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Cemetery of Late Shang Dynasty discovered in Henan Province

By Lang Langtian Source Chinese Archaeology Published2014-10-09

During the construction in March, 2014, an ancient cultural site was found in the watercourse of Dashahe in the southeast of Nie Village in Jiaozuo, Henan province. Jiaozuo’s Institute of Archaeology and cultural relics investigated the whole site, proved the site belonged to Shang Dynasty, most of which was located inside the watercourse, while few ash pits were outside the bank, and the whole size of it reached 100,000 square meters. With the approval of State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Jiaozuo’s Institute of Archaeology and cultural relics conducted a salvage excavation of some cemeteries in Nie Village. Over two months work, sorted out 48 ancient tombs (40 dating to Shang Dynasty), 19 ash pits, 2 wells, and the actual excavation area reached 700 square meters, unearthed pottery, bronze, seawan, and shell etc, more than 100 pieces.

The remained cultural layers could be divided into three: the upper layer was Tang and Song Dynasty, the middle was late Shang Dynasty (the fourth stage of Yinxu culture), the low layer was early Shang Dynasty. The excavation aimed at the 40 Shang Dynasty’s tombs, which were small earthen shaft-pit, covering 1×3 m. 38 tombs headed east, while 2 headed south, which were all single burials, divided into two postures: extended burial and prone burial. Most of the tombs had a waist pit, which buried with the sacrificed dog. There were dogs in the filled earth of most tombs, and the dogs’ heads’ direction were opposite to the human’s. Among them, M2 and M19 were typical, the detail of which as follow.

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overview of the site

M2. Earthen shaft tomb, presented as rectangle, 2.7 m from south to north, 1.16 m from east to west, bottom as wide as 1.4, and 2.3 in depth. There found the traces of wooden coffin in the tomb chamber, and the human bones were intact, the posture of which was extended supine position burial, the hands were crossed on abdomen. The scarified dog was buried in the filled earth and the burial objects were placed against the head. There were pottery jar, pottery Gui container, seawan, and shells, etc. And most of the shells were in the mouth.

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unearthed artifacts from tomb M19

M19. Earthen shaft tomb, rectangle, 3.1 m from east to west, 1.44 to 1.6 from south to north, 2.15 in depth. There found traces of coffin, the human bones were intact, the posture of which was extended supine position burial, the hands were put on the two sides of the body. Three sacrificed dogs were buried in the filled earth, and in the different place of the outer coffin. The buried objects were pottery Li tripod (placed on the middle south part of the outer coffin), bronze dagger, adz (placed on both side of inside the coffin). In the south of the chamber, there was a small platform, 1.08m from east to west, 0.32m from north to south, 0.4m in height.

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unearthed artifacts from tomb M2

The tomb excavated today was all small earthen shaft pit, lined up, the buried items were few, but custom of buried dogs and waist pits were commonly used. The unearthed items had distinct characteristics of the age with the relation of strata, therefore, the time of the tomb could be proved: the tombs’ age was earlier than late Shang Dynasty (the fourth stage of Yinxu culture), later than early Shang Dynasty.

After the excavation, Jiaozuo’s Institute of Archaeology and cultural relics joint with Henan province’s Institute of Archaeology conducted a research of the gender, age and reason of death, etc. The human bones were collected to prepare for the isotope and DNA identification. The excavation of the late Shang Dynasty site at Nie Village provided valuable materials for the study of the human diet of late Shang dynasty, factor of human genetic heritance and burial custom, etc, which was a great significance for archaeological research. (Translator: Lang Langtian)