The Liao and Jin tombs (10th-13th centuries) of the Ke'erqin basin (Northeast China)

Wednesday January 17, 2018: The Liao and Jin tombs (10th-13th centuries) of the Ke'erqin basin (Northeast China), lecture by Pauline Sebillaud, researcher at CNRS CRCAO, lecturer at the Center for Research on Border Archeology, Department of Archeology, University of Jilin, China.

Pauline Sebillaud presents two graves that have been excavated in Jilin Province in northeastern China today.

The Liao (907-1125) and Jin (1125-1234) empires were contemporaries of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Jin invaded northern China forcing the Song to retreat south of Yangzi Jiang.
The few graves discovered and published are generally burials of the aristocracy but many have not been published. The marginal geographical position of the province, in the center of Manchuria, is far from the major preoccupations of Chinese archeology and far from the traditional Chinese cultural sphere. Some publications were made in English, mainly by Dieter Kuhn and Nancy Steinhart.

The two tombs that will be discussed were excavated by the Archaeological Institute of Jilin University, a province located in North Korea.

Zone of occupation of the Liao Empire. 10th s.

Zone of occupation of the Jin Empire. 11th c.

Both sites in Jilin Province.

The Ke'erqin Basin is a vast depression covered in ancient times by meadows and swamps that have been drained little by little. It has been occupied since Neolithic times and populated by many different population groups with different religions and funerary practices. In the Middle Ages, these are essentially nomadic peoples and the Khitan founded the first empire with the Liao dynasty.

The first grave is in Dongmengyi, Shuangliao, where a first grave was looted in 1986. When a second grave was discovered in 2016, the Jilin Province Archaeological Research Institute sent a team of archaeologists. This type of brick chamber tomb is quite classic: dug in a pit with an access ramp, the tomb itself is a brick structure built at the bottom, and which was then covered with earth. Near the pit, an assembly of bricks protected a jar with a lid. The burial chamber was covered by a pyramidal dome made up of bricks arranged corbelled but with a "keystone" made with bricks arranged on edge.

Tomb of Dongmengyi. The assembly of bricks protecting the covered jar. © P.Sebillaud

Tomb of Dongmengyi. The entrance blocked. © P.Sebillaud

Dongmengyi's tomb. View of the room. © P.Sebillaud

The room was preceded by an entrance corridor and an access ramp with steps. The entrance to the corridor had been walled. Inside the burial chamber, archaeologists discovered wooden planks that belonged to a small pavilion protecting the two dead. This type of wooden pavilion (xiaozhang) whose form has been restored was also found in other Liao tombs such as Yemaotai tomb No 1 or Daixintala tomb No 3. These tombs belong to the initial phase of Liao.
The wooden structure had two double-leaf doors, the hinges of which have been found. A number of objects were discovered: offerings, items of adornment that may have been sewn onto the clothes, a knife, round and tubular agate beads, iron and bronze belt elements, etc.
On the human remains, fragments of silk fabric were found. The woman had bone fragility and the features of someone who had carried heavy loads on her back, the man, large and wide, showed a poorly wound fracture of the right ulna.

Dongmengyi's tomb. Two of the walls of the wooden structure. © P.Sebillaud

Dongmengyi's tomb. Reconstitution of the wooden pavilion (xiaozhang). © P.Sebillaud

Reconstruction of the pavilion (xiaozhang) in cypress wood from tomb 1 of Yemaotai. Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt

On 240 tombs excavated and published in the region, 148 were built in bricks, of which 133 were attributed to the Liao period, as well as for the few stone tombs, 33 were Liao on 36. The majority of Liao burials belong to the middle phases (first half of 11e s.) and late (second half of 11e s. and beginning of 12e s.). Most Liao brick tombs are rectangular (29), round (32), octagonal (30) and square (23) out of a total of 129. In general, the Liao tombs were oriented to the Southeast (68%) as those of the Jin. Overall, there is a strong majority of individual burials (64% for Liao), there are fewer tombs with two individuals (30% for Liao) and multiple graves seem to be the exception (5% for Liao). Liao and none for the Jin). On the individual tombs where information is available on the sex of the deceased (in total 46) the majority are male graves.

Tomb of Hamaqin. Door. © P.Sebillaud

Tomb of Hamaqin. The interior of the chamber is the platform. © P.Sebillaud

Tomb of Hamaqin. Aerial view showing the arrangement of the bricks of the dome. © P.Sebillaud

Pauline Sebillaud mentions the fact that these excavations were carried out under conditions of rescue, that there is no budget to preserve these tombs and that in general, after the search, the pits are filled.


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