A new life

Ex­ca­va­tion of an­cient tomb points to fu­ture of relics treat­ment

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

At the foot of Wan’an Hill, there is a large an­cient tomb with heavy se­cu­rity and a huge pro­tec­tive shield tem­po­rar­ily built over it. The site is in Luoyang, a city in He­nan prov­ince, which was the cap­i­tal of 13 em­pires or king­doms over two mil­len­nia of Chi­nese his­tory.

It is thus com­mon­place for lo­cals to see ex­ca­va­tions for cul­tural relics go­ing on at con­struc­tion sites.

Nev­er­the­less, for Shi Ji­azhen, di­rec­tor of the Luoyang City Cul­tural Relics and Ar­chae­ol­ogy Re­search In­sti­tute, the ex­ca­va­tion of a tomb in Xizhu vil­lage, on the southeastern out­skirts of Luoyang, is one of the biggest finds in re­cent years.

The site was dis­cov­ered by vil­lagers who were mov­ing their fam­ily grave­yards in July 2015.

“No cof­fin was found and many fres­coes and bricks have been de­stroyed by tomb rob­bers,” says Shi.

“But that doesn’t lessen the sig­nif­i­cance of the find: It’s the tomb of a high-rank­ing per­son from Cao Wei, prob­a­bly of an em­press, ac­cord­ing to our stud­ies of its shape and its seven-lay­ered struc­ture.”

Cao Wei (220-265) was one of three states in the Three King­doms pe­riod (220-280), which was founded by Cao Pi on a foun­da­tion left by his fa­ther Cao Cao, a pow­er­ful war­lord at the end of East­ern Han Dy­nasty (25-220).

Based on stud­ies of the site and com­bined with his­tor­i­cal records, ar­chae­ol­o­gists be­lieve that the tomb is of the em­press of Cao Rui, the sec­ond em­peror of Cao Wei.

Al­though the tomb has been van­dal­ized many times, from the Song (960-1279) to the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) pe­riod, about 400 cul­tural relics have been un­earthed so far, in­clud­ing jade, pot­tery and stone in­ven­to­ries of funeral ob­jects.

One of the finds is an am­ber fig­urine of a woman rid­ing a sheep. It would have been state-of-the-art at that time and is a na­tional trea­sure, says Shi.

“The tomb is built in a sim­ple style, which in­her­its char­ac­ter­is­tics of the East­ern Han Dy­nasty,” says Shi. “How­ever, its ex­traor­di­nar­ily large scale gives it a royal aura.”

For in­stance, the burial cham­ber is 12 me­ters deep, 18 me­ters long and 13.5 me­ters wide, and has a 36-me­ter-long tomb pas­sage, ac­cord­ing to Wang Xian­qiu, the ar­chae­ol­o­gist in charge of the site.

“We’ve also sur­veyed about a 1 mil­lion square me­ters area around the tomb, and found an even big­ger tomb 400 me­ters away,” says Wang.

“It could be Cao Rui’s tomb, but we have de­cided not to touch it.”

A com­mon prac­tice among to­day’s Chi­nese ar­chae­ol­o­gists is not to rush to ex­ca­vate em­per­ors’ mau­soleums, even though their lo­ca­tions are con­firmed.

For four years in a row, projects un­der­taken by Shi’s in­sti­tute have been in­cluded in “Top 10 Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Dis­cov­er­ies in China”, an an­nual sur­vey of top ex­perts, which is or­ga­nized by the China Cul­tural Relics News.

“I’m con­fi­dent that the dis­cov­ery of this Cao Wei tomb will be on that list,” says Shi.

“But, com­pared with gain­ing hon­ors, it’s more im­por­tant to let ci­ti­zens par­tic­i­pate in ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions and learn the his­tory of their home­town,” he adds.

‘An ar­chae­o­log­i­cal theme park’

Mean­while, Shi hopes to turn the nearly 7 hectare area around the site into a tourist des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors to see ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work in spite of the fact that the area is ear­marked to be part of a wildlife park.

The pro­posal was re­cently ap­proved by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, but the de­tails are still to be worked out.

“How unique and in­ter­est­ing the zoo will be if we build a small ar­chae­ol­ogy theme park in it,” says Shi.

Ac­cord­ing to his plan, vis­i­tors will be able to see arche­ol­o­gists work in a lab­o­ra­tory at the site be­sides vis­it­ing a mu­seum, which dis­plays ar­ti­facts un­earthed from the tomb.

“We’ve taken a lot of ef­fort pro­mot­ing cul­tural relics in Luoyang,” he says. “How­ever, noth­ing will be more ef­fec­tive than if we can al­low the pub­lic to see the trea­sures and make them a part of their daily lives.”

Co­or­di­na­tion with ur­ban con­struc­tion

The project in Xizhu is only the start of Shi’s plans to blend ar­chae­ol­ogy with ur­ban con­struc­tion in the city.

He, how­ever, re­grets that cul­tural relics have be­came “a bur­den” on the de­vel­op­ment of the city.

“There is a com­mon prac­tice: If an im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site is found, con­struc­tion is for­bid­den within 100 me­ters to pro­tect the site,” he ex­plains.

“And, many sites are back­filled with earth af­ter stud­ies are fin­ished. “That is a waste if they (the sites) are used only by academia and not known for the pub­lic,” he says.

But some changes have oc­curred re­cently.

For in­stance, on the cam­pus of the No 6 High School of Luoyang, a sec­tion of the city wall of the Sui and Tang dy­nas­ties (581-907) was found when a build­ing was be­ing ren­o­vated last year.

“It is a part of im­pe­rial palace, and it’s as thick as 15 me­ters,” Zhang Long­dan, who leads ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work at the site, says.

“The walls of­fer a cru­cial ref­er­ence for us to study lay­outs of an­cient cap­i­tal cities and con­tain much in­for­ma­tion on the po­lit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and eco­nomic sys­tems of the time.”

Nev­er­the­less, the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team chose not to in­ter­fere with the ren­o­va­tion of the build­ing but worked with the school to mod­ify the con­struc­tion blue­prints.

“I was wor­ried that the con­struc­tion would be stopped when the ru­ins were found,” says Shi Linxu, the prin­ci­pal of the high school

“But we fi­nally worked out a plan to cover the site with glass and turn it into a minia­ture mu­seum. This will also be a high­light of our school.”

The at­trac­tion will be open not only to stu­dents but also to vis­i­tors from out­side.

Sim­i­lar ideas are also be­ing con­sid­ered by other in­sti­tu­tions in Luoyang, and Shi Ji­azhen says there are at least five such projects in­volv­ing schools, a mar­ket, and even a mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity.

“You can imag­ine what will hap­pen if we con­tinue this ef­fort for a decade or more,” he says. “These cul­tural sites in ev­ery com­mu­nity will com­prise an in­com­pa­ra­ble land­scape not only in China, but the whole world.”

But, he con­fesses that it still takes a rel­a­tively long time to get ap­provals for each project due to the reg­u­la­tions of the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage on ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites.

“But as more projects are ap­proved things will get eas­ier,” he says with a touch of op­ti­mism.

Com­pared with gain­ing hon­ors, it’s more im­por­tant to let ci­ti­zens par­tic­i­pate in ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions and learn the his­tory of their home­town.” Wang Xian­qiu, ar­chae­ol­o­gist

PHOTOS BY WANG KAIHAO / CHINA DAILY AND ZHANG XIAOLI / FOR CHINA DAILY

About 400 pieces of cul­tural relics have been un­earthed so far dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion of the Cao Wei tomb in Xizhu vil­lage in Luoyang.

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