Shang Tomb of Fu Hao

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Excavating Fu Hao's tomb                                                                                                      source


China's Bronze Age began soon after 2000 B.C.  The Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1050 B.C.) had not only bronze technology, but also writing, walled cities, and a complex state structure.  Shang tombs, thousands of which have been excavated, provide rich evidence of Shang material culture and ritual practices.  

Among the most important finds from Shang tombs are "oracle bones," recording the questions Shang kings posed to their ancestors.  From them we learn of the divinities they recognized, from the high god Di to nature gods and ancestors, as well as the issues that concerned them, such as harvests, childbirth, and military campaigns.  The king did not address Di directly, but called on his ancestors to act as an intermediary for him.  Sacrifices to Di or the ancestors could include human sacrifices of war captives and others.  

Shang royal burial practices confirm the abiding interest of the Shang rulers with their ancestors.  At Anyang (in present-day Henan province, review map), the last capital of the Shang, many huge royal tombs have been found.  The one we examine here, the tomb of the consort Fu Hao, is the only royal Shang tomb of a member of the Shang royal family to have been found unlooted.   Dated around 1250 BC, it is a tomb of modest size located outside the main royal cemetery.  The tomb is a single large pit, 5.6 m by 4 m at the mouth.  The floor level housed the royal corpse and most of the utensils and implements buried with her.  Below the corpse was a small pit holding the remains of six dogs, and along the perimeters lay the skeletons of 16 humans.  Inside the pit was a wooden chamber 5 m long, 3.5 m wide and 1.3 m high.  Within the chamber was a lacquered coffin which has since rotted away.  There also seems to have once been a structure built over the tomb for holding memorial ceremonies.

Fu Hao was mentioned in oracle bone inscriptions as the consort of King Wu Ding and a general who participated in several military campaigns.  She also presided over important sacrificial ceremonies and controlled her own estate. 

Altogether Fu Hao's tomb contained:

468 bronze objects including 130 weapons, 23 bells, 27 knives, 4 mirrors, and 4 tigers or tiger heads

755 jade objects

63 stone objects

5 ivory objects

564 bone objects including nearly 500 bone hairpins and over 20 bone arrowheads

11 pottery objects

6,900 pieces of cowry shell


Consider the size and construction of the tomb in the photo above.  Were more resources devoted to constructing the tomb or manufacturing the objects placed in it? 


What would have been the significance of such large numbers of objects?  Why put in more weapons than any one person would need?  What meaning would numbers alone have carried?  


The vessel to the left is made of ivory with intricate turquoise inlay.  

Which animal part do you recognize in the shape of the handle?

Where might the ivory for burial goods have come from?





Ivory cup   

Height: 30.5cm, Diameter: 10.5~11.3cm source      



Go on to view some of the objects from this tomb:

Bronze objects

Jade objects