Mawangdui Han Tombs

Located in the eastern suburb of Changsha City, the world famous Mawangdui Han Tombs is one of the most fascinating attractions in Hunan Province. It is no exaggeration to say that the Mawangdui Han Tombs is an open book to the glorious West Han Dynasty (206BC-24). All three tombs were excavated between 1972 and 1974. According to the research this place was a family graveyard from at least two thousand years ago. The tombs are very grand and complicated as well. Number 1 and Number 3 tombs were in excellent condition when excavated and Number 1 is the largest among the three. Number 1 and Number 2 tombs have been in filled. Number 3 has been preserved and covered by a ceiling for the benefit of the visitors.

More than 3,000 relics have been unearthed from the three tombs, such as silk products, silk books, silk paintings, lacquer works, potteries, bamboo slips used for writing, weapons, herbs, and so on. The number of the lacquer works is the largest, including ancient cooking vessels, boxes, kettles, plates and folding screens, and the like. Red or black colors were painted on them. Most of the potteries contain food. The mouths of the containers were tightly stuffed by grass and mud. Bamboo brands with the name of the food tied on the outside of the containers' necks. There are wooden tomb figurines both clothed and unclothed. The reason is that they had different social status according the strict ranking system during the West Han Dynasty. The silk clothes from Number 1 tomb are in a variety of styles and of fine workmanship. One of the most outstanding representatives is a silk coat which is as light as the mist and as fine as gossamer. It is 1.28 meters (about 1.40 yards) in length with a pair of long sleeves, but weighs only 49 grams. Amazing! The coffin excavated from Number 1 tomb is decorated with the odd images of animals and gods on its lacquered surface and has a relatively high artistic value.

A map excavated from Number 2 tomb will provide another surprise. Its drawing technique is very advanced, place marks being very similar to a modern map. It was praised as 'a striking discovery' by foreigners when exhibited in America, Japan, Poland and many other countries.

Silk books, with more than one hundred thousand Chinese characters are rare historical artifacts. The content deals with ancient philosophy, history, science, technology, medicine and many other aspects.

The excavation of Number 1 tomb at Mawangdui can not only be considered a wonder in Chinese archeology, but also leave a profound effect world archeological history. The reason is that the corpse of this tomb's owner---a noble lady and other articles buried with the dead were extremely well-preserved for more than 2,000 years, especially the corpse. When disinterred from the tomb, her corpse was complete and the whole body was still moist and supple. Some of her joints could move; her organs and surrounding tissues were still intact, and the skin still flexible; she was as if she had been buried yesterday. This is hard to believe and extraordinarily rare to see both at home and abroad, but definitely true. This female corpse is a special body different from mummies and adipocere. Meanwhile it is also a scientific miracle in the study of antisepsis, shocking the whole world and attracting the attention of both scholars and visitors. Try to think: when facing a lady who is more than 2,000 years old, how will be your feeling then?

The sarcophagus of Number 1 tomb was covered by a colorful silk painting. It is the best preserved painting of its kind of Han Dynasty (206BC-220) with the highest artistic value in China. It is in the shape of the English letter 'T', so people also call it 'T' silk painting. In fact, this kind of silk painting was called 'long narrow flag' in ancient time and used for funerals. It was held by the person who headed the funeral procession and then draped over the coffin when burying the dead. This particular silk painting from Number 1 tomb can be divided into three parts. The upper part is about the heaven, the middle part is about the earth and the lower part is about the afterlife. Heaven means the end-result for life of the dead. Earth shows the wealth and nobility of the dead when alive. World after death displays the happiness of the dead in the afterworld. The whole painting is symmetrical and colorful with fine depiction, reflecting the lofty painting skill in the Western Han Dynasty. All the mysteries, strange animals and mysterious signs in the painting present us with a romantic world with its own sense of symbolism. As yet no one has been able to interpret its real meaning.

All the unearthed relics are exhibited in Hunan Provincial Museum

Admission Fee: CNY 2
Opening Hours: 08:00 - 16:30 (summer);
09:00 - 16:00 (winter)
Recommended Visiting Time: Half a day
Bus Route: Take bus nos. 10, 14, and 112 to get there.

media recommendationfeatured on media