June 13, 2006:

[achtung! kunst] *archaeology* : Murals reveal aristocrats' lives 1,500 years ago

X-post from Tim 't Hart's EastAsianArch list.
With kind permission.


Murals reveal aristocrats' lives 1,500 years ago

Some well-preserved murals have been discovered in a tomb of more than
1,500 years old in Datong, North China's Shanxi Province, supplying rich
first-hand evidence for the research of early ethnic apparel and rituals.

The tomb was identified to belong to a general's mother who died in AD
435. Taking up an area of 24 square metres, it was found in a cemetery
of 12 tombs excavated last summer by local archaeologists.

Lying on a plateau in the rural suburbs of Datong, the cemetery dates
back to the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534).

The murals were painted in red, black and blue on all the four walls of
the tomb and its pathway.

Murals on the northern wall are divided into two parts by a horizontal
red line, said Liu Junxi, a local archaeologist who led the excavation.

The upper part depicts six exotic animals with each symbolizing a
constellation; while the lower part contains seven rows of pictures.

The first row portrays 19 well-dressed women. Under it is a huge picture
of an ancient ceremonious outing: A number of riders, musicians and
soldiers carrying streamers and lances are surrounding a canopied
carriage, in which sits a man.

Although most of the murals feature women on the eastern wall, a big
building dominated one at its lower centre.

Inside the building are a couple, probably the tomb owners, sitting up
straight. Both of them wear big black hats, indicating they were minorities.

A total of 34 male images have been found on both the eastern wall and
the southern wall. Meanwhile, the latter also has a big banquet scene,
involving various wine vessels, food, carriages and instrumentalists.

Two scenes of baking and brewing are painted on this wall, too.

In the rest of the murals, archaeologists saw pictures of soldiers
wearing helmets and armour, and some fairies.

"The soldiers are all in pairs, either in red clothes or armour, holding
swords in one hand and shields in the other," Liu described.

Compared with the faces of the soldiers, fairies in the mural look more
amiable. They are half human and half dragon with garlands on their
heads, flying on the wall of the tomb pathway.

Ancient artists outlined partial pictures of these murals with red lines
first, then sketched out the entire picture with black lines, and
finally filled in paints, according to Liu.

She said the murals could be reflections of real life at that time, or
an expression of the deceased's expectation for future life.

"The tomb murals we found are unique in all excavated tombs of that
historical period," Liu added.

Archaeologists also unearthed scads of colour lacquer remains in the tomb.

On the remains are paintings of the couple's everyday activities,
including cooking.

"We also found inscriptions on a piece of lacquer remains, from which we
conclude that the female tomb owner was the mother of a high-class
officer," Liu added.

Now Liu and her colleagues are duplicating these murals and planning
further protection efforts.

Source: China Daily May 18, 2006

Rest at:



with kind regards,

Matthias Arnold (Art-Eastasia list)



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