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Excavating the Tomb of Fuhao, 1976

The Tomb of Fuhao


The Tomb Fuhao, dated around 1250 BCE, is the only Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1050 B.C.E) royal tomb found intact with its contents and excavated by archaeologists in 1976. It is located at Yinxu, the ruins of the last capital of the Shang dynasty Yin (in present-day Anyang, Henan province), along with many other huge Shang royal tombs. The tomb was identified as that of Fuhao, the queen and military general of King Wu Ding, according to the inscriptions on ritual bronzes excavated.


About Fuhao

Dozens of oracle bone inscriptions found at Anyang refer to Fu Hao's many activities. She was a wife of a Shang king and not only bore him children but also led his armies in battle and represented him at state ceremonies.


About the Tomb

The tomb is a rectangular single pit, 5.6 m by 4 m at the mouth (relatively small compared to other Shang royal tombs). With the pit were remains of a lacquered wood coffin set inside a larger wooden chamber. 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.


Artifacts Found in the Tomb

-755 jade objects

-564 bone objects (including 500 hairpins and 20 arrowheads)

-468 bronze objects, including over 200 ritual bronze vessels, 130 weapons, 23 bells, 27 knives, 4 mirrors, and 4 tiger statues

-63 stone objects

-11 pottery objects

-5 ivory objects

-6,900 cowry shells (possibly used as currency during the Shang dynasty)


Bronze Vessels from the Tomb

China entered into Bronze Age in about 1700 B.C.E. But it was during the Shang dynasty (1600-1050 B.C.E.) that bronze casting was perfected. Bronze was used for weapons, chariots, horse trappings, and above all for the ritual vessels with which the ruler would perform sacrifices to the ancestors. However, it is not known exactly how any of these vessels were used, since Shang ceremonies remain a mystery.


Altogether the bronze vessels found in Fu Hao's tomb weighed 1.6 metric tons. The enormous quantity and the high level of workmanship suggests the wealth of the royal family as well as a stratified and highly organized society. Most of the bronzes were inscribed with the owner’s name Fu Hao or her posthumous name of Mu Xin (meaning “Mother Xin.”)

"Zun of Owl" from the Tomb of Fuhao

Zun of Owl, National History Museum, Beijing, Photos by Chenchen Lu

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