Underground Splendor: Excavation at the Cemetery of Western Han Marquis of Haihun
杨军 Yang Jun
(江西省文物考古研究院 Jiangxi Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology)
海昏侯墓出土的孔子屏风是一个双折式的屏风，由衣镜主屏和《衣镜赋》辅屏共同构成，上有孔子及其七位弟子的画像及传记。上面的孔子像，是目前我们能见到的、最早的孔子画像。上面的文字内容许多是抄录自司马迁的《史记》，是目前我们看到的有关《史记》的最早内容。同时，屏风的镜框上，我们还见到了最早的东王公形象。孔子屏风是海昏侯生前使用的实物，而不是冥器，是海昏侯刘贺“图史自镜”之物，它被随葬进海昏侯刘贺的墓葬，具有特殊意义。东汉的荀悦《申鉴》中有：“君子有三鉴：鉴乎前，鉴乎人，鉴乎镜。前惟训，人惟贤，镜惟明”。 唐太宗也曾说：“以铜为镜，可以正衣冠；以古为镜，可以知兴替；以人为镜，可以明得失”。孔子屏风上的衣镜可以“正衣冠”； 孔子及其弟子的圣迹贤语，能够“知兴替”； 孔子及其弟子的圣贤像，那就是人，从而“明得失”。
The cemetery of Western Han Marquis of Haihun is located in the Guodun Mountain, 500 meters northeast from the Laoqiu Village (a sub-group of the Guanxi Village) of the Datangping Town in the Xinjian District of Nanchang, China.
Since 2011, the excavation and protection of the Marquis of Haihun’s cemetery has been highly valued by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, National Cultural Heritage Administration of PRC, and local government. Aimed at carrying out the high-level excavation, protection, and exhibition, the project was conducted following the declaration standards for world cultural heritage.
Archaeology at the Cemetery of Western Han Marquis of Haihun: Innovative Approaches
First of all, the archeological work of the Marquis of Haihun’s cemetery did not follow the usual approach of concentrating the excavation on the main tomb. Instead, the researchers carried out a comprehensive settlement study of the mega-site.
In the process of the large-scale field survey of 2011, the Marquis of Haihun’s cemetery, the Zijin City site, and numerous graves in the surrounding areas were discovered, indicating the connection between the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun and the state under his control. By following the approaches of settlement archeology and large-site archaeology, the whole project could proceed systematically.
Between 2012 and 2013, researchers initiated the archaeological excavation at the cemetery. From 2014 to 2015, the excavation was carried out at the main tomb. In 2016 and 2017, archaeological laboratory work was conducted on materials from the inner coffin of the main coffin, and the main coffin of No. 5 affiliated tomb. Also, conservation and restoration work was conducted on bronze, jade, golden and, lacquer artifacts, and bamboo and wooden slips. Since 2018, the excavation work on the No. 2 tomb of the Marquis of Haihun cemetery has been in the process.
Second, at different stages of the work, detailed excavation plans were drawn-up in advance for each targeted excavation project, and were submitted to the NCHA for approval. Meanwhile, each stage of the work also relied on predictions based on excavation experience and existing research on other Han Dynasty tombs of emperors, kings, and marquises in order to assure that the work was conducted with foresight, integrity, and scholarship.
For example, when excavating the two miniature carriages along the passage of the main tomb, archaeologists discovered utilitarian bronze objects chun yu 錞于 cowry-jar-shaped vessels and a set of bronze nao bells. On-site experts believe that the drum-carriage theme often appeared on the carving stones in the Eastern Han Dynasty, represented by the stone carving King travelling by carriage at the ancestral hall on the Xiaotang Mountain in Changqing, Shandong. In combination with the written records in the Rites of Zhou and the Guangya, experts suggested that the chun yu and nao set should coexist with a drum. Following this clue, with delicate work, archaeologists finally revealed the remains of a wooden frame of a drum and well-preserved lacquered wooden drumsticks at the edge of the collapsed chamber plates near the entrance of the passage. The discovery provides solid evidence to the coexistence of the metal-adorned carriage and drum carriage when marquises went on inspection tours in the Western Han.
Third, the archeological excavation of the tomb has always followed the principle of “take steps carefully to ensure the safety of the cultural relics”, and the on-site protection of cultural relics has been prioritized. In the process of lifting artifacts, excavators and conservators collaborated in plan design and artifact collection and protection work. They utilized techniques of artifact block lifting for further lab analysis, to effectively protect fragile cultural relics and artifacts in complex contexts. All the collected relics went through damage-controlling protection in the emergency conservation facility before being sent to the conservation lab for further technical protection.
Fourth, rather than simply uncovering the tomb, this project systematically links the tomb excavation with future display and use, and the protection of large sites, creating conditions for the application for World Cultural Heritage.
For example, about 2 million copper coins were unearthed in the tomb, weighing more than 10 tons, and the quantity was huge. During excavation, a group of about 2 tons with the clearest arrangement, the most ordered alignment, and the most well-preserved condition was packed and lifted for exhibition in the future. Another example is the large-scale drilling survey of the site, in order to provide sufficient scientific information to protect the large sites and the construction of archeological sites park.
Fifth, under the on-site guidance of the NCHA’s expert team, the excavation involved experts in every field from across China, especially the full involvement of universities and scientific research institutes. They participated in the design and implementation of cultural relic protection, which not only secured the on-site artifact collection and protection, but also extended the collaboration between field work and laboratory analysis. The progress could not be achieved solely by field archaeological methods.
Sixth, in the process of excavation and conservation, a variety of digital data collection and recording technologies were applied, including geophysical prospecting, GPS positioning, electronic total station surveying and mapping, GIS, aerial photography, 3D scanning, and time-lapse photography. Non-invasive and micro-invasive analysis and testing technology include flaw detection, X-ray imaging, infrared scanning, hyperspectral imaging, and EDS. Relics collection and protection technologies included deionized water conservation, soil-separator, menthol, nitrogen-fill protection, and low-oxygen system. Protein, pollen, and DNA analyses were applied, too. All these methods made it possible for excavation refinement, data visualization, and information digitization, in order to ensure the authority, standard, and scientific integrity of archeological excavations, cultural relics protection, scientific research, and display and utilization.
For example, a GIS grid survey was established to map the entire cemetery, by deploying detection points every 2 meters and transect lines spaced 5 meters apart, with more than 9000 detection points in total. Archaeologists could then map every artifact in the cemetery by using the three-dimensional coordinate data from the survey. In another case, before opening the inner coffin of the Marquis of Haihun’s tomb, they applied X-ray imaging technique to understand the condition of the deceased and the remains. By EDS, a lead-barium glass mat with gold-wrapped thread was discovered under the deceased and a set of iron chime stones in the north chamber used for musical instrument storage. With infrared scanning and hyperspectral imaging, researchers were able to obtain and record the writing on bamboo and wooden slips and on the dressing mirror with an image of Confucius. All the information laid the foundation for future protection, deciphering, and research. By infrared scanning technique the title of Knowing the Way in the Analects was discovered, suggesting that the bamboo scripts of the Analects in the tomb are possibly the Analects of Qi, which has been missing for 1800 years. Hyperspectral imaging also helped us to obtain the earliest Confucius figure and the earliest King Father of the East image on the Confucius dressing mirror. The application of nitrogen-filled protection and low-oxygen system technology ensures that once organic relics are found, including corpses or textiles, they will be placed in a low-oxygen cabin. Anoxic and hypoxic environments can slow down the destruction of cultural relics through oxidation. Archaeologists bring oxygen bags to work inside. This is the first time that the aerospace technology is applied in archaeology in China, and it is a new attempt in the protection of cultural relics. The analysis on a variety of botanical remains through flotation showed that cedar and maple were the major plants in the cemetery. The materials of the wooden outer coffin chamber consisted mainly of pine, camphor, and Japanese cedar, and the main coffin was made of camphor wood. In the west room of the main chamber pine-soot inkstick was discovered, and in the northern food storage chamber, broomcorn and foxtail millet, rice, and hemp were found. Residues of taro in steaming vessels were found in a wine making storage in the western chamber.
Seventh, it usually takes five or six years for the public to have the chance of visiting the exhibitions with those major archaeological findings. The archaeological excavation of the Marquis of Haihun’s tomb was not only broadcast live on TV, but also an attempt was made to “examine, protect and display at the same time”, so that the cultural relics can be presented to the public as soon as possible under the premise of ensuring safety and provide a new idea for public archaeology.
Experts believe that the archeological work at the Marquis of Haihun’s tomb has advanced concepts and scientific methods thorough planning and clear goals. The excavators always attach great importance to the on-site safety of cultural relics and the extraction of artifact information, the display and protection of cultural relics, the interdisciplinary approaches, and the application of technological methods. The site excavation and the protection of cultural relics were in order. The laboratory archaeology was timely, meticulous, scientific, and standardized. It is a successful example of combining archeological excavations and cultural relics protection, which reflects the direction of field archaeology in China.
Important findings at the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun
So far, approximately 400 ha of area belonging to the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun has been surveyed. Archaeological excavation covered 1ha, yielding more than 10,000 pieces (sets) of various artifacts. All the evidence has proved that the owner of the tomb is the Western Han Marquis of Haihun Liu He.
First, the archaeological work revealed the Haihun Principality during the Han Dynasty, which truly and completely displayed the spatial layout of the capital, the tombs of several Marquises of Haihun, and cemeteries of aristocrats and commoners.
As the capital of the Haihun Principality, the Zijin City lies to the west of Gan River and south of Poyang Lake. It is L-shaped in plan, covering an area of 360 ha and consisted of an inner and outer city wall. The inner city was comprised of two walled areas, east and west, covering an area of around 12 ha. A large number of high-level building foundations were found, which is considered as the palace of the city. There are several distinctive features of the city: first, the walls overall are wholly preserved, completely made of rammed earth, and feature a double-walled construction. The width of the base is around 20 m and some parts are still preserved reaching 2 m in height. The distance between the double walls is approximately 15 m. There are five gates on the four sides of the wall (water gate included); second, water routes and roadways co-existed inside the city, with water as the mainstay and land as the supplement. There were large-sized rammed earth foundations at the points where the roadways connected to the water channels, which were perhaps the remains of piers. A large number of archaeological features and artifacts related to human activities were found along the bank.
To the west and south of the city, four cemeteries belonging to several generations of Marquises of Haihun were located at Huagudun, Citanggang, Guodun, and Sujiashan. This can be verified in the Book of Han written by Ban Gu, which recorded that the Haihun Principality covered at least four generations. Surrounding this area, there were 24 locations with tombs of nobility and numerous commoners’ cemeteries. The cemeteries cover an area of about 140 ha in total.
Second, the cemetery of the first generation of the Marquis of Haihun, Liu He, has so far been a well-preserved cemetery with a complete structure, a clear layout, and abundant sacrificial remains for the Western Han marquises.
The cemetery of the Marquis of Haihun is trapezoidal in plan with the tombs of the Marquis and his wife lying at the center. The perimeter of the rammed wall is 868 m, covering 4.6 ha. In the cemetery there are two main tombs, seven affiliated tombs, one external storage pit, ancestral halls, compartments, east and north gates and affiliated que towers, and remains of roads and drainages. It is suggested that the affiliated tombs were used for the concubines of the Marquis as well as the family members, which reflects the cemetery system of Western Han marquises. It will be of great significance to study the whole tomb system of marquises during this period.
The tombs of the Marquis of Haihun and his wife lay side by side east and west of each other. The two graves share a ritual platform complex, which is 100 m long, 40 m wide, and 4000 m2 in area and is comprised of an east compartment, a west compartment, a resting hall, and an ancestral hall. The plan of the resting hall is square with four L-shaped rammed foundations. The length of the sides of the resting hall is around 10 m and 100 m2 in area. The ancestral hall was a symmetrical, enclosed building complex with a corridor and its main rammed foundation is U-shaped, surrounded by square rammed foundations, which measures 14 by 10 m with an area of 140 m2 in total. The compartments, located on the west and the east side of the platform, are both rectangular building complexes with enclosed corridors and three cubicles. Each compartment is around 27 m long, 10 m wide, and 270 m2 in area.
Third, the burial of the Marquis of Haihun is composed of his tomb and a chariot pit. This burial has been the biggest, best-preserved and with the richest burial remains for Western Han Marquis in China so far, and also the only one with real horses in a chariot pit discovered in south China to date.
The top of the main tomb was covered by a seven-meter high pyramidal mound, and the burial pit is in a T-shape facing the south, with a square wooden chamber 400 m2 in area inside. The chamber is divided into the main outer coffin compartment, with passages, storage compartments, corridors, the east chariot storage and the west chariot storage. In the center of the wooden chamber is the main coffin compartment, which is 7.4 m long from east to west, 0.7 m wide from north to south, and about 3m high (0.6 m higher than the surrounding storage areas), covering an area of 51.8 m2. The main compartment of the outer coffin is then divided into east and the west rooms by wood plank walls, between which is a passageway. The east room is the resting hall, 4 m wide and the west chamber is the reception hall, 2.9 m wide. The south wall has a window on the west and a door on the east, which is about 0.9 m wide. The main compartment is surrounded on three sides, north, east, and west, with storage compartments with various functions. Between the main chamber and these storage compartments is a 0.7 m wide passage, which was prepared in the imperial burial chamber style of the Han Dynasty known as huang chang ti cou. It turned out that the passage was not used during the burying process and turned into a patrolling passage jiao dao surrounding the main chamber. Between the main chamber and the tomb ramp is a corridor. This corridor mainly served for the storage of music chariots, and on the east and the west side of the corridor are the storage areas for chariots and horses. Inside the north storage area, from west to east, are storage compartments for coins, grain, musical instruments, and wine vessels. In the west storage area, from north to south, lie storage compartments for cloth, weapons, documents, and objects for entertainments. The east storage compartment is mainly for cooking wares used by the Officer of Foods. The bottom of the chamber was first leveled using sand, and then the base timbers were laid on top of this. The base timbers and the spaces between them were padded and reinforced with sand, charcoal, and clay. On top of the base timbers were the floorboards of the outer coffin chamber, with the floor of the main chamber compartment having two layers, and the rest of the outer coffin floor having only one. A layer of bamboo or straw matting was lain across the floors. The floorboards and the boards of the sides, which were loadbearing, were all assembled using mortise and tenon joinery, with the side boards bolstered by wooden stakes. The secondary platform erected between the side boards and the pit wall is 1.2 m wide, with rammed layers of sand, charcoal, and clay. Charcoal, sand, and white clay grouting, which are 0.7 m thick, were used to seal the ceiling boards of the wooden chamber. Some words and markings, such as the artisans’ names, numbers, and sizes, are incised on the boards of the wooden chamber. The junction of the ramp and the wooden chamber has bamboo mats to cover the floor and the wall. The chamber was designed precisely, built scientifically, and functionalized clearly, characterized by the residence and courtyard styles. It is a cemetery for marquises under the “Han system”, which provides rare information for studying and understanding the burial system of Western Han marquises.
The east part of the chariot pit, overlaid by the main tomb’s mound, was used as the storage chamber with real chariot horses. The plan of the chariot pit is rectangular, covering 80 m2 in area. A passage is located at the north edge of the pit but does not reach the bottom of the pit. The wooden chamber and supporting pillars are all decayed, leaving only traces. Judging from the height of the worked soil second-level platform ercengtai and traces of the ceiling board of the chamber on top of it, the height of the pit is about 1 m. A total of five utilitarian high-ranking an che carriages and yao che carts, along with about twenty horses were discovered.
Fourth, more than 10,000 (sets) of artifacts unearthed to date have reproduced the luxurious life of high-class elites in the Western Han Dynasty, and have high historical, artistic and scientific value.
The information from the excavation at present shows that the coffin chamber of the tomb had collapsed in early years and filled with ground water due to the impact of an earthquake during the Eastern Jin and the southern transgression of the Poyang Lake during the Southern Dynasties and Liu Song period: because of this, several episodes of tomb robbing did no serious damage to the tomb. The objects generally remained unmoved, which is a rare case across China for excavations of high-ranking burials.
Thousands of bamboo slips and almost a hundred wooden slips bring several ancient texts to light, which is another huge discovery in the history of manuscripts. More than 5,200 bamboo slips covered a wide range of contents, the most important of which are Confucian classics, such as the Analects of Confucius, the Book of Changes, the Book of Rites, the Classic of Filial Piety, the Book of Songs, the Spring and Autumn Annals, as well as the earliest Manual for the Liu Bo Game, the Book of Medicine and the Rhapsody of Mourning the Death. The Book of Changes starts with the meaning of each name of the gua divinatory diagrams, and the content and selection after tuan is similar to that in the Day Book. Although its arrangement is the same as the received version, version discovered in the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun has different content. The content of the Book of Medicine is related to health regimens and sexual practices. The author added Xu and Shi into the Eight Ways in the Tian xia zhi dao tan discovered in the silk manuscripts of the Mawangdui and thus becomes the Ten Ways, which reflects the development of sexual practices after the middle of the Western Han. Among all the bamboo slips, the most important finding is the missing Analects of Qi.
The Confucius screen is a double-folding screen, composed of the dressing mirror and the affiliated screen. The Rhapsody of the Dressing Mirror painted on the affiliated screen depicted the stories of Confucius and his disciples. The figure on the mirror is the earliest figure of Confucius to date. The biographies written on the back of the Confucius dressing mirror are generally identical to the records in the Western Han history, Shi ji (The Records of the Grand Historian), which is the earliest record of it. On the frame of the screen was depicted the earliest pictorial and textual records of the King Father of the East. This screen was used by the Marquis of Haihun, not just a burial object. He utilized it for pictures and history to self-correct, tu shi zi jing. The Shen Jjian, by Xun Yue in the Eastern Han, states that “a gentleman has three references: refer to the past, to others, to mirror. Learning lessons from the past, virtuosity from others, and learning clarity from a mirror.” Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong also pointed out that “by having bronze as a mirror, we can adjust our outfit; by having history as a mirror, we can learn from the past; and by having others as a mirror, we can understand right and wrong.” The smooth and clean bronze mirror body of the Confucius dressing mirror can be used to “adjust the outfit”; the biographies and stories on the back of the mirror can serve as “learning from the past”; and the figures of Confucius and his disciples can be used for “understanding right and wrong.”
The complete set of musical instruments, including two sets of bells, one set of chime stones, qing, se, pai xiao, and sheng, and 36 wooden figurines of musicians, visualized the music system of Western Han marquises. The bell sets, the chime stone set, and the musician figurines reflect the music and dance system that were inherited from the Rites of Zhou, which set up regulations such as “Marquises have suspended musical instruments of three sides” and “liu yi” in music and dances for marquises.
The excavation revealed that in the Han period, 1000 wen was a basic unit, which proves that the currency system of “1,000 qian equals 1 guan, qian qian yi guan” emerged at the latest before the middle of the Western Han, although it did not become a fixed regulation as in the Tang and Song Dynasties. The diversity indicates the system was in an early and transformative stage and also reflects the system of saving coins after the period of Western Han Emperor Wu. For instance, more than 10 tons, about 2 million pieces of wuzhu coins were discovered, with 1000 pieces as a string, every 5 strings sealed with a wooden sealing box, the word “Changyi” inscribed on the sealing box, and “HaihunHou jia qian wu qian” written on the box.
A total of 478 pieces of horse-hoof shaped and lin unicorn toe-shaped gold ingots, disk-shaped ingots, and gold plaques are the most complete and well-preserved, and the most concentrated such discovery in the history of Han tomb archaeology in China. The horse-hoof shaped and the lin-toe shaped ingots were the gifts bestowed by the Western Han emperors in order to “accord with an auspicious occasion”. Made with fine metal production techniques such as filigree inlaid, some pieces carried inscriptions of “shang”, “zhong”, and “xia” (upper, middle, and lower) and some have glass inlay. Disk-shaped ingots and gold plaques are value-stored hard currency. They were used as reserved wealth when the deceased was alive and for the sponsoring of worship when the emperor worshiped in the ancestral hall every August. Kings and marquises were required to sponsor the worship with ingots according to the population of their states. Records also show that kings and marquises would be degraded if the gold they presented had insufficient weight or purity.
All the grave goods represent the superb achievements of Western Han handicrafts and the luxurious lives of high-ranking aristocrats, and they are also the typical representation of the concept of “treating the dead as treating the living.” They include plentiful exquisitely-made jade objects, such as she-shaped (archer’s thumb ring shaped) plaques with openwork dragon, tiger, and phoenixes, bi disks, gui tablets, rings, swords, plaque sets, belt hooks, cups, seals; gems, such as agate, turquois, and amber; objects of gold and silver, inlaid, gold-wrapped, and gilded bronze objects, such as chariot and horse fittings, sets of bells, Boshan incense burners, goose and fish lamps, ding tripod, hu, and zun vessels, ran stoves, tripods for heating, distillers, mirrors, and weights; lacquer wares with refined paintings, chess board, cup sets, plates with silver rim, boxes and lacquered zun with gold foil attached, and a table inlaid with jade and agate. Some of the bronze and lacquer objects inscribed with texts, five usable an che carriages and two ou le carriages related to the military music of the Pre-Qin period reflect the name marking system in handicraft production inherited from the Eastern Zhou period.
Exotic style objects, such as the camel image on the hanger of a bronze bell, the silver horse mask in a single-horn goat shape, the jade ornament of tiger and bear combat, etched carnelian beads, agate, crystals, and the soda-lime glass inlaid on the horse-hoof and the lin-toe ingots, provide precious information for the study of cultural interaction between China and the west.
Although there are abundant grave goods and some gestures toward the status of being a king and an emperor, Liu He was still buried according to the scale of a marquis, which can be seen from the Law for Funeral Rites, discovered in Shuihudi tomb M77 discovered in Yunmeng, Hubei, in 2006 that dates to the early Western Han period. It is one of the typical burial system of marquises after Western Han Emperor Wu.
The tomb of the Marquis of Haihun not only bears witness to the legendary life of Liu He, who was the ninth emperor of Western Han, the second generation of the King of Changyi, and the first generation of the Marquis of Haihun, but also reflects the flourishing history and culture of the Western Han Dynasty.
Yang Jun, researcher of Jiangxi Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, has conducted archaeological excavation and research for more than 30 years. He participated in the CHINA-US collaborative archaeological excavation at the sites of Xianrendong and Diaotonghuan in Wannian. He also held excavations at the A, B, C, I, J, K and L zones of the Hutian kiln site in Jingdezhen, at the Western Han tomb of the Marquis of Haihun in Nanchang, at the Eastern Jin tomb of the train station in Nanchang, at the Northern Song wall-painting tomb in De’an, and at the alcohol production workshop site of the Yuan Dynasty in Lidu. Among these excavations, the alcohol production workshop site in Lidu was awarded as the Top Six New Archaeological Discoveries of the year of 2002 organized by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the 3rd-place fieldwork prize organized by the National Cultural Heritage Administration of China. The Western Han tomb of the Marquis of Haihun in Nanchang was awarded as the Top Ten New Archaeological Discoveries and the Top Six New Archaeological Discoveries of the year of 2015, the 2nd-place fieldwork prize organized by the Chinese Archaeological Society，the Golden Jue Prize for cultural heritage preservation organized by the First Chinese Archaeological Congress. The Eastern Jin tomb at the train station in Nanchang, the Northern Song wall-painting tomb in De’an were selected as the significant archaeological discoveries of the year of 2006 by the National Cultural Heritage Administration. In addition, Jun Yang has published many papers in Chinese and English.