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Relics from Mawangdui Han Dynasty Tombs


Part Ⅲ Legacy of Ancient Wisdom

The manuscripts and paintings on silk, and the inscriptions on bamboo and wooden slips, were among the most prominent treasures recovered. Most of the manuscripts are valuable documents which had been lost for a long time. The contents cover various subjects in politics, economics, philosophy, history, astronomy, geography, medical science, military affairs, physical training, literature, art and so on.

In addition, 11 pieces of paintings on silk, 722 slips of the “Inventory of Burial Objects” and 200 slips with inscriptions of medical treatises were unearthed from Tombs No.1 and No.3. The contents of these silk pieces and slips reveal many scientific and technological achievements and provide rare and significant materials for the study of ancient science, culture, and medicine, as well as the art of painting.

01. T-shaped Silk Funeral Banners

The T-shaped banners were draped on the coffins of Tomb No. 1 and No. 2. The banners depicted the Chinese abstraction of the cosmos and the afterlife at the time of the western Han Dynasty.


T-Shaped Painting on Silk from Tomb No.1

Length 205cm width at top 92cm width at bottom 47.7cm

The T-shaped silk funeral banner in the tomb of the Marquise (tomb No. 1) is called the "flying garment", according to the tomb's original inventory. The Marquise, Lady Dai, was buried in three coffins, the flying garment drapes the innermost of the three coffins.

Detail of the funeral banner.

On the T-shaped flying garment, the uppermost horizontal section of the T represents heaven. The bottom of the vertical section of the T represents the underworld. The middle (the top of the vertical) represents earth. In heaven we can see Chinese deities such as Nuwa and Chang'e, as well as Daoist symbols such as cranes (representing immortality). Between heaven and earth we can see heavenly messengers sent to bring Lady Dai to heaven. Underneath this are Lady Dai's family offering sacrifices to help her journey to heaven. Underneath them is the underworld - two giant sea serpents intertwined.


T-Shaped Painting on Silk from Tomb No.3

Length 234.6cm width at top 141.6cm width at bottom 50cm

This painting was originally laid on the top of the innermost coffin in Tomb No.3. The content roughly resembles that from Tomb No.1, with minor differences in elements and composition.

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