In Xianyang, located in Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, archaeologists made a groundbreaking discovery: a tomb that dates back over 1,400 years. This ancient resting place is believed to belong to Yuwen Jue, the first emperor of the Northern Zhou period, a crucial epoch during the Northern and Southern Dynasties era (386-589).
While the tomb showed signs of past disturbances, suggesting it had been previously plundered, it still yielded a remarkable 146 burial items. Predominantly, pottery figurines emerged from the depths of this archaeological site. These artifacts depicted various scenes from daily life, from shield-bearing individuals to soldiers mounted on horses or camels laden with goods.
Wang Meng, a renowned archaeologist, explained that such pottery figurines were typical in Northern Zhou tombs. They were modest in size and often showcased both human and animal figures, serving as a testament to the artistic and cultural nuances of that era.
One of the most significant discoveries within the tomb was an epigraph located at its eastern entrance. This square-shaped stele, adorned with precisely engraved characters, confirmed the identity of the tomb’s inhabitant: the inaugural emperor of Northern Zhou. The inscription provided further context, indicating that the emperor passed away in 558 and was posthumously titled the “Duke of Lueyang.”
Assistant researcher Zhao Zhanrui of the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology, the institution spearheading the excavation, elaborated on the significance of this title. Recognizing Yuwen Jue as the “Duke of Lueyang” offers a deeper understanding of the socio-political shifts during the Northern Zhou era.
Historical accounts portray a rather tragic image of Yuwen Jue. Bearing the title of Duke of Lueyang since his early childhood, he ruled for a brief 15 years. Throughout his reign, Yuwen Hu, his father’s nephew, manipulated him, reducing the young monarch to a mere puppet.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first Northern Zhou tomb to be unearthed in the province. Another significant find in Xianyang was the Xiao mausoleum, the final resting place of Yuwen Jue’s sibling, Yuwen Yong.
The recently discovered tomb’s design offers more insights into the burial practices of the time. Historically, the region was a hub for high-ranking tombs spanning from the Northern Dynasties, extending through the Sui and Tang dynasties. This particular tomb, with its south-facing orientation and encompassing ditch, is emblematic of standard Northern Zhou architectural practices.
Elaborating on the significance of the surrounding ditch, Chinese archaeologist Xue Ruiming drew parallels with the walls of a living person’s home. Such design principles emanate from the ancient Chinese philosophy of honoring the deceased with the same reverence as the living.
While Shaanxi boasts its share of Northern Zhou tombs, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in Northwest China also holds a monumental site: the tomb of Lixian. Discovered in 1985 in Guyuan, the ancient Yuanzhou prefecture, this tomb unveiled over 300 treasures. The assortment of murals, pottery, Persian gold gilded silver pots, and Lapis lazuli stone rings underlines the cultural interchanges between China and the West during the Northern Zhou era.