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Mawangdui (China)


Silk Tapestry from the Tomb of Lady Dai

Silk Tapestry from the Tomb of Lady Dai

Pericles of Athens

Mawangdui is the name of a Han dynasty [206 BC-AD 24] archaeological site situated in China in a suburb of the modern town of Changsha, Hunan Province. Three tombs dated to the 2nd century BC were excavated during the 1970s, and revealed to belong to the Marquis of Dai, Li Dang [died 186 BC]; Lady Dai [died after 168 BC]; and their son [d. 168 BC]. The tomb pits were excavated between 15 and 18 meters below the ground surface and then buried beneath a huge earthen mound.

Lady Dai's tomb was the best preserved, measuring 19.5 meters north to south, 17.8 meters east and west, and 16 meters in depth. It was filled with a mixture of charcoal and white kaolin, which combination led to the nearly perfect preservation of Lady Dai's body and grave clothes. The nearly 1,400 objects in Lady Dai's grave included silk tapestries and painted wooden coffins, bamboo objects, pottery vessels, musical instruments (including a 25-string zither), and wooden figures.

Their son's tomb contained more than 200 silk manuscripts, along with silk paintings and other grave goods. Among the scrolls were seven medical manuscripts, which together comprise the most ancient manuscripts on medicine found in China to date.

Sources and Further Information

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to Silk Road and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Yang, Xiaoneng. 2004. Tombs at Mawangui Changsha, Hunan Province. In Xioaneng Yang (editor) In Chinese Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: New Perspectives on China's Past. Yale University Press, New Haven.

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