As the excavation of the Emperor Liu He's tomb in the Haihunhou mausoleum is completed, archaeological work on his wife's tomb is scheduled to start during the first half of next year, according to Nanchang Daily.
Given that the wife's tomb, called the No 2 tomb, is damaged, the experts say that it needs urgent rescue excavation.
Liu He was the shortest reigning emperor during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 24 AD) and the historical record shows that he had 16 wives and concubines, but doesn't say whether he had an empress or who the empress was. While naming an empress was a major political decision in the imperial household, experts guess that Liu didn't have an empress. Who exactly the No 2 tomb belongs to is a mystery that could be revealed in the excavation next year.
The front of the jade seal that belonged to Liu He. (Photo/Xinhua)
Liu He's jade seal is a rare owl button type
An unearthed jade seal belonging to Liu He made the identity of the tomb owner clear. The jade seal, inscribed with the Chinese characters for "Liu He", is a square seal 2.1 cm long and 1.5 cm high commonly seen in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220).
According to recent archaeological findings, the seal button of Liu He's jade seal is believed to be an image of "chi xiao", or an owl. The vivid details show the exquisite craftsmanship of the Han Dynasty, and it is the first time that an owl buttoned jade seal has been found in a Han Dynasty archaeological site.
Actually, the image of an owl appeared quite early in China's ancient literature. In the classic The Book of Songs, an article portrays a scene in which a mother bird is in deep panic and sorrow seeing its child captured by an owl. According to a record from Shih Chi - Biography of Jia Yi, when noted political critic Jia Yi was demoted, he saw an owl flying into his house and regarded it a symbol of bad luck, so he wrote the poem, Ode to Owl to comfort himself.
Among the few documentary records about Liu He, the owl also appeared. According to a record from the book Hanshu, when Liu He was dethroned as emperor and detained in Changyi Palace, the reigning Emperor Hanxuan sent an official to see him. In a letter the official wrote to the emperor, the official said that he wanted to check Liu He's emotional condition, and said that "Changyi has lots of owls." Liu He then replied, "Yes, when I went westward to Chang'an before, there wasn't owl at all. While when I went eastward to Jiyang, I heard an owl yelling." People had different interpretations on Liu He's words; some say Liu He was casual and some say he was discreet. Undoubtedly, experts hold the view that using the commonly-recognized unlucky bird, the owl, as the seal button for his personal seal was quite unusual. Further study in the future may reveal why Liu He did this.
Over 5,000 pieces of bamboo slips will be interpreted
Wu Shunqing, an expert on wood lacquer protection who is on the Haihunhou tomb archaeology panel, said that the thousands pieces of wood lacquer and bamboo slips unearthed from the tomb are quite difficult to restore. "The wood lacquers were dry previously, but after going through a severe earthquake during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317-420), the tomb was immersed in water, which greatly damaged the bamboo slips."
After painstaking work, archaeologists have successfully cleaned more than 5,000 bamboo slips, and infrared scanning allows the faded handwriting to be read. An initial interpretation of the slips shows contents from ancient books such as The Analects of Confucius, The Book of Changes and The Book of Rites. The early stage of protecting and extracting the bamboo slips will be completed before the end of the year and the overall interpretation and study of the words on slips will start in 2017.