Wangjiawa (Chine) : Aristocratic Cemetery of the Western Rong People


Aristocratic Cemetery of the Western Rong People at Wangjiawa (Qin’an, Gansu)

Chinese Archaeology

Source - 


With a height of 1600 meters above sea-level, the cemetery is located to the north of Wangjiawa Village, Wuying Town, Qin’an County, Gansu Province. The Gansu Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics surveyed and excavated the cemetery in 2009 and 2010. Thirty tombs were found during the drilling, most of which had been robbed and damaged.

Ten tombs in the cemetery were excavated. While tombs M2, M5, M6, and M7 remained intact, other tombs had long been robbed. Typologically, the tombs can be divided into two kinds. The first type includes most of the tombs, each of which contains a vertical pit with one or two stepped ramped passageway, and a side catacomb. This type can further be classified into two subtypes: tombs with one stairway and tombs with two stairways. Only two tombs of the second type - tombs with only vertical pits - were found. All vertical pits are rectangular in shape and west-east oriented. The catacomb of the first type of tombs is generally located at the northeast of the tomb pit, forming a right angle with the pit. Steps of stairways range from 1 to 5 in number. Traces of animal sacrifice were found in most of the tombs.

M1 is a tomb of the first type, the stairway of which has 5 steps. Traces of a wooden door could be observed near the entrance of the catacomb and remains of a wooden coffin were also found. The tomb had been looted before. Burial objects found from the tomb include beads, sard beads, gold belt ornaments, bronze belt hooks, bronze studs, nut caps, bone objects, bronze kettles, pottery li vessels, pottery jars with a single ear, bronze bells, and bronze parts of chariot and harness.


M2 is a tomb of the first type, the stairway of which has 2 steps. A wooden coffin was found from the tomb. The tomb occupant was in a supine, contracted position. A dissembled chariot was deposited inside the vertical pit. Bronze ornaments were found in its shafts, yokes, cab, and wheels. The wheels are decorated with bronze studs. Inside the pit are deposited with 7 horse skulls and 2 bovine skulls. The tomb occupant’s body is elaborately decorated. Around the neck is a necklace made of beads and dragonfly eye beads. At the abdomen is a pendant consisting of beads and shells. The thighs are also decorated with pendants consisting of bronze crosses and shells. The right arm has a silver armlet and a bronze mirror while the left one has a bronze axe and an iron sword with a bronze handle. Burial objects also include pottery kettles, a quiver, and some bronze daggers.

M4 is a tomb of the first type, the two side stairways of which have 3 steps. At both the steps and the bottom of the pit are sacrificed horse skulls and bovine skulls. Due to the robbery only traces of two chariots can been observed inside the pit. On the second step of the west stairway is deposited with a horse skull. On the third step of the same stairway is deposited with 5 horse skulls. At the bottom of the passageway are deposited with more than 10 horse skulls as well as one bovine skull. As the only burial object a bone trinket was found from the tomb.

The two intact tombs, M6 and M7, are both vertical pits. Neither burial objects nor tomb occupants were found in them. They are empty tombs.

Wangjiawa cemetery shows some similar features to Majiayuan cemetery in Zhangjiachuan, which lies 50 kilometers away. Both are situated on a flat area along a mountain slope. The major tomb configuration in both cemeteries is the west-east oriented pit with stepped passageway(s) and a catacomb. In the pit are deposited with ornately decorated chariots and sacrificial animals. Corpses are elaborately decorated in both cemeteries. From the two cemeteries have found identical gold belt ornaments with bird patterns. The main burial objects are tools and weapons in both cemeteries. The li vessels with snake patterns and spade-shaped feet as well as semi-circular necklaces from the two cemeteries are also identical. Nevertheless, the tomb type with one vertical pit, one catacomb, and two stepped stairways on the two sides, which is commonly seen in Wangjiawa, is not found in Majiayuan. On the other hand, the way of arranging a wooden coffin inside the pit excavated at the bottom of the vertical pit is not seen in Majiayuan. Moreover, the buried chariots and objects in Majiayuan are higher in rank than those found in Wangjiawa. It might be the case that these two cemeteries belong to two different tribes of the Western Rong people. The discovery and excavation of Wangjiawa cemetery are significant with respect to both further study of the aristocratic tombs built for the Western Rong in Warring States times and the clarification of the geographic distribution of the Rong people and their culture.    (Translator:Wang Yudong)