Nantang (Chine): A Han Dynasty cemetery

Chinese Institute of Archaeology

Source -

Nantang Mound cemetery dating to the Han Dynasty is located in Taozhou town, Guangde county in the southeast Anhui province. In order to coordinate with fundamental construction, Anhui Provincial Institute of Archaeology carried out a salvage excavation at the cemetery from June to December, 2011. As a result, 62 mound tombs dating to the Han Dynasty were discovered. In all, there were 269 monomer tombs discovered and over one thousand sets of artifacts were unearthed, including pottery, bronze, iron, jade, stone and colored glazed artifacts.
The cemetery was distributed on a low hill in a basin surrounded by mountains, particularly on the hill ridge where the tombs were concentrated. Most of the tombs had obvious mound, however, a few monomer pit tombs did not have mound.


The structure of the burials
The burials could be divided into earthen shaft tombs and brick chamber tombs but they are mostly pit tombs, followed by brick chamber tombs. Some of the pit tombs had tomb aisles and the pits, which were generally less than 2 meters and even less than 1 meter in depth, were shallower than those in North China. The coffins were mainly rotten, but it could be seen there were two types, which were single coffin and inner coffin and outer coffin, based on the coffin ash.

There were two types of tomb structures in one mound.
Type A: a tomb in one mound. This type of mounds is generally not large with 8 meters bottom diameter and near 2 meters height. The tomb pit is 2-3.5 meters long and 1-2 meters wide. The trace of coffin and the pillow wood is remained. The grave goods are mainly pottery and glazed pottery, and the assemblage includes ding tripods, guan jars, hu bottles, bu jars, he boxes, etc. 
Type B: multi-tombs in one mound. This type of mounds is larger in scale than the type A. The largest is around 30 meters in diameter and there are 2, 4, 5, 6 monomer tombs, etc. in one mound. The tombs number is different and the maximum is 15 monomer tombs in one mound.

The layouts of the tombs in the mounds are also different, mostly including single row type, multi-rows side by side type, centripetal tombs type. 
1. Single row type. Taking mounds D1、D18 and D25 as examples. There are four monomer tombs in all in D18 and they were below the same cultural layer. Moreover, the types and direction of the tombs are identical, while their sizes are similar and there are not much different among the grave goods. D25 has 11 tombs in the mound. But the tombs were not below the same cultural layer and there are three groups intrusion relationship found. 2. Multi-rows side by side type. Taking D13、D20 and D49 as examples. D20 has five monomer tombs in the mound. These tombs were divided into two rows, three tombs in front and two at the back. Outside the tombs is square-shaped boundary ditch. There is one tomb with aisle which has the richest grave goods, representing different status and ranks of the owners of the tombs. D13 has eight tombs in the mound. They were laid out in three rows. The first row includes two large-scaled tombs and one of them has aisle. The middle row includes four tombs which are similar in size. And the last row includes two tombs. D49 has 15 tombs within the mound. Among them, one is brick chamber tomb. Moreover, the tombs were not below the same cultural layer. Additionally, these tombs could be divided into three rows and there are two groups of intrusion relationship existing. 3. Centripetal tombs type. Taking D27 as an example.D27 has four monomer tombs. The center is a larger tomb with aisle. At each of the other three sides without aisle is surrounded by a monomer tomb.

According to the stratigraphy of the multi-tombs in one mound, the monomer tombs in one mound are different in chronology, so that one mound was not formed once. Based on the arrangement of the tombs, there is difference in sequence of priority among the monomer tombs in some mounds. In a mound with intensively distributed tombs, only a few intrusions relationship occurred. Among the excavated 269 monomer tombs in 62 mounds, only over 20 groups of intrusion relationship could be found. Therefore, it could be seen that the tombs in one mound had been arranged well before they were built and the cemetery boundaries around the tombs are the evidence. Hence, it is presumed that there were close relationship among the owners of the monomer tombs in one mound.

The distribution characteristics of the mound tombs during the Han dynasty
From the distribution of the mound tombs, there were often smaller mound tombs around a larger mound tomb so that a small cemetery section was formed. Based on the intensive degree and the topography features, the whole cemetery could be divided into five sections. From the relations of the owners of the monomer tombs in a mound tomb, a mound tomb may have been belonged to a family, and a larger mound tomb and the smaller surrounded mound tombs may have been formed into a clan section in the cemetery. Therefore, the whole cemetery could be divided into several clan sections. According to the scale of the mounds, the size of the monomer tombs and the number of the grave goods, the larger mound may have belonged to the high-rank family in a clan. While owners of the high rank monomer tombs may have been those people with high status in the family.

Grave goods and the chronology of the cemetery
There are more than one thousand grave goods unearthed in all, including pottery, bronze, iron, jade, lazurite, gilt artifacts, etc. The potteries could be classified into three categories based on the pottery texture, including clay pottery, glazed pottery and hard pottery, but the majority is glazed pottery. The ornamentations of the glazed pottery are mainly string patterns, followed by cloud and bird patterns, wave patterns and animal head applique; the ornamentations of the hard pottery include geometric patterns, mat patterns, and diamond patterns etc. Based on the different functions, the potteries could be classified into ritual potteries, utilitarian potteries and funeral potteries. The ritual potteries mainly include ding tripods, kettles, boxes, fang bottles, guan jars, cups, etc. Utilitarian potteries mostly are jars with double ears, kettles, jars etc. Funeral potteries include wells mould and kitchen ranges. Bronzes include caldrons, yan tripods, crossbows, mirrors, bronze spears, seals, belt hooks and coins etc. Iron wares include knives, swords, woks and spears etc. Jade and lithic artifacts include ear corks, jade bi disk, etc. Glazed potteries include jade bi disk, etc.

The grave goods have the common characteristics of those from the tombs dating to the Han dynasty, but the glazed potteries are predominant and pressed mat patterns, square patterns and diamond patterns were popular, showing the obvious southern regional characteristics.

According to the structures of the burials, integrating with the assemblage of the potteries and their characteristics, these mound tombs could be dated from the early West Han dynasty to the middle East Han dynasty, which is the main chronology of the Nantang cemetery.
The excavation and preliminary understanding for the Nantang cemetery played a significant role in the studying the regional cultures during Han dynasty.      (Translator: Zhai Shaodong)