Antiquities and Archaeology Conservation China

Chinese archaeologists rescue remnants of ancient mountain tombs

Cliff burials may be around 2,000 years old

Around 370 tombs, cut into the taller mountain, are scattered over the western side. Photo: China News

Archaeologists in China’s Sichuan Province recently conducted a rescue excavation of 600 cliff burials, the oldest of which date to the Eastern Han dynasty (AD25-220).

The burials are on two mountains in Xinjing County in the southwestern part of the country, according to the China News Service. Around 370 tombs, cut into the mountain, are scattered over the western side of the taller mountain, and 230 burials are distributed over five levels on the smaller mountain, which resembles a cone-shaped honeycomb. Although most of these burials are believed to have been looted long ago, archaeologists were able to recover stone coffins and various pieces of pottery, including figurines.

Most of the ancient Chinese cliff burials are in Sichuan as the region’s red stand stone is easy to carve. Many of the tombs were constructed between the first century and sixth centuries AD, reaching a peak at the beginning of third century. In 2011, archaeologists conducted a rescue excavation of the Xiaoba cliff burials in Leshan City. They found that 99% of the 1,199 burials had been robbed, and only fragments of the funeral objects remained. The tombs were largely built for the merchants who came to Xinjing by boat. The practice of cutting tombs high into the face of a mountain was believed to bring the deceased closer to god and the sun.

Last September marked the completion of a two-month project to restore and stabilise the ancient hanging coffins of the Bo people in Gongxian. Around 20 wood coffins, which rest precariously on planks anchored into the side of the mountain, have fallen within the past ten years.

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