Dayunshan (Chine): Excavations of Western Han Jiangdu Imperial Tomb

Xuyi County of Jiangsu Excavations of Western Han Jiangdu Imperial Tomb at Dayunshan Province

Chinese Institute of Archaeology

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Jiangdu imperial tomb is situated on the mountain top of Dayunshan, in Yunshan village, Maba town and Xuyi county of Jiangsu province, with the elevation of 73.6 meter above sea level. Adjacent to Han dynasty elite graves of Qingdunshan and Xiaoyunshan to the southwest, this tomb was found thirty kilometer west to Xuyi county, one kilometer south to Dongyang city site of Han dynasty.


satellite image

From September 2009 to December 2011, full investigations and salvaging excavations were conducted by Nanjing Museum, revealing a complete imperial cemetery of Western Han dynasty. Accompanying with the tomb was a great number of exquisite items made of bronze, silver, gold, and jade. Many of these cultural relics have not been found before. Due to the efforts of two-year archaeological investigations and excavations, a considerably clear general plan of the entire cemetery was discovered, although the damages were resulted by the recent mining exploitations. Plan of the cemetery is similar to square, measuring five hundred meter on each side. The cemetery was constructed with mortuary walls on all of the four sides. Of the walls the eastern wall was properly preserved well, with the others only remained rammed earth wall foundations.


Accompany mortuary pits  of horses and vehicles

There were three main tombs(M1、M2、M8), thirteen accompanying tombs and nine accompany burial pits found in the cemetery. The main tombs were placed to the south within the cemetery, where accompanying tombs lay to the north. In the southern part of the cemetery was a series of accompany mortuary pits, in which remains of horses and vehicles were collected. Accompany mortuary pits filled with weapons were placed in the northern part of the cemetery, adjacent to the mortuary walls. The entire plan of cemetery was well organized and ordered.

M1 was built to the southeast in the cemetery. Prior to the excavations lay a large earth mound on the ground. Shape of the entire tomb structure is similar to Chinese character ‘中’ , with the length of the opening mouth of the tomb, 140 meter. The chamber structure is characteristic of cypress timbers piled up (Huangchangticou), including several structural sections: exterior corridor, ante-chamber, interior corridor, and post-chamber. In spite of early robbing activities, a large quantity of exquisite cultural relics, such as ceramics, bronzes, silver, gold, jades and lacquer wares and wood artifacts, more than 10,000 pieces, were excavated in the tomb chambers. The evidence of excavations indicates that exterior corridor was best preserved, where burial offerings were found intact. Other structures like anti-chamber and interior corridor were severely robbed. Nevertheless, a great amount of artifacts were retrieved in the anti-chamber and interior corridor, where gilding bronze elephants, rhinoceros, and their trainer slaves were found for the first time, providing the significant value for the study of material interacts between the China and foreign counties.


burial offerings

The plan of M2 structure is similar to Chinese character ‘中’as well, paralleling to M1 in east-west direction. M1 and M2 were placed in the same earth mound. The tomb chamber was consisted of a coffin, an outer coffin, and head and foot chambers. Accompanying with the head chamber was lacquer bamboo si box, lacquer box and other lacquer wares. While the accompanying items with foot chamber were mostly horses and vehicles. In spite of modern robbing disturb, there were more than 200 cultural relics differing in material, including ceramic, lacquer ware, bronze, silver, gold and jade ware. One of the most significant finds in M2 was jade coffin, and the main part of this coffin was clear in structure. There has been no such intact jade coffin found in excavation before.

M8 lay 140 meter west to the M1 with the similarity shape of Chinese character ‘中’. Its size was the same as that of M1. Field work indicates that this tomb was severely disturbed by robbers and fired thoroughly succeeding the robbing activities.


burial offerings

Inscriptions were also found on some burial offerings, including clay seals inscribed with ‘Jiangdu Shizhang (江都食长)’, silver dish with ‘Jiangdu Huanzhe Mupan Shiqinian shoudi (宦者沐盘十七年受邸)’ , lacquer ware with ‘Nianyinian nangongguan zao rongsansheng (廿一年南工官造容三升)’ and ‘Nianernian nangongguan (廿二年南工官)’, mortuary cup written with ‘Nianqinian eryue Nan Gongguan (廿七年二月南工官)’ and so on. Based on the evidence from ancient text, it is certain that (Liu Fei) died in the twenty-seventh year and then his son Jian succeeded. In the sixth year Liu Jian abolished the country, interred the territory of Han, and established Guangling. This evidence suggests that inscriptions on burial offering associated with date would have been manufactured during the times when Liufei was on position and Jiangdu duke of Yi, Liufei would have been buried in M1. Therefore, Han cemetery in Da Yunshan would have been built for Liufei. On the one hand, this conclusion has changed the understanding of where the local duke of Western Han feudal states of Jing, Wu, Jiangdu and Guangling were buried. Another conclusion that the dead person buried Miaoshan cemetery was the king of Jiangdu was changed either. On the other hand, the discovery of Dayunshan cemetery has provided the opportunity of re-understanding the site of Dongyang city site. The recent excavations have suggested that a larger city being constructed except the smaller one contained in Dongyang city would have existed. Thus, the relation between cemetery and Dongyang city will wait for further discussions and the nature of Dongyang city needs to be re-evaluated as well.         (Translator: Sang Li)