top of page

Wen where who?

Tomb confirmed as belonging to Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty.

Emperor Wen of the Western Han Dynasty ruled from 180-157 BC. His burial place was always thought to lie in a natural hill outside X’ian, a legend that endured for many centuries. Ten inscribed stone tablets on the hill honored the deceased Emperor. A monument marking his sepulcher was even placed there during the Quin Dynasty.

It was not until 2012 that his actual tomb was discovered – about 1.5km from a separate emergency excavation aimed at deterring looting. Initially, it was not recognised as an imperial sepulchre. Subsequent excavations revealed a 70m by 30.5m low mound. The size suggests that either the burial mound had been flattened over the millennia; or perhaps Emperor Wen, well known for being a frugal ruler, had commissioned a less conspicuous burial place.

The large central tomb has not yet been excavated, but it is surrounded by over 110 offering pits and tombs. Of these, eight have been dug, yielding more than 1,000 ceramic figures, animal burials, pottery guardian and attendants, also chariot parts, weapons and seals. It is as if the emperor’s mausoleum was furnished as a kind of shadow government for the emperor in the afterlife. One of its major satellite tombs belonged to Emperor Wen’s mother, who died in 155 BC. She lived long enough to become the first Grand Empress Dowager in Chinese history.

While the site has been confirmed as (in all probability) belonging to Wen, no plans for excavating the tomb, or that of the Empress, have yet been announced, and authorities may decide to leave it undisturbed.

Want more archaeology? To enjoy in-depth features on archaeology, read Archaeology Worldwide magazine.

Image: Archaeologists explore the evidence.

Credit: ThePaper

bottom of page