This Ancient Chinese Couple Was Buried in a Miniature Home

The tomb, composed of two chambers connected by a tiny door and windows, was found in a family gravesite on China’s east coast containing four other burials

glazed pottery
While two of the tombs were robbed, one was left untouched, and it contained a box full of glazed pottery, among other goods. Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Archaeology

Archaeologists have excavated an ancient Chinese family’s “residential” tombs, complete with windows, doors and paved entrances. While two of the graves were once pilfered by robbers, the third—and its many treasures—has remained untouched for up to 1,800 years.

The burials were found in the coastal city of Rizhao’s Dazhuangzi Cemetery, some 360 miles southeast of Beijing, per a translated statement by the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Archaeology. Buried beneath a mound in a local park, the tombs date back to the Han Dynasty—which lasted from 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.

Two of the tombs contained an inscription of the last name “Huan,” indicating the complex belonged to one family. Each tomb contains two burials—in two wooden coffins—and has a paved “tomb road” leading down into it, reports Live Science’s Tom Metcalfe. The painstaking construction of the chambers, as well as the goods found inside, indicate the Huans were a family of means.

tomb map
The three tombs, probably belonging to one family, were found in the Dazhuangzi Cemetery. Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Archaeology

Inside the chambers that were pillaged, dubbed M1 and M2, excavators found many grave goods left amidst each pair of coffins: glazed pottery, lacquered wood, copper objects, iron swords, boxes, mirror brushes and bamboo hairpins.

The third tomb, M3, appears undisturbed, and its architecture is the most distinct of the group. Its coffin chamber—topped with a thick wooden cover—is divided into two rooms, which are connected by a miniature wooden door and windows. As All That’s Interesting’s Amber Morgan reports, the people buried in this tomb were probably a married couple, with the wife and husband buried at different times. Their final resting place was likely built to evoke a home, allowing for comfort in the afterlife.

The unlooted tomb posessed the most detailed structure. Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Archaeology
The undisturbed tomb is divided into two rooms, which are connected by two windows and this miniature wooden door. Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Archaeology

One of the unlooted tomb’s coffins was painted black on the outside and red on the inside, and it was elevated on a bed-like frame, per the statement. Buried with the deceased were a bronze mirror, an iron sword, a tortoise-shaped seal, glazed pottery and lacquered “ear cups,” containers made with small wings for easy handling. The tomb’s other coffin was laid atop a small rolling platform, and with it were lacquered boxes, wooden combs, glazed pottery and bronze mirrors.

No human remains were found in the six coffins, as they’ve long since disintegrated, per the statement. Though two of the three tombs were robbed, the necropolis’ surviving structures and artifacts make for a significant example of inhumation in the Han Dynasty, one of the ancient world’s most powerful civilizations.

Ear cups
"Ear cups" were created with wings for easy handling. Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Archaeology

Burial rituals were especially important—and expensive—for Han Dynasty royals, who were entombed in luxurious burial chambers outfitted with every object they could possibly need in the afterlife. To ensure immortality, dead rulers’ bodily orifices were even plugged with precious jade.

As art historian Yanlong Guo, who wasn’t involved in the excavation, tells Live Science, hundreds of Han Dynasty tombs have recently been found along the coast of China’s Shandong Peninsula—which lies across the Yellow Sea from North and South Korea—but few reports have been published.

Guo adds, “As more information becomes available and studied, I believe scholars will gain a deeper understanding of the regional culture of the coastal periphery of the Han Empire.”

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