Category Archives: Student Blog Post 3

PG800- The Final Resting place of Quen Puabi- Royalty of Ur

PG800- The Final Resting place of Quen Puabi- Royalty of Ur

As discussed in class, the city state of Sumeria, Ur, has been excavated over the years and many royal graves have been discovered. Within the 16 royal graves associated with the dynasty of Ur there is one site that is particularly interesting and exciting: PG-800.

The tomb, measuring 4.35 x 2.8 meters, was a vaulted chamber that was built of limestone slabs and mud brick and placed ontop of a raised platform was a skeleton of a middle aged woman. According to written descriptions of the site, the woman was decorated in elaborate gold, lapid lazuli, and a carnelian headdress. Also discovered on the body were a pair of crescent- shaped gold earrings and covering the entire torso of the skeleton were gold and semi-precious beads. In addition to the precious artifacts, many other skeletons were distributed throughout the site. A total of 52 other skeletons were found, in addition to the middle aged women on the raised slab. Taking into account of all the precious artifacts and the immense amount of skeletons buried with the woman, it is theorized that this woman was royalty during the dynasty of Ur and those were her servants. Near the woman’s right shoulder, three lapis lazuli cylinder seals were found. On these seals was the name Pu-abi, with the title “nin”, translated as queen.

After some hearing about the presumed Queen and how some considered her tomb was comparable to King Tutankhamen’s tomb of Egypt due to its escape form looting and it high prevalence of elaborate jewelry. Probably the most elaborate artifact found in the final resting place of Queen Puabi would have been the headdress. The headdress discovered in the tomb is beyond elaborate. The height of the headdress is 26 cm with a diameter of 11 cm. The entire headdress was made of gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian and was decorated entirely in leaves, rings, ribbons, and flowers.

At the time of her death, it was assessed that she was approximately 40 years of age and stood just under 5 feet tall. Probably the most intriguing part about this site was that there seemed to be no mention of a husband to this woman. As discussed in class, this kind of finding leads researchers and archaeologists to believe she was a ruler all on her own- separate from a husband. Findings or theories like these are incredible to wrap your head around.

Headress of Queen Puabi Queen's seal tomb layout

Cong and Bi

I was very intrigued by two particular types of Chinese artifacts discussed in class, cong and bi. They were obviously important, since the jade they were made out of is so hard to work with, they’re often so elaborate and they an abundant grave good. Yet we have no idea of their specific meaning. Archaeologists can tell that they were a ritual object, but what they may have represented remains a mystery.

A search for some more information found a page from the Smithsonian website that had a short write-up on cong. It discussed some interesting stylistic differences. Many early ones are compact but feature incredibly detailed decoration. Hours and hours of work had to have gone into their making. They featured motifs found on other special objects, such as a face or mask design. However, another style of  cong is found that is much larger but lacks the careful craftsmanship of the smaller examples. They were often made of nephrite. They would have been much easier to produce, and quality seems to have been sacrificed for quantity. If the purpose of the cong was known, this difference may reveal  some social or cultural significance or change. However, it is simply another unknown facet of the cong.

Bi also had some variation, being found in different sizes and styles. They averaged about eight inches in diameter. Earlier bi are relatively undecorated, with designs becoming more and more elaborate as time passed. Like the cong, they were elite goods. The jade they were made of was difficult to carve and would have taken hours upon hours of workmanship.Bi were usually found with cong, often in rather large numbers. While the exact relationship between the two is not known, later historic documents suggest that cong represent the earth while bi represent  the sky. The  prevalence of both these objects demonstrates the presence of specialized labor. It would have taken a great deal if time and skill to make these; it could not have been achieved by your everyday farmer.

Cong and bi are found in the late Neolithic, when Chinese society is developing many of the defining characteristics of a state. These objects are a perfect example of this. Their sophistication and complexity mark them as elite goods that only some would have access to, demonstrating marked social stratification. This also demonstrates that some people are moving away from solely subsistence labor into much more specialized labor. Although much is unknown about these objects, they reveal a lot about the social layout of Neolithic China.

Sophisticated Sanitation

In class we learned about the intense city planning discovered at Mohenjo-Daro (modern day Pakistan) in 1922 as part of the Indian Archeological Survey led by Sir Mortimer Wheeler. In his article, the “Sewers of Mohenjo-Daro”, published by the Water Environment Federation, Cedric Webster discusses the complex and impressive sanitation system the Harrapans at Mohenjo-Daro developed. He argues it was unrivaled until the sanitary sewers of Hamburg, Germany in 1842, at least some 1,800 years later. It took 5,000 years for sanitation systems to match those of Mohenjo-Daro.

He writes that almost all of the houses had bathrooms that were attached to sewers in the street. In addition, it was required that the bathroom would be in a room with a wall facing the street so it would be easy to access the sewer system. Some bathrooms were even on the second floor of houses.In this case, there were pipes (made of bricks) running down the side of the house to the sewers in the streets. These pipes were even “steeped” so sewage would flow gently from the plumbing into the sewer and not “splash a passerby”. The details of this system are really impressive. What were people doing for so many centuries when such a well-thought out system had once existed?

"large brick-covered sewer in center of street)

“large brick-covered sewer in center of street”

Once the sewage was in the street, it flowed through sewers in the middle of the way (as pictured below). The planners sought to be able to clean and perform maintenance on the sewer system and so they covered the sewer (anywhere form 12 to 24 inches deep) with loosely laid bricks. There were also “sumps” (basically man-holes), but these would likely have filled up completely with sewage so it would actually have been impossible to use them. Webster suggests they may have served as clarifiers, very early water treatment centers. Given that the city was rebuilt at least 9 times, according to Webster, the sewers had to be accessible so they could be raised with the new developments. Indeed, it seems that the mud-bricks, favored for all projects in Mohenjo-Daro were recycled and reused for subsequent sewer development.

Archeologists have also found what they call “a Great Bath Building”. They believe it was used in religious ceremonies. It may have included a mechanism that allowed for fresh water to be poured into the bath-vessel. Archeologists have uncovered many pottery and models in the sewers at Mohenjo-Daro.Some have decided this is evidence of children playing with toys in the bath.

Webster, Cedric. “The Sewers of Mohenjo-Daro.” Journal (Water Pollution Control Federation) 34 (1962): 116-123.


The Neolithic Site of Banpo

Something that caught my attention during lecture this week was the site in northern Neolithic China called Banpo. Professor Watrall said that it was one of the best excavated sites in China however we didn’t spend that much time talking about it. I thought it would be interesting to find out more about it and some of its archeologically history.

Banpo was first discovered in the fall of 1953 accidentally during the construction of a new power plant by the Banpo work group (which is also where it got its name from). The site was turned over to the Institute for Archeological Research at the Chinese Academy of Science and was one of the first large scale digs for post-revolutionary China. (Shea) The site was excavated continuously from 1954 until 1957 in a series of five digs. In 1958 the site was opened to the public by means of the Banpo Museum. This museum was “the first museum erected at the prehistoric site, it lies at the base of the Banpo site excavations.” (Zhiyong)

The neolithic site of Banpo and the Banpo museum are located near Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province. During the excavation of Banpo they found that “[the site] was divided into three parts: the living area, the pottery making area and the cemetery area. Among the ruins are 46 dwellings, two domestic animal pens and over 200 storage pits, 174 adult tombs, 73 burial jars for kids, six pottery making kilns and many production and domestic tools.” (Zhou) After excavating a site that was 12-17 acres big they also found that there was a moat around the village (perhaps to protect against invaders, perhaps for irrigation or perhaps for both). Also the houses are all partially subterranean. (Shea)

However the most interesting (to me) find was what led archeologists to believe that Banpo was a matriarchal society. Matriarchal societies show the characteristic feature of males belonging to their mother’s family. Once a male dies it can only be buried with other males of the same family. Therefore no males are ever buried with females. “Among the 174 adult graves found, there were two graves that buried multiple bodies. One of them buried four young female of similar age. The other buried two adult male. All others were buried single. Single burial and homo-sex multi-body burial are typical features of a matriarchal society.” (Bolman)

Shea, Marilyn. “Banpo Neolithic Culture” (

Zhiyong, Wang. “Banpo Neolithic Village Museum” (

Zhou, Ruru. “Banpo Museum” (

Bolman, Katherine. “An Overview of Banpo’s Neolithic Village” (

eBay-The Robber’s Den

I have always been interested in the trade of illicit antiquities and did a research paper last semester on the nature of looting and theft of artifacts within the United States. However the artifacts stolen from American public lands constitute only a backwater in an international black market that ranks only behind drugs and weapons. My interest was piqued when Dr. Watrall mentioned the availability of ancient Chinese artifacts on eBay.  Curious to see if this was true, I went on a search to see what artifacts may have found their way on to the market.

To my dismay there was an entire company specializing in ancient Chinese jade artifacts. Jadekylin was offering its customers a wide assortment of statuettes, hairpins, amulets, coins, and cups. The pricing ranged anywhere from over two-hundred dollars to less than ten. The company provided no documentation of authenticity or context of their artifacts, stating only that they came from either the countryside or private collections. Recognizing that these could very well be fakes, I decided to see if I could find any artifacts pertaining to some of the culture phases we had been studying.

To my dismay the search bar completed my search for Liangzhu antiques. Among the over one-hundred Liagnzhu artifacts for sale were clear examples of the Cong and Bi jade objects we had seen in class. My search for the Longshan brought up a similar array of artifacts for sale. I hoped that these were all forgeries being passed off as authentic pieces, but I knew that such a lucrative market could not be so easily contained.

Not having a clear idea of what the looting and smuggling situation was in China, I decided to see if I could find out some data on China’s role in the world market of stolen cultural heritage. China as it turns out is one of the counties being most severely targeted by the black market. Many of the looters are poor citizens who are looking for a way to supplement their family’s minimal income. The artifacts from one tomb can fetch a price equal to one year’s pay for a poor farmer. Others are professionals who make looting their business.

Both are part of increasing global demand for exotic artifacts, especially from Western counties like the United States. In the past decade over 200 auction houses, specializing in antiquities have sprung up in China. In 2003 it was estimated that over 220,000 Chinese archaeological sites had been stripped of their artifacts. Some of these will fetch prices well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. One top archaeologist estimated that 80-90% of the artifacts on the market were illegally obtained. That meant that most of the jade objects I could have easily bought on eBay had been unlawfully taken from their home nation.

While efforts to curb the trade are being set in place, the pandemic of looting will not be halted unless their is a more aggressive attempt to arrest the high end clienteles that are feeding the growing market. Until these private collectors are stopped, the demand for stolen cultural heritage will only continue to intensify.

Here is a link to a Time Magazine article that I used to get some of my data.,9171,517790-1,00.html

Shang Dynasty and Oracle Bones

Our recent discussion on the Shang Dynasty got me thinking about an East Asian Religion course I took, where we also discussed the Shang Dynasty and its connection to oracle bones.  The Shang Dynasty of China is considered the first civilization to leave written records and solid archaeological evidence.  It is believed that the Shang Dynasty was the second of the Three Dynasties Period, although many dispute the existence of an earlier dynasty.  The proposed earlier dynasty, the Xia Dynasty, is only referenced in legends and later writings.

Previously, Shang history was based on historical accounts that were written long after the Shang Dynasty.  There were bronze inscriptions found, but those were short and did not provide much detail.  This lack of information all changed when the oracle bones were discovered.  The inscriptions on oracle bones matched the information about the Shang Dynasty written hundreds of years after its end.  This information provided an important key to proof for the existence of the Shang Dynasty.  These oracle bones and bronze inscriptions helped legitimize the Shang Dynasty. More evidence was then gathered, examined, and connected to the Shang Dynasty (like archaeological sites and other artifacts).

Oracle bones are usually scapula of large animals or turtle shells, that were used by kings and diviners to answer questions and tell the future.  A diviner would carve the question into one side, then small pits would be carved out of the other side.  They would use the art of pyromancy (using fire) to tell the fortune, or divine the answer from the bone or shell.  A red-hot poker would be pressed into the pits, causing the bone or shell to crack.  It is these resulting cracks that the diviner would interpret, and the answer was then carved into the oracle bone as well.  An interesting point here is that all of the writings for the Shang Dynasty are religious text, since they are all dealing with oracle bones and bronze inscriptions.

In the latter years of the Shang Dynasty, the banks of the Huan river saw a royal ritual center established by the kings.  This center housed a group of diviners who specialized in the dealing and communicating with the complex spirit world.  They were in service to the king, and responsible for conducting the rituals with the oracle bones, asking the questions, and interpreting the answers.  These questions could range anywhere from the outcome of a war, how plentiful a harvest would be, or even the cause of a king’s headache.

It is interesting to note the variety of topics that were dealt with using oracle bones, yet all the writings are religious in nature (since the oracle bone ritual is religious).  This is in drastic comparison to Mesopotamia’s earliest writings/forms of writing, which are commercial or economic in nature.

Terracotta Warriors in Life and the Media

Since in this week’s last class we talked about ancient China, I thought it would be a good idea to do my blog about the terra-cotta warriors.

Four years ago, during Spring Break, I went to Washington D.C. with my family and while there I was able to visit the ‘Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor’ exhibit at the National Geographic Museum. It was a cool exhibit, although being younger, I didn’t fully realize what an important find it was and I didn’t appreciate the history of the terra-cotta warriors (my parents were forever going to museums and dragging us kids along with them. Needless to say we weren’t always interested in the exhibits, and this particular trip I was more interested in the gift shop).

Anyway, according to my article workers that were digging a well in 1974 found one of the life-size clay soldiers. Archaeologists then uncovered thousands more in an excavated dig. The warriors had unique facial expressions and were “positioned according to rank”. The terra-cotta army were “part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany the first emperor of China into the afterlife”. They were originally brightly painted, although now they are gray. Ying Zheng took the throne and 20 years later took the name Qin Shi Huang Di – the First Emperor of Qin because he had “unified a collection of warring kingdoms”. According to records of the time, Qin ordered the construction of the mausoleum soon after he took the throne. The mausoleum was never finished due to uprisings after Qin’s death, but 3 of the 4 pits at the site contained terra-cotta warriors.

Another article I read about the terra-cotta warriors said that the “shapes of the faces [taken together with the shape of the head and hairstyle] of the 8,099 soldiers, corresponded to just 10 shapes of the 10,516 character Chinese alphabet”. According  to some, the faces of the terra-cotta warriors tell a story about the Sun and God.

I think that there are a lot of romanticized misconceptions about the terra-cotta warriors, mainly because of movies portrayed about them. Most recently (and I use the term loosely) has been The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). For those unfamiliar with the story, Alex O’Connell, Rick and Evelyn O’Connell’s son, unearths the mummy of the first Emperor of Qin — a shape-shifting entity cursed by a witch centuries ago. The Emperor becomes immortal and awakens his terra-cotta army to conquer the world. For some reason, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Queen (2006) also comes to mind, but the terra-cotta warriors were only showed in a few scenes and not an important element in the story. In the movie Arabian Nights (2000), the terra-cotta warriors also make an appearance during the Aladdin story told, but again it is only for one scene.

Comparing Power

I found it especially interesting that in Ancient China, elite culture was so antagonistic and competitive. To a certain degree, I think elites must always compete for a limited amount of influence and power, but it seems especially evident in this culture. The need for showing off and being better than other elites seems remarkably like our own American elite culture. This is a loose comparison because I’m just thinking about this one aspect, but there seem to be some strong parallels.

Society is not all about the elites, but they do have the power to affect everyone else with their actions. If Chinese elites were trying to outdo one another by owning the right luxury goods, their demand would have supported skilled artisans. Today, there are still businesses that specialize in luxury items that few people can afford. These luxury items are recognizable and we know to associate them with wealth and success.

Even more interesting to me is the competitive aspect among the elites. It wasn’t enough to be in the upper crust of society. Elites wanted to be fancier than all the rest. Competition is a large part of our elite culture as well. Politicians, for example, are divided into two major parties that fight for votes to gain political power. Elites also compete when it comes to other symbols of power. It isn’t enough to have a large house full of unnecessary luxuries; they have to come up with new things to add to outdo one another. Celebrities compete for attention in the media. They do outrageous things to end up on the front page.

I wonder if any of these behaviors would be applicable in some way in an ancient context. This might be too much of a stretch. The system of elite behaviors in China sounded more familiar than the temple system in Mesopotamia at least. I can’t really imagine how to translate that into a modern example. If anyone has a good idea, I would love to hear it. The only thing I can think of is televangelism in the United States. It’s not universal, but people that follow one of the churches send in large amounts of money to help with their projects.

The political structure and nature of power in the early civilizations we have talked about certainly stand alone and are separate from our own systems, but sometimes making these kinds of connections helps me imagine something from so long ago. Did anyone else make these kinds of connections this semester?