The area of what is now Northern China had been historically known as the melting pot of different cultures with amalgamation of both nomadic and sedentary ideals. And now, archaeologists have stumbled across a fascinating tomb in Datong City (in northern Shanxi province), which showcases a flurry of artworks, including murals and paintings of stars, from a period of around 11th century AD. Oddly enough, in spite of the glorious visual scope inside the tomb, no physical remains have been found of the person who had been buried here a 1,000 years ago.
In any case, the details of murals do shed some light into the domestic setups of the elite social groups in Northern China. To that end, the bevy of paintings display the numerous attendants who aided the (presumably) noble man in his daily affairs – with the seemingly mundane yet graceful postures that show them holding fruits and drinks for the master (who is not present, as alluded by the empty bed). Interestingly, there are also renderings of quite a few animals – like a cat and a dog; and they were most probably the pampered pets of the noble. Among these furry friends, the cat painting stands out because of the opulence depicted “with a red ribbon on its neck and a silk-strip ball in its mouth.”
These murals are accompanied by bright red paintings of stars and constellations along the ceiling portion. But as for the tomb occupant himself, quite incredibly, there are no remnants of the body itself. Instead there is small statue of (possibly) the nobleman, with the replica accounting for just 3.1 ft of height. Additionally, there is also an accompanying poem written on the proximate wall (with depictions of other animals like a deer, a crane and a turtle) that partly reads as – “Time tells that bamboo can endure cold weather. Live as long as the spirits of the crane and turtle.”
In any case, judging by the decorative patterns inside the tomb, the historians postulate that the occupant was a high-ranging Han Chinese official in the court of the Liao dynasty. If proven right, this will be a very interesting find, since the Liao culture, mainly fueled by the nomadic Khitan people, was known to be quite different to the southern Han Chinese culture. These Khitans originally came from Mongolia and Manchuria, and at their greatest extent, the Liao emperors had dominion over not only Northern China, but also parts of Russian Far East, Northern Korea and Mongolia – all of these conquests being made 100 years before Genghis Khan.
In fact, their nomadic ideals were known to clash with the sedentary scope of Han China, which was previously ruled by the Tang dynasty. This led to extended periods of succession crises and conflicts, with the emperor themselves favoring primogeniture, while the noble favoring the more ‘democratic’ nomadic system of succession – that entailed choosing the most powerful candidate. This ultimately paved the way for two parallel governments, with the northern Liao territories governed by traditional Khitan principles, and the southern Chinese provinces administered directly by the emperors.
Image Courtesy: Chinese Cultural Relics