Shigushan (Chine): Elite Tomb dating to the early West Zhou Dynasty discovered

Chinese Institute of Archaeology

Source -

On June 22nd, 2012, the Shigushan archaeological team consisting of Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology, Baoji Institute of Archaeology and Weibin District Museum, carried out a salvage excavation at the Shigushan tomb, which is located on the Shigushan Mountain where the Shizuitou village No.4 Group lies. Shigushan Mountain relies on Qingling Mountain in the south, faces to Wei River in the north, close to Yinxiang River in the east and next to Jujia River in the west. It has a better position because it is located on a high terrain. The situation about the tomb M3 of Shigushan is in the following:

The structure of the tomb

The tomb M3 at Shigushan is a rectangular shaft pit tomb in a 4.3 meters length, a 3.6 meters width and a remained 2.4 meters depth. It is, however, presumed that the tomb should be 7-8 meters in depth. The fill of the tomb was grey-brown multi-color soil. There was remained wooden chariot impression discovered at the top of the tomb. Based on unearthed position of the hubcap and the bronze bird ornaments, there was a wooden chariot.


There were narrow platforms (ercengtai) made by the filling soil were built around the bottom of the tomb. The platform in south was 0.9 meters wide, 0.7 meters in north, 1.15 meters in east and west, and 1.05 meters high. The weapons and the horse instruments were placed on the platforms, especially gathering on the north and west sides. In addition, there were red and auburn pigment and others similar to coat of lacquer. There were niches built into the east, north and west walls on the platforms and labeled with K1 to K6 in order from the east, north and west walls. Except K5, there were grave goods placed in the rest niches. After the taking out the grave goods, there were tool-used impressions found on the inner walls of the niches. Besides the impression similar to those found on the tomb walls, sharp tools seemed to have been used to dig the tomb. Moreover, there were tracks found on the tomb walls after the tomb was cleaned and the platforms were knocked out.

The wooden coffins were placed at the internal sides of the platforms in the center of the tomb chamber. According to the rotten coffins impression, it should have had two outer coffins and one inner coffin. The two outer coffins were internal outer coffin and external outer coffin. The outside of the external outer coffin tightly closed the walls of the platforms, and there was one lump of wood in each of the four corners. 12 pieces of wood were placed in east-west direction along the edge of the platforms as the ceiling of the outer coffin. The external outer coffin was 1 meter high, 2.7 meters long and 1.3 meters wide. The internal outer coffin was placed inside the external outer coffin and outside the inner coffin. It was 2.3 meters long and 0.98 meters wide. The coffin board was about 0.06 meters thick. In the center of the tomb chamber and inside the internal outer coffin, an inner coffin was placed. It was 1.8 meters long and 0.7 meters wide. There was a T-shaped ornament at the top of the inner coffin. There was one round sleeper respectively placed on the north and south at the bottom of the tomb. Its two ends inserted into the bottom of the platform but not reached the walls of the tomb. The sleeper in the south side was 2.1 meters long, and the diameter was 0.3 meters; the sleeper in the north side was 1.6 meters long, and the diameter was 0.22 meters. The distance between the two sleepers was 1.8 meters. A skeleton was found inside the inner coffin but it had been rotten into powder. It was presumed that the owner of the tomb was towards south, and there were jade bi disk unearthed.

1. The grave goods unearthed

There were 16 pieces (groups) of objects unearthed from the fill soil of M3 at Shigushan and these objects were chariots and horse instruments, weapons, tools and so on.

The objects unearthed from the chamber was 101 pieces (groups) in all. They were mainly bronze ritual objects, weapons, horse instruments and so on. The bronze ritual objects were 31 pieces divided into 14 types, including 6 ding 鼎tripods, 6 gui簋 food containers, 2 jin禁tables, 6 you卣 wine containers, 1 yi彝 wine container, 1 zun尊 wine container, 1 hu壶bottle, 1 yan甗 tripods,1 lei罍 ampulla, 1 he盉 wine utensil, 1 pan盘plate, 1 jue爵wine cup, 1 zhi觯wine container, 2 dou斗food containers. Bronze weapons were 30 pieces, including ge戈daggers, ji戟halberds and mao矛spears, etc. Among of them, halberds had the biggest number. Bronze horse instruments were 25 pieces (groups) and bronze globes were the majority, but also some ornaments including jieyue节约, danglu当卢, biao镳, arch-shaped objects and so on. Bronze tools were 5 pieces, including axes, adzes and chisels etc. Pottery was only one high-neck li 鬲tripods. In addition, there were 9 pieces (groups) goods found, including bronze ornaments, bronze bells, jade bi璧disks, cowries, shell globes and so on.

The bronze ritual objects were mostly placed in the niches of the tomb. In some niches, the objects inside were stacked up each other due to the small space. There were 3 pieces of ritual objects inside K1, including 2 ding tripods and 1 gui food containers. There were 7 ritual objects inside K2, including 4 gui food containers, 1 yan tripods, 2 ding tripods. Moreover, there was 1 bronze dagger. There were 16 pieces of ritual objects in K3, including 2 jin tables, 1 yi wine container, 1 zhi wine container, 5 you wine containers, 1 bottle, 1 he wine utensil, 2 dou food containers, 1 lei ampulla, 1 zun wine container, 1 jue wine cup. There was also a bronze axe. There were 2 pieces of ritual objects inside K4, including 1 square-sit gui food container, 1 ding tripods. Also there were 1 high-neck li tripods, 1 bronze dagger and 1 bronze adze. Inside K5, only something like the lacquer coat was found. There were 2 pieces of ritual objects in K6, including 1 plate and 1 you wine container. In addition, there was a bronze ding tripod placed in the west part of the north racking platform (under K4). It’s mouth was downwards when it was unearthed and one of its feet was broken. Therefore, it was suspected that this ding tripod was originally placed in K4, later dropped into the racking platform due to some reason.

There were 6 bronze ding tripods with different decorations, including leaf edges, nails pattern, bird pattern or plain pattern etc. There were 6 bronze gui food containers, including 4 basin-shaped gui food containers with the same style and pattern but slight different sizes. The other two were double-handle gui food container and square sit gui food container. There were 2 bronze jin tables, which were No.1 jin table and No.2 jin table. There were 6 renderers, which were divided into 3 groups, which had same style, pattern, and slight different size in each group. They were respectively户 you wine container 甲 and 户you wine container 乙,冉父乙you wine container and 重父乙you wine container,单父丁you wine container and you wine container with birds pattern. There were 2 bronze dou food containers, which No.1 dou food container and No.2 dou food container. The rest were 1 yi wine container, 1 zun wine container, 1 bottle, 1 yan tripod, 1 lei ampulla, 1 he wine utensil, 1 plate, 1 jue tripod and 1 zhi wine container.

Main achievements

Shigushan tomb M3 was a middle-scale rectangular shaft pit tomb and there were a large number of bronzes ritual objects unearthed. The ritual objects were placed in order and well-preserved in a complete assemblage. They had large sizes and wonderful styles, showing the respectable status of the tomb owner. So it was known that M3 should have been an elite’s. The discovery of the bronze jin tables is the first time after the new China was found, and especially it is the only one discovered from excavation. The 户彝 yi wine container and 户卣 you wine containers 甲 were the largest in size among all the same type bronzes discovered. The only unearthed pottery, a high-neck li tripod, is the typical object of Jiangrong Culture, supplying an important clue for studying the identity and the nation of the tomb owner.

According to the style and the characteristics of the bronzes, the chronology of this tomb was considered to be dated to the early West Zhou Dynasty, however, it is also possible to be dated to the end of Shang and the beginning of Zhou.

There were inscriptions discovered on 16 of 31 pieces of bronze ritual objects. Although there are not many characters, the reflected information is rich enough. The mentioned clan badges include birds鸟, 万, 户, 冉, 曲, 单, 亚羌, 重and so on. The names mentioned in the inscriptions are mainly 父甲, 父乙, 父丁, 父癸and so on. The objects labeled with clan badge户 was firstly discovered. According to the chronology and position of the graved ritual objects, it could be confirmed that the objects belonging to the owner should be 15 pieces, including 2 jin tables, 户彝yi wine container, 2户卣you wine containers, No.1 dou food container, ding tripod with leaf edges pattern, ding tripod with nails pattern, zhi wine container, square-sit gui food container, 4 basin gui food containers, double-handles gui food container etc. Among them, on the No.1 jin table, there were 户彝yi wine container, 户卣you wine container甲, No.2 jin table, 户卣you wine contianer乙which were placed on No.2 jin table, No.1 dou food container, and these 6 pieces belong to one group which should be the objects of 户clan. Therefore, 户 was regarded as the tomb owner. The high-neck li tripod was the Liujia Culture style. Because the Liujia Culture belongs to the Jiangrong Culture, the tomb owner buried with this li tripod should the offspring of Jiangrong. It could be further presumed that the territory of 户clan might have been around Shigushan, Baoji, and where the tomb is located might have been the clan cemetery of 户clan of Jiangrong.

Over all, the owner of M3 was a high-rank elite during the early West Zhou. Baoji Shigushan West Zhou cemetery was the 户clan cemetery of Jiangrong. The first discovery of 户clan cemetery supplied a gap in the history record and richened the distribution of Shangzhou principality in Baoji district. The discovery of M3 supplied very important new materials for studying West Zhou archaeology, Shangzhou bronzes and West Zhou burial system, and also played a significant role in the study of the history, culture, ritual system of West Zhou.       (Translator: Zhai Shaodong)