Ancient Chinese Burial Customs Exposed at Cliff of Tombs

Chinese archaeologists have discovered thousands of graves on a cliff, with the cemetery in use for over 2 millennia. They also unearthed several significant historical relics in the graves, which are believed to enable experts to inspect the evolution of Chinese burial traditions and provide invaluable intuition regarding the culture’s religious beliefs over several centuries.

The location of the graves was the provincial capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, southwestern China. Construction work in 2015 in the Chuanxin Innovative Science and Technology Park revealed the findings.

Tombs Cut into a Cliff

The tombs, cut into the red earth of the cliff, are mostly ‘rock pit tombs or built from bricks’, some of which have to be backed up with wood in order not to collapse. Until now, 6000 tombs of varying sizes have been excavated.

The cemetery dates from the Warring States period (475 BC), the time before Chinese merged into one entity to the last Chinese Dynasty, the Qing (1636-1912 AD), granting deep comprehension into the chronicle and burial traditions of Sichuan. Being a key part in Chinese chronicle, Sichuan has regularly been the headquarter of rebellions and independent empires, such as the Shu Dynasty.

A quick look into prehistoric Chinese Burial traditions
Several relics able to provide trace to prehistoric Chinese burial traditions were exposed, including terracotta pottery, figurines, ceramic figures of humans and animals, together with ‘pieces of pottery, porcelain, copper, iron, glass, coins and stone artefacts’. Furthermore, a bronze knife, statues of the Buddha and some painted miniature ceramic houses and buildings were also found.

Ancient Chinese are reported to have the custom of offering the dead opulent burials, putting items inside the tombs so that the deceased can use them in the afterlife. Additionally, lavish offerings in Chinese burial tradition is a sign of social status, passed down from generations.

The Luck of Finding Undisturbed Graves
Fortunately, all of the burials were unscathed and flawless for hundreds of years, making the burial site so distinctive. In fact, modern-day grave robbers frequently visit such burial sites searching for the grave contents. However, in this case, the goods inside lie intact, greatly granting researchers better insight into the evolution of Chinese funerary customs.

An exceptional discovery was the M94 Cliff Tomb, dating back to the late or Eastern Han (25-220 AD) period or after, containing 86 grave goods and hundreds of coins from the period, likely to have been of an individual with high social status.

Archaeologists are continuing their excavation at the tomb cliffs, looking forward to discovering more valuables at the site to find out more answers to mysteries surrounding prehistoric Chinese burial traditions.

More discoveries from the study will be announced in the upcoming time. The site at Chengdu can help us understand the worldview and funerary beliefs of people over an incredibly long period of time

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