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HomeNews HistoryHistory New discoveries
The Sahensai Cemetery Near Urumqi
From:Chinese Archaeology  Writer:  Date:2010-05-05
 
 
    In 2006-2008, in the course of salvage excavation, the joint expedition of the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Properties and Archaeology and Urumqi Municipal Administration Bureau of Cultural Properties opened 180 tombs at Sahensai and obtained 300 items(groups) of artifacts.

 
    The Sahensai cemetery, located on the second terrace of the synonymous gorge in the southern suburb of Urumqi, was discovered during the second national survey. In this flat and open territory, about 200 tombs were discovered. Marked by mound-like stone piles or stone encirclement on the ground, they are varied in shape, including shaft earthen pit, shaft stone-lined pit, and catacomb. The occupants are laid in supine or side, stretched or contracted position, in singularity or compound. The diversity of tombs denotes a variety of cultures and a long temporal span, lasting from the Bronze Age till the Han and Tang dynasties.

    Tombs of the early period, counting 16, are located in the center of the cemetery. They are without aboveground mounds, but stone encirclement only. Their structures are circular or rectangular shaft pits, with linear or cruciform ridges on the bottom. All the human bones are disturbed; none is intact. But all occupants are single. Mortuary goods are normally placed in the depressions on the bottom, including ceramic, bronze, and stone artifacts. Forms of ceramic wares are peculiar; they are brown in color and tempered with sand, leveled at mouth, deep in belly, and flat at bottom.  In rare occasions are found triangular impression on the rims. Among the other goods, there are bronze mirrors, bronze mace-heads, and bronze bowl, as well as stone molars. These tombs are the first discoveries of their kind in Xinjiang. Radiocarbon dates of them are around 3890BP and of the Bronze Age.

    Tombs of the middle period are the majority of the cemetery, counting two thirds of the cemetery. They are arranged in three east-west rows. Those of the upper rank, featuring larger mounds and larger tomb pits and richer mortuary goods, are concentrated in the east. The other tombs are all small in size. Mounds are all built of stone pile and stone encirclement, and tombs are shaft earthen pits or stone-line pits. All the tomb pits are filled with small pebbles; the occupants are oriented west, laid in supine and stretched position, and rested on stone pillars. They are furnished with ceramic wares (most of them are painted ceramics), bronze knives, bronze (bone) arrowheads, skulls of sheep at the head side, horse skulls and hoofs at the foot side, occasionally even bronze bits in horse mouths and psalia. Most tombs were looted in antiquity, and human bones and mortuary goods are littered. They can be dated by radiocarbon dates and artifacts to the seventh century BC.

    Tombs of the large and medium sizes are marked by mounds of 15m in diameter and 1m in height. Their own sizes are 4m long, 2m wide, and 3m deep. The bottom and walls are all lined with stone slabs. Two tombs have four postholes in their four corners, and the filling of stone slabs. These tombs are furnished with bronze mirrors, bronze knives, painted ceramics, stone cups, and ornaments, and far supersede ordinary tombs. In the meantime they feature more heads and hoofs of horses and sheep than the latter ones. The ordinary tombs have mounds of below 10m in diameter and 0.5m in height. They are 2.2m long, 1m wide, and 1.5m deep. Most of the occupants are singular, but some are buried in compound. Arrowheads, most numerous in quantity, are made of bronze and bone; bone arrowheads are single-winged or multiple-winged and rather rare and in fact the first discovery in Xinjiang.
    During the late period, catacomb and side-chamber tombs appear on the scene. In most cases, the side chamber in both cases sits to the south of the main chamber, and contains single occupant laid in supine and stretched position, heading eastward. Tombs are furnished with ceramics, bronze knives, bronze mirrors, sharpening stones, gold ornaments, jade beads, sea shells, and bone fitting to bows. Some iron artifacts and silk fragments are also found. Accompanying animals are mostly sheep; horse skulls and sheep skulls are no long deposited. The painted ceramics resemble in both form and ornamentation those found in Turfan. They date approximately to 1AD.
    A few tombs are of the Tang dynasty. Topped with earthen and stone mounds, they are oval or crescent in shape. On the ledges of the tomb pits are buried an accompanying occupant and a horse. The main chambers, however, are severely plundered. Only some iron stir-up, bronze belt ornaments, and gold rings are left. Among the bronze belt ornaments, those in the shapes of square, semi-circular, and vault are analogous to those found in Tang tombs in central China.

 
    The Sahensai cemetery as a whole is large in dimension and dense in layout, and home to tombs of diverse shapes and various periods. The earliest tombs, judging from their bronze and ceramic artifacts, are reminiscent of the Andronovo culture in Central Asia. Those of the later period, with their bronze mirrors, bronze knives, bronze axes, horse bits, and horse psalias, resemble those of the early nomads in the Eurasian steppe. The “spherical jars” are particularly analogous to those of the Tagar Culture in the Minusinsk Basin and the Kermuchi culture in the Altai. The pervasive offering of horse and sheep skulls and hoofs, the absence of settlement and agricultural tools, and the large quantity of arrowheads attribute the occupants to the nomadic populations of the Scythian type. Tombs of the late period are characterized by the furnishing of iron artifacts and ceramic wares that parallel those found in the Subeixi, Yanghai, Chaiwobu cemeteries in Turfan and Urumqi regions, which denote the active cultural interactions with distant cultures along the Silk Road.   
         (Translated by Zhang Liangren)
 
 
 
 
 
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