Thursday, July 29, 2010

Part Three: Chu and Other Cultures

In 1977, archaeology excavations in Leigudun, Suixian in Hubei province found a remarkably rich and undisturbed tomb. Inscriptions on some of the bronzes indicated that it belonged to Yi, marquis of Zeng (Zenghou Yi in Chinese) and dated to about 433 B.C. The existence of the state of Zeng was unknown until 1977, and it remains somewhat enigmatic. Some scholars feel it is simply an alternate name for the state of Sui, which was one of the chief rivals of the powerful Chu, although it may also have been a lesser neighboring state.

Originally sunk to a depth of 13 meters, the tomb was packed with charcoal, and the shaft filled with clay, stone slabs, and earth. The durability of these materials, and the fact that the tomb became waterlogged, left it in a remarkable state of preservation, enabling archaeologists to determine precisely how goods were distributed in the four chambers. These chambers mirrored the arrangement of the marquis' palace during his life. The eastern chamber, representing his private quarters, contained his own lacquered double coffin, the coffins of eight young women (ages thirteen to twenty-four) who were probably concubines or musicians to entertain Yi in the afterlife, and a dog buried in its own coffin.

The chamber also contained weapons, a chariot, and many personal items, including furniture, a zither, silk, and vessels -- though not bronze vessels. The central chamber (left) seems to have corresponded to the ceremonial hall of Yi's palace. Inside, were a large set of bronze bells (similar to the Chime of twenty-six bells) and other instruments, as well as bronze ritual vessels. The northern chamber served as an armory and storeroom, the western chamber, where thirteen more young women were buried, as servants' quarters.

The marquis' tomb illustrates a transition from tomb traditions that replicated the ritual environment of ancestral temples to a new conception of the tomb as a recreation of the deceased's earthly existence.

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