A brick tomb from the Jurchen Jin period of northern China was discovered during the renovation of drains in Shanxi province.
Detailed findings from an extraordinary Jin Dynasty tomb in Shanxi province of central China that was discovered in 2019 have recently been made public – a magnificent ornately carved brick structure.
According to a Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology Exchange post on Weixin Official Accounts, the tomb located in Dongfengshan Village, Yuanqu County, about 545 miles southwest of Beijing, was discovered in 2019 when workers were laying a pipeline for a factory construction project. Archaeologists from the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology and the city and county cultural relics department then moved in to excavate and conserve the Jin Dynasty tomb.
As Weixin reports, the tomb belongs to a period officially known as the Great Jin from 1115 to 1234 AD. The dynasty rose in what is now Jilin and Heilongjiang and was founded by the Jurchen tribal chieftain, Aguda. The dynasty lasted until an attack by the Mongols impelled its last emperor, Aizong, to commit suicide by hanging to avoid capture.
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Brick Carved to Imitate Wood
The tomb is built entirely of unpainted brick carved so intricately that it appears to be made of wood. According to the report, a stepped entrance passage leads into the main burial chamber through a narrow corridor. The doorway into the tomb was sealed.
Looking up through the skylight of the chamber. ( Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology )
Those on the south wall, to which the entrance connects, are made to imitate latticed windows. On the west and east walls again are latticed-window and door-like carvings with floral patterns on the lower panels and octagonal, square or concave shapes on the upper parts. The carvings on the two walls are so similar as to almost replicate each other.
The real showpiece, however, is the north wall, which is directly opposite the door. It protrudes in the middle and has a remarkable carving of a gatehouse flanked by a man and a woman on either side. The man and woman are sitting behind tables on ornately carved chairs and are meant to represent the principal occupant of the tomb and his wife according to the Shanxi Institute of Archeology post.
North wall showing carved male and female tomb occupants sitting opposite each other. ( Shanxi Institute of Archaeology )
The man and woman are etched in great detail. The man has a goatee and is wearing a gown with a belt around the waist and has his hands in his sleeves. The carved table in front of him bears tableware and food. The woman is in a double-breasted gown with her hands folded inside the sleeves like the man.
There is a scroll on the table in front of her. The chairs of both have backrests and the couple are sitting ramrod straight with head and backrest in a straight line. The chairs and table are minutely embellished. The south wall was damaged and had partially collapsed in the construction work that had preceded the archaeological excavations.
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The Occupants of the Tomb and Their Belongings in the Hereafter
There were three burials in the main chamber, all together along a single wall. One was of a child aged between six and eight years. The other two skeletons belonged to adult males, both between 50 and 60 years of age.
Three human bones were cleared from the west side of the coffin bed. Near the west wall is a juvenile aged 6 to 8, and the other two are adults aged between 50 and 60. ( Shanxi Institute of Archaeology )
Given their spectacular tomb, the possessions the occupants carried with them into the next world were disappointingly frugal. A total of nine objects were unearthed, consisting of two porcelain jars, two porcelain bowls, one porcelain lamp and three clay pots placed alongside the human remains. A black glazed bowl placed in the gatehouse on the north wall completed the list.
Land Purchase Deed
Of great interest to the archaeologists was a brick “document” which has the land purchase details inscribed on it in calligraphy. Although the writing is faded, “Wang Village” and “Gongcao and Mingchang” can be discerned etched on the front of the inscription, leading archaeologists to conclude that the tomb dates to the Mingchang year during the reign of Emperor Zhangzong of the Jin Dynasty , that is between AD 1190 and 1196. The back has a geometric pattern.
A land purchase document which is a square brick with writing that can be seen on the front, most of which is blurred. From the upper right, only part of the words “Wang Village, Yuanqu County, Jiangzhou, Jiangzhou, South East Road, Dajin Kingdom… Name of Gongcao… Mingchang…” and other parts of the text can be discerned. ( Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology )
Highlighting the importance of the discovery, the Shanxi Institute of Archaeology post stated:
“The excavation of this tomb has enriched our understanding of the Jin Dynasty in the southern Shanxi area. The land purchase certificate has a clear date which provides an accurate basis for the dating of other tombs in the same period.”
Top image: Left image: North wall showing carved male and female tomb occupants sitting opposite each other. Center: the east wall of the tomb. Right: two adult human remains in the tomb. Source: Shanxi Institute of Archaeology