A 3,000-year-old cemetery containing the tombs of a wealthy family has been discovered in central China after two years of excavations by archaeologists.
The site in Anyang, Henan province, is believed to be home to a clan named “Ce” during the Shang dynasty, the Anyang Institute of Cultural and Archaeological Relics said in a release.
The clan cemetery was found just 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the ancient capital Yinxu, home to the ruins of a palace and ancestral temple. The archaeological site has 18 building foundations, 24 tombs, four pits of horses and chariots, and a number of remarkably intact relics, including jade and stone items, and bronzeware inscribed with the character “Ce.”
“In the oracle bone inscriptions, there is a record of the ‘Ce’ clan,” said Kong Deming, director of the institute, in the news release – referring to the earliest form of Chinese writing, in which characters were engraved on animal bones used in divination.
“The ‘Ce’ clan emblem appears on many of the bronzes found at the … site this time, so we believe that the ‘Ce’ clan was active in this area.”
One of the site’s largest tombs appears to have been robbed, leaving only a few objects, such as pottery shards, uncovered. But in other pits, archaeologists have discovered tools made from bones and mussel shells, as well as more than 20 sets of ceremonial bronze vessels such as cups, cauldrons and “jue”, which were used to serve warm wine in ceremonies.
Archaeologists also discovered six carriages, as well as the remains of several horses and people believed to have been buried alive along with a number of buried bodies – a common practice during the imperial dynasty, especially for those of high status such as royal family members.
Many of the remains were lavishly decorated, indicating that the clan was very wealthy. Some of those buried wore caps made of mussels, while the heads of horses were decorated with gold.
“This is very rare among the ancient discoveries of Anyang, reflecting the extraordinary status and power of the carriage owner,” said Kong, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Other discoveries at the site – such as the steps in front of the foundation of a building and the decorative remains of the inner wall – provide clues to how Shang Dynasty homes were built built and designed, Kong added.
Researchers believe the courtyards and mausoleums were built towards the end of the dynasty, which ended in 1046 BC and ushered in China’s Bronze Age. The cemetery may have been restored and reused many times, but was abandoned after the Shang Dynasty was overthrown.
Researchers are still trying to determine the social status of the “Ce” clan, how the community was structured, and whether they had any relationship with the royal family of the dynasty.