Welcome to everyone that has come to see the world-astonishing Yinxu Royal Cemetery .
Regarded as the most representative site of ancient Chinese civilization, the Royal Cemetery site is praised by international experts and scholars as the world's “Second Egypt”。 It is on par with the Seven Wonders of the World. The Royal cemetery site is similar to the palace-temple complex on the south side of the Huan river. Therefore it is not only an important component in the Yinxu site, but is also designated by the World Cultural Heritage as a “Core Zone”。 Thirteen large tombs （including one unfinished large tomb）， and more than 2000 accompanying tombs and sacrificial pits were discovered here. Weighing over 875 kilograms, the Si Mu Wu square ding-cauldron, a national treasure, was excavated here as well. It is regarded by academics circles around the world as a dazzling pearl amongst the treasures of ancient Chinese culture. Precisely because of the site's important value, it obtained the high praise of United Nations experts and in 2006 both the palace-temple complex and the royal cemetery were entered into the list of World Cultural Heritage sites. We are proud of this achievement, but we also still marvel at the mysterious presence of the site.
In order to better protect the Shang Royal Cemetery site, we have built this protected area over the original site. First, take a look at this large gate built in the Shang style. Notice how thatched grass covers the top, how rammed earth was used to construct the steps, how the four sides are slanted, and how the roof features double-layered eaves. Passing through this gate, the dust-laden ruins of the 3300 year old Shang dynasty will be revealed, showing a glimpse of the ancient period's brilliance and prosperity to us in the modern day. Please follow me as we tour the site together.
In the 1930s, China's first generation of archaeologists discovered the more than 3000 year old Shang royal tombs, naming it the Shang dynasty's Royal Cemetery site. This is the earliest complete royal cemetery grave group known in China. Its discovery established the foundations of Shang cultural research and provided conclusive proof of the existence of slave society. Study of this site has become an important cornerstone in the effort to explore the origins of Chinese civilization.
First, we must understand the geographical distribution of the site. Please have a look at this side of the Royal Cemetery map. The site is located in a suburb northeast of the city of Anyang, on the high bank of the Huan river north of Houjiazhuang and Wuguancun villages. The Royal Cemetery is an important component of the Yinxu site. Facing south towards the palace-temple site located across the river, it borders the Huanbei Shang city to the east. From east to west the Royal Cemetery site measures 450 meters, and from north to south it is 250 meters long, an area totaling 11.3 hectares （or 169.5 mu）。 Construction lasted more than 200 years, starting with the reign of Shang king Wu Ding and ending during the reign of the last Shang king, Di Xin. From 1934 to the present, 13 large tombs （including one incomplete tomb） and more than 2000 accompanying tombs and sacrificial pits have been discovered here. An excavated dirt footpath divides the site in two, and the western and eastern zones are separated by over 100 meters. The eastern zone has five large tombs, and the western zone has eight （including the uncompleted tomb）。 The scope of the tombs is grand, and the excavated cultural relics are exquisite--the world-famous Si Mu Wu square ding-cauldron was excavated here. The numerous sacrificial pits are arranged in an orderly fashion. Therefore scholars believe that this location was not only the cemetery of the Shang kings, but that it was also a public place for the royal court to offer sacrifices to the ancestors, illustrating a great chapter in ancient Chinese history. Because these tombs were backfilled after excavation, the previous splendor of the site has been restored. At the original locations of the large tombs we have undertaken measures to preserve the underground tombs by marking them aboveground with gravel that represents the shape of the original tomb. Through restoration and carefully chosen displays, the immense scope of the Royal graves is revealed. Next, please follow me to view the eastern section of the Royal Cemetery.
From the discovery of oracle bone inscriptions at the end of the 19th century to the scientific excavation of Yinxu in the 1920s, the significance of Anyang in the study of ancient Chinese history could not be questioned. In particular the identification of the palace-temple site at Xiaotun village further incited the interest of everyone in finding the Shang Royal Cemetery. In 1933, in the vicinity of Houjiazhuang village, private excavation yielded three bronze pieces peculiar in shape and immense in size. News of these pieces spread like wildfire. Precisely as archaeologist Liang Siyong took charge of the archaeological excavation he heard the rumors, and knowing that the position of the graves lay somewhere around Houjiazhuang and Wuguancun, he dispatched five young archaeologists （Shi Zhangru, Liu Yao--famous archaeologist now known as Yin Da, Qi Yanpei, Hu Fulin--renowned oracle-bone scholar now known as Hu Houxuan, and Yin Huanzhang） to start the 10th season of excavation. During their untiring efforts, 13 large tombs and over 2000 sacrificial pits were successively exposed from beneath the earth. Based on contents excavated from the tombs, the large scale of the tombs, and the systematic burial of human sacrifices, scholars believe this to been the graveyard of the powerful Shang royal clan which ruled during the Shang dynasty. Buried more than three thousand years ago in the bowels of the earth, the Shang dynasty had at least revealed its true face.
The eastern zone consists primarily of five large tombs, known respectively as Tomb Number 1400, Tomb Number 1443, Tomb Number 1129, the Wuguancun large tomb, and Tomb Number 260, where, reportedly, the Si Mu Wu square ding-cauldron was excavated. Among them, Tomb Number 1400 has four ramps leading down into the burial pit, Tombs 1443, 1129 and the Wuguancun tomb have two ramps, and Tomb 260 has one ramp. Moreover, a large number of small scale burials were discovered in the eastern area. Excluding a few accompanying tombs, the majority of these burials are sacrificial pits, important sacrificial shrines for Shang royal ancestor worship.
On the eastern side we can see there is a large tomb, which is the Wuguancun tomb. It was the first great achievement of Chinese archaeologists after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. In 1950, Guo Baojun directed archaeological excavation at Anyang. The tomb pit is rectangular with two ramps leading up to the surface. At the surface, it is 14 meters long from north to south, and 12 meters from east to west. The bottom of the tomb, which is smaller in dimension than the tomb opening, lies 7.2 meters below the surface. At the bottom of the tomb is the waist pit, which contained a buried person and a ge-daggeraxe. An inner chamber, made of wood, was placed over the waist pit. It was 6.3 meters long, 5.2 meters wide, and 2.5 meters tall. 30 planks of wood were lain across the bottom of the inner chamber. Every wall of the chamber was composed of 9 planks of wood, apparently in the shape of a cross, and topped with a roof. The northern tomb ramp was sloped downward from the surface, 15 meters in length. The southern tomb ramp, 15.6 meters long, held 79 sacrificed humans, buried along the ramp down to the center of the tomb. Bronze ding-cauldrons, gui-bowls, gu-goblets, jue-wine vessels, ge-dagger-axes, and jadeware were found together as burial objects. A famous piece is an engraved tiger-shaped stone, 8.4 centimeters long and 2.5 centimeters tall. The engraved tiger stripes on the front side are bold and expertly carved, overflowing with vitality. At present it is one of the largest pieces of jadeware yet excavated, making it a rare gem in ancient China's storehouse of treasures.
The chariot was ancient China's principal means of land transportation. China was one of the earliest nations in the world to invent and use the chariot. According to tradition, it was invented by the Yellow Emperor. During the Xia dynasty, the office of the Chief of Chariots specialized in managing vehicle traffic and construction. As the archaeological evidence before you illustrates, the chariots excavated at Yinxu are China's earliest chariot specimens. This is one instance of the creation of an ancient invention by China's ancestors. If we look at the creation of the chariot as representative of ancient Chinese science and technology, we can see how ancient China's scientific development made significant contributions to humanity. Pictorial representations of chariots appear quite frequently in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions, images which depict the form of chariots during the period. Chariot horses and implements were first discovered during excavation at Yinxu in 1931. At present, excavated Shang period chariot pits number more than 40.
The Shang chariot was constructed from wood, consisting of a carriage, axle, wheels, pole, and yoke. Due to being buried underground for ages, the wooden components of the chariots had already completely decomposed. When the chariots were excavated, archaeologists found only wood traces and bronze decorations. Based on the trace outline left by the decomposed wood on the surrounding soil, archaeologists succeeded in preserving the shape of the chariot, thereby restoring a three thousand year old chariot for you to see before your own eyes.
Following the development of society, the use of the chariot in human social life grew more and more important, and the scope of its use broadened. The Shang attached importance to the chariot and promoted its advancement. On the one hand, chariot structure and harness method became more portable and light. The single shaft connecting the yoke with the carriage was replaced by two and the leather harness strap developed into a shoulder harness, causing the chariot to more efficient and better designed. On the other hand, use of the chariot gradually exceeded the battlefield, becoming an important tool in everyday life and productive labor. The progress of Chinese civilization certainly cannot be separated from the development of the chariot.
The tomb ramp is characteristic of large tombs. From the earth's surface it slopes down to the base of the pit, with some of the ramps having stairs. Within the tomb ramp sacrificial people and horses were buried. The tomb chamber was usually square or rectangular, with surface areas ranging from tens of square meters to hundreds of square meters. The four walls of the tomb chamber often had two platforms, the second of which held more human sacrifices or tools. Within the tomb chamber, the inner coffin which held the tomb's occupant was encased in a wooden structure, which was topped by a canopy roof. At the center of the tomb floor was the waist pit, commonly containing a sacrificial dog and sometimes a human. The sacrificed dog served to guard the tomb's occupant, and the sacrificed human seems to have had an offertory purpose. This was all done in order for the tomb occupant to live a quiet and protected existence in the underworld, shielded from disturbance or intrusion.
n slave society, sacrifices and offerings were an important part of the social code. It was an important affair of state, and many sacrificial and offertory rituals were presided over by the king himself. Recipients of the offerings included Heaven and Earth, the mountains and the rivers, the sun and moon, wind and rain, the ancestors, spirits and ghosts, etc. Among the more than 2000 sacrificial pits unearthed at the Royal Cemetery site, the bones of the dead are countless, demonstrating the tragic plight of Shang slaves. By the term human sacrifice, we mean executing people and afterwards interring them in a pit in order to worship the ancestors. The human sacrifice pits were arranged in an orderly fashion, divided into certain numbers with each group representing an instance of sacrifice. Some of the victims were buried alive, and some were first executed and then interred. Most of the victims of human sacrifice were prisoners, but some were also slaves.
Tomb number 260 is located in the eastern zone of Yinxu's Royal Cemetery site. Formal archaeological excavation has been in progress since September 1984. According to hearsay, the widely known Si Mu Wu square ding-cauldron was excavated from here in 1939. The Si Mu Wu square ding-cauldron is one of the most rare pieces of bronze ware in the world 133 centimeters tall, the cauldron has a mouth that is 110 by 79 centimeters large. Its legs are 46 centimeters long, and the bronze walls are 6 centimeters thick. It is the largest ding-cauldron ever excavated.
Tomb number 260 is shaped like the Chinese character 甲 jia. The single tomb ramp slopes upward from the southern part of the rectangular pit. At the bottom of the pit is a waist pit, inside of which are one person and one large jade ge-dagger-axe. In the northwestern corner of the pit is a backfilled hole which contained 8 pieces of wood. 22 human skulls were found together in the earth used to backfill the tomb ramp. The tomb's backfill contained six individual human skeletons, and the backfill of the wooden chamber held five individual human skeletons. Reportedly in 1939 the Si Mu Wu square ding-cauldron was excavated here, another indication that the tomb's occupant was well-respected. Since the identity of the tomb's occupant is lost, it has become an important objective of Yinxu archaeology to discover it.
An ancient Chinese text called the Commentary of Zuo states that the important affairs of state reside in ritual and war. Following the peaceful burial of the tomb's occupant, ritual sacrifice of domesticated animals started and increased in magnitude. The Royal Cemetery was a sacrifice site for Shang kings to make offerings to the ancestors and spirits. In the vicinity of the Royal Cemetery's large tombs, there are altogether over 2000 sacrificial pits. The ones we see today are only a small fraction. Our main principle is to preserve the underground tombs by marking them aboveground with gravel that represents the shape of the original tomb, thereby restoring the site for posterity while still giving visitors a glimpse of the Royal Cemetery as it must have looked in the past. In order to avoid damage and erosion from the elements, we have covered the sacrificial pits with a glass cover to for constant protection.
These sacrificial pits which are neatly arranged are known as ordered burial pits, while those that are relatively scattered are known as scattered burial pits. Most of the pits containing human burials are shaped like rectangles perpendicular to the ground, so that the entire buried person's skeleton could fit standing up into the grave. Some consist of decapitated corpses, and others are missing either the head or the body. And still another type of pit is square shaped, for special burials of only human skulls.
During the Shang period, whenever the king made sacrifices he offered both humans and livestock, like cattle, sheep and pigs, to the ancestors and spirits. This system is known by scholars as the human and livestock sacrificial system. The vast majority of human sacrifices were prisoners of war, but a few were slaves. The king and aristocratic slave owners, when they were making offerings to the ancestors, praying to the spirits for blessings, constructing palaces or seeking the yearly rains, they all wanted to use humans and livestock. This place became a large scale site for the performance of ancestral sacrifices by the Shang kings. Inside the burials are large amounts of the remains of ritual sacrifice. In just the 191 sacrificial pits excavated in 1976, 178 were discovered to possess human skeletons. According to incomplete statistics, 1350 oracle-bone fragments together containing 1992 inscriptions are related to human sacrifice, altogether describing the sacrifice of 13052 human beings. Moreover, after the death of Shang kings or nobles, humans victims were buried in the pit as well, a practice known as live human burial. The number of humans buried alive, depending on the rank of the tomb's occupant, could be as few as one, or as many as over 200 people. For example, large Tomb Number 1001 contained as many as 225 humans buried alive.
Sacrifices performed by the Shang kings were frequent. During the sacrificial ritual, sometimes one ancestor was offered to, and sometimes several ancestors together received cult. The recipients of sacrifices, except for those reigning after Pan Geng, were all kings, and sometimes the former kings and nobles were offered to together. Every offering used livestock or humans. The sacrificial pits we are looking at right now are animal burial. Excavated in the spring of 1976, the pits contain animals either used by tomb occupants or ones that tomb occupants were fond of. Primarily there are horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, elephants, pigs, and foxes, among which horses were the most common, numbering 117. We can see below on this side that what is buried in this pit is a horse. To keep the site intact, we have preserved the the excavated pits while still allowing visitors to see some of the exhibited contents. Based on the archaeological discoveries at Yinxu, and confirmed by the oracle-bone inscription record, the climate of North Central China 3000 years ago was warm and moist, the land covered in thick forests. During that time, Henan province and the surrounding area has inhabited by wild elephants. This is why the ancient character for Henan Province, pronounced Yu, has the component for elephant in it.
Ahead of us is the viewing platform, designed by famous Chinese architect Yang Hongxun. Completely made out of wood, it is three stories tall, simple yet elegant. It adds to the Royal Cemetery a place for visitors to see the entire site, as well as to take a break. Now please climb the tower with me, to see the splendor of the Royal Cemetery.
Arriving at the top of the viewing platform, we can see before our very eyes how extensive the Royal Cemetery is. From the high platform we can see far, allowing us a panoramic view of the entire site. The Royal Cemetery is located in the northwest suburbs of Anyang, on the northern bank of the Huan River in an area known as the northwestern high ground above Houjiazhuang and Wuguancun villages. Facing the main Yinxu palace-temple complex to the south, the Royal Cemetery is west of Huanbei Shang city, making it an important component in the greater Yinxu site. These tombs were constructed from the reign of King Wu Ding to the reign of King Di Xin, covering a period of more than 200 years. Although these tombs were robbed several times throughout history, archaeologists were still able to excavate a large number of exquisite bronzes, jade and stone ware, and white pottery. All of the materials excavated before the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 are currently in China's treasured island, Taiwan. We hope that soon these cultural relics will be returned to their rightful place--Anyang. Either that or everyone can have the opportunity to visit Taiwan for a quick look.
translated by Billy French