China Daily May 18, 2006
Unearthing Secrets of a Lost Ancient State
It was a mysterious pall that was documented in an old book but had
never been discovered.
So archaeologists were amazed, a year ago, when the scarlet silk cloth
emerged from one of two tombs on the site.
Their continuous excavation brought to light a small ancient state that
was never recorded in historical documents.
The discovery of the pall and the State of Peng, dating back nearly
3,000 years, was made in Hengshui. In this town in Shanxi Province,
which is situated in the Yellow River Valley known as the cradle of
Chinese civilization archaeologists have disinterred 188 tombs since
Lying on a slope, the tombs each with a 20-odd-metre-long slanting
pathway of Pengbo, Count of Peng State, and his wife, are the largest ones.
The couple, who lived in Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century-771 BC),
were buried side by side with a large quantity of funeral objects
including bronzeware, pottery and carriages.
The pall was found in the chamber of Pengbo's wife, who lay supine with
hands crossed on her stomach.
"Thousands of years passed and what we found were actually big scarlet
marks blended with soil," said Song Jianzhong, deputy director of the
Institute of Archaeology of Shanxi Province. "With any faintest touch,
they would disintegrate.
"This is the oldest, best preserved and largest tomb decoration object
discovered in China so far."
He added that the discovery is of prime significance to the study of
ancient burial rituals in the Western Zhou Dynasty.
There was an early record about Huang Wei (pall) in the Confucian
classic "Li Ji" ("Book on Rituals and Ceremonies"), written about 2,000
It refers to Huang Wei (pall) as a cloth covering a coffin. "Huang means
the part of cloth on the coffin, and Wei means what droops on its
sides," the book said.
The pall unearthed in Hengshui must have been composed of two pieces of
silk cloth, embroidered with phoenix patterns, according to Song.
"At the stitches, we found some marks of dislocated and reversed
patterns, which implies that the two cloths were pieced together after
being embroidered," he said.
Archaeologists deducted that the pall, which covered the outer coffin,
was preserved by silt that was formed after the mixture of soil with
water which had leaked in shortly after the burial.
Over centuries, the coffins decayed and collapsed, but the silt remained
erected, and so has most of the pall.
The original pall must have been up to 2 meters high, with each piece of
cloth 80 centimeters wide, according to archaeologists.
They said that ancient Chinese considered the pall an imitation of bed
curtains as well as one of the tomb decorations which "kept spectres
from approaching the dead," according to some old books.
Exhumed together with pall remains were some bronzeware, whose
inscriptions indicate the existence of Peng, a previously unknown state
of the Western Zhou Dynasty.
Archaeologists found characters of "Peng Bo" in the inscriptions. After
analysis, they believed that "Peng" should be a name of the state and
"Bo" must imply the owner's title of nobility.
Kings of the Western Zhou Dynasty stuck to a tradition to confer titles
upon their relatives or heroic officials, who with the title became
rulers of different regions of the country. There were five different
titles, and "Bo" ranked third among them.
"There are no records of this state in any kinds of historical documents
we can find, which is really odd," Song said.
Among the 41 bronze objects, eight pieces of ding, an ancient cooking
vessel with two loop handles and three or four legs, were found in the
One of the most significant bronzeware in history, ding was a symbol of
power and status in the Western Zhou Dynasty.
Archaeologists said it was interesting to note that Pengbo's wife was
buried with more pieces of the vessel than her husband.
"It's quite rare in ancient China, where males enjoyed higher status
than females," Li Boqian, director of the archaeological research centre
of Peking University, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
He added that it was probably because the woman was born in a family of
A series of 10 bronze chime bells, of great value to the study of
China's musical history, were also uncovered in the tombs.
Song said the excavation team is still working on some other tombs
around those of the Pengbos', and will continue to crack the secret of
the State of Peng, a missing page of Chinese history.
with kind regards,
Matthias Arnold (Art-Eastasia list)
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