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Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng

Excavation photo: Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng

Excavation photo: Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng. Warring States period (475–221 BCE). China; Leigudun, Hubei Province. Courtesy Hubei Provincial Museum.

Ritual bell (the so-called Wangsun Yizhe yongzhong)

Ritual bell (the so-called Wangsun Yizhe yongzhong), approx. 550 BCE. China. Eastern Zhou dynasty (771- 255 BCE). Bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S552.

Excavation photo: Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng
Ritual bell (the so-called Wangsun Yizhe yongzhong)

What is the subject of this photo?
This is an aerial view of the partially excavated tomb of Zeng Hou Yi, Marquis of the state of Zeng, taken in 1978. The tomb dates from ca. 433 BCE. during the Warring States period (475–221 BCE). The tomb chambers were located beneath large stone slabs and contained with wooden beams. In the photo the top beams have been removed revealing four chambers.

The chamber on the right contained the large lacquered coffins of the Marquis. The one on the left contained the jumbled caskets and bodies of thirteen young women. The chamber in the upper portion of the photo contained weaponry. The central, and largest chamber held a magnificent set of bronze bells and other musical instruments. They were found still hanging from the lacquered wooden frame –seen to the left side of the central chamber.

What was the Warring States period?
As the influence of the Zhou dynasty diminished, various states emerged as contestants between the fourth and third centuries BCE. The period is considered part of the Eastern Zhou, because the Zhou were still, in name at least, the ruling dynasty. Despite this, several other states became powerful, among them the southern state of Chu and the western state of Qin. During the time when this tomb was made, Zeng was in alliance with Chu, however later on they were defeated by Chu. We know about the connection between Zeng and Chu because of later historical texts, and from inscriptions on a dedicatory bell inside this tomb, as well as designs on the objects that show influences from other regions.

What is the significance of this find?
The discovery of this tomb and another one from the same time period added to our understanding of Warring States history, as well as confirming the existence of the Zeng state, and demonstrating the cultural influence of the Chu state. We know about these objects and the identification of the tomb occupant from inscriptions on the bronzes.

Elaborate bronzes located in the tomb revealed the extensive use of lost-wax technique in addition to the ceramic piece mold technique used in earlier bronzes. Lacquer was used to protect the coffins and covered many of the household furnishings. By far the most important find was the musical instruments, including the largest assemblage of bronze bells ever found. These instruments formed a complete orchestra of ancient Chinese music, revealing the sophisticated use and enjoyment of music as well as improving our understanding of ancient Chinese musical principles.

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