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Tomb No. 1001 at Anyang

Excavation photo: Tomb No.1001 at Anyang

Excavation photo: Tomb No.1001 at Anyang. Late Shang Dynasty, ca. 1200 BCE. China; Henan province. Courtesy Academia Sinica, Republic of Taiwan.

What is the subject of this photograph?
This is an excavation photograph of work on tomb #1001 at Anyang in the northern part of Henan province, China. The work was undertaken between the fall of 1934 and the spring of 1935 by the Academia Sinica, now located in Taiwan. Numerous tombs were dug up in this area, revealing substantial evidence of the late Shang dynasty  (ca. 1300–ca. 1050) period when the capital was located at Yin, near the modern town of Anyang.

Who and what was found here?
Archaeolgists discovered a large pit laid out in a cruciform plan, containing the scattered grave goods of a Shang dynasty (approx. 1500‒1050 BCE) king from the early Anyang period. Two ends of the cross formed long ramps leading down to the bottom of the pit, where the remains of a wooden structure were found. The pit was more than 300 feet long and 60feet deep. Originally the site of the king’s sarcophagus, the grave had been robbed and the most valuable treasures stolen. Even the king’s bones had been scattered. Nevertheless, a number of stone and bone carvings, white-clay pottery, jades and bronze vessels were found. One particularly interesting object found was a hair brush used for painting.

The most startling find was the extensive number of human skeletons interred with the king, 164 altogether. Ninety of these were given either proper coffins or some ornaments, but the remaining 74 were human sacrifices–mutilated in some way, either beheaded or cut in two and laid out along the southern ramp in different groups according to age. Inscriptions on oracle bones found at Anyang refer to sacrifices of enemy prisoners of war.

What are oracle bones?
Oracle bones were used to foretell the future. The Shang kings were the first to write questions (and sometimes the answers) on bones concerning matters of state as well as personal questions. Cracks were produced on the bones of cattle and turtles from the application of heated rods. These could be interpreted positively or negatively. Some of the first oracle bones to turn up came from the area where this excavation took place and helped guide archaeologists to the sites that they excavated. The writings on the oracle bones were detailed enough to chronicle many Shang rulers and events; these writings are combined with other archaeological finds (such as the inscriptions on bronze vessels) to write the history of the Shang dynasty.