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HomePublicationNew books
The Shangyejie Boat – coffin Grave Site
From:Chinese Archaeology  Writer:  Date:2009-08-18

 

By
Chengdu Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

Abstract:
The Shangyejie boat – coffin grave site is located at No.58 Shangye Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, China. The latitude is N 30° 40’ and longitude is E 104° 03’. The site was excavated by the Chengdu City Institute of Archaeology in 2000 – 2001 and comprises a large grave with finely constructed above – ground superstructure. It is highly possible that the grave, which dates to the early Warring States period (around 400 BCE), belonged to members of the ancient Shu royal family, or even to the kings themselves. Due to its importance, the grave was named one of the Ten Most Important New Archaeological Discoveries of China in 2000, and it was named one of the Fifth Batch of Important National Cultural Relics Units Needing Protection announced by the Central Government of the People’s Republic in 2001. In order to preserve and protect this precious cultural relic, the People’s Government of Sichuan Province and the Chengdu Municipal Government, with the permission of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, have implemented an on – site protection project and established the Shangyejie Boat – Coffin Grave Site Museum.
The Shangyejie boat – coffin grave is magnificent in scale. It includes both an underground grave pit and above – ground superstructure. The grave is a vertical pit with multiple coffins. The pit is rectangular in shape: 30.5 meters in length, 20.3 meters in width, around 620 m2 in area and 240° from north in orientation. The grave has suffered serious tomb robbing and other forms of destruction starting no later than the early Han period. Seventeen coffins remained in the pit, although the estimated total number is over thirty – two prior to destruction. All existing coffins are directly carved from ebony tree trunks and divided by coffin covers and containers. The coffins are parallel in orientation with each other and with the grave pit and were placed in the pit at the same time. Fifteen lines of wooden supports were placed under the coffins and one large rectangular plank was placed in the southern central part of the grave pit, dividing the tomb into two parts. Large coffins are placed in the southern central part of the grave pit, dividing the tomb into two parts. Large coffins are placed in the rear portion of the pit (north of the rectangular wooden plank) and only several small coffins were preserved in the front part (south of the plank). In terms of coffin form, we can divide them into boat – coffins and box – coffins. There are nine boat – coffins, four of which are large. The largest boat – coffin is 18.8 meters in length and 1.45 meters wide. Eight box – coffins were discovered. These may have been used for sacrificial or attendant burials based on the coffin forms, burial objects and burial contexts.
The total length of the above – ground structure is around 38.5 meters and the width is 20.5 meters. It can be divided into two parts. Only some trenches and portions of wooden structure remained around the grave pit. The structures are hypothesized to have ritual functions and to have been related with the origin of Chinese imperial burial system.
A large quantity of burial goods was unearthed from the Shangyejie boat – coffins. These objects include hundreds of bronze, ceramics, lacquer and bamboo artifacts. Ceramics include vats, pots, fu, dou, pointed bottom zhan and lids. Vats are comparatively more frequent than other vessels and many plant remains and animal bones were discovered inside ceramic vessels. Compared to other artifacts, bronze artifacts are relatively rare, and include spears, ge, jin, peeling knives, and seals. Lacquers were decorated with bright colors, complex decorations and various motifs that are rarely seen on fine works from the Warring States period. According to their functional character, the lacquers can be classified as furniture, objects for everyday use, musical instruments and weapon accessories. Furniture and utilitarian artifacts are the majority. These include beds, tables, small tables, chopping blocks, dou, boxes, gui, umbrellas, and various combs. Recognizable instruments are drums, yu, drum sticks and bell (chime stone) frameworks. Weapon accessories include ge and spear poles. Furthermore, woven bamboo artifacts, such as mats, various types of basketry, and pads, are very common.
The Warring States period bronze culture in the Chengdu Plain inherited early Shu traditions, including influence from the Sanxingdui and Shi’erqiao Cultures, and reached a high peak with continuous integrations and innovations under new historical conditions. According to historical traditions, in the early Warring States period, the ninth generation of the Kaiming royal line of Shu moved the capital to Chengdu. The Twelfth generation was subsequently extinguished by Qin in 316 BCE. During these four generations of the Warring States period, Chengdu was the capital of the Kaiming Dynasty. The Shangyejie boat – coffin grave is the first large Warring States period grave discovered in the heart of ancient Chengdu. It is highly possible that the grave belongs to the royal family of the ancient Kaiming Dynasty of Shu, or even to the kings themselves. The grave is extremely significant and special. Its characteristics and abundant unearthed materials, including its unique burial system, well – ordered surface structure, copious burial goods, delicate lacquers, and numerous painted or incised symbols on coffins and lacquer objects, all offer us important information to explore the history, culture and burial system of the ancient Ba and Shu people.
This report can be divided into six chapters which together describe the geographical situation, the historical context and evolution of the site, the excavation and protection of burials, the description of the grave, descriptions of the burial goods, descriptions of the coffins, and the chronology of the grave, its general characteristics and related issues. Furthermore, we also have included analytical reports and conservation research related to the human skeletons, animal bones, paleobotanical remains, coffins and support planks and bronze artifacts in appendix. The laboratory work and report writing have been done by Jiang Cheng, Yan Jinsong, Chen Yunhong and Liu Yumao in the Chengdu City Institute of Archaeology.

 

 
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