,” says Wang.
The stone flakes however, from the later phase, 8,000—7,000 BP, had more evidence of sickle harvesting in which the lower part of the plant was harvested. These tools had striations that were predominantly parallel to the tool’s edge, reflecting that a slicing motion had likely been used.
“Sickle harvesting was more widely used when rice became more domesticated, and more ripe seeds stayed on the plant,” says Wang. “Since you are harvesting the entire plant at the same time, the rice leaves and stems could also be used for fuel, building materials, and other purposes, making this a much more effective harvesting method.”
Wang says, “Both harvesting methods would have reduced seed shattering. That’s why we think rice domestication was driven by human unconscious selection.”
Pottery Residues Reveal Changes in Central China’s Neolithic Diet
The sustainable development of agriculture has laid a solid foundation for the birth of human civilization and countries. Early agriculture has long been a focus of archaeology.
China is the only country in the world with two independent agricultural systems, that is, rice farming in the south and millet farming in the north.
Research has shown that rice farming prevailed in Jianghan Plain in the Neolithic period, and the millet from the north spread to the region no later than the Youziling Culture period (5800-5100 BP).
Nevertheless, it remains to be unveiled what other plant foods were consumed by prehistoric people and how the paleodiet of plant foods evolved.
In a recent study published in Frontiers in Plant Science, a research team led by Prof. Yang Yuzhang from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has, for the first time, applied starch grain analysis to examine pottery sherds from the Neolithic site of Qujialing, and revealed the resources and structure of plant foods consumed by prehistoric people in the research region.
The researchers detected starch grains from the species including job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), lotus roots, acorns, Chinese yam, and legumes on the Qujialing pottery vessels, apart from rice and millet that had been previously identified, indicating the obvious diversity of plant food resources in the late Neolithic period.
Notably, job’s tears and lotus roots in the archaeological work at Qujialing were first identified.
The high frequency of detecting starch grains from lotus roots showed that they had been widely consumed by Chinese ancestors, and that might be related to the local environment surrounded by water with abundant aquatic plant resources.
Based on the findings of previous work on macrofossil remains and phytoliths and by quantitative analysis of the frequency of various starch grains of different phases, the researchers confirmed that rice persistently dominated the paleodiet, and the proportion of food like acorns procured from gathering significantly decreased as agriculture developed in the Qujialing site.
This study unveiled the economic characteristics and dietary change in the middle catchment of the Yangtze River Basin in Neolithic times, and shed new light on the spread of millet and other crops from the north to south.