Mawangdui (马王堆; literally: “King Ma’s Mound”) is an archaeological site located in Changsha. The site consists of two saddle-shaped hills and contained the tombs of three people from the western Han dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD): Marquis Li Cang, his wife, and a male believed to have been their son. The site was excavated from 1972 to 1974. Most of the artifacts from Mawangdui are displayed at the Hunan Provincial Museum. It was called “King Ma’s Mound” because it was initially (erroneously) thought to be the tomb of Ma Yin (853–930), a ruler of the Chu kingdom during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

The tombs were made of large cypress planks. The outside of the tombs were layered with white clay and charcoal. White clay layering originated with Chu burials, while charcoal layering was practiced during the early western Han dynasty in the Changsha area. The tombs contained nested lacquered coffins, a Chu burial custom. The tombs also followed the burial practices dictated by Emperor Wen of Han, containing no jade or precious metals.

The eastern tomb, Tomb no. 1, contained the remains of a woman in her fifties (Lady Dai, personal name Xin Zhui). Her mummified body was so well-preserved that researchers were able to perform an autopsy on her body, which showed that she probably died of a heart attack. Specifically, her diet was too rich in sugars and meats, and she suffered from arterial-coronary problems. Buried with her were skeletons of various food-animals, jujubes, lotus soup, grains and a complete meal including soup, rice and meat skewers on a lacquer set. Researchers found honeydew melon seeds in her stomach, inferring consumption right before death. She outlived the occupants of the other two tombs.

The western tomb, Tomb no. 2, was the burial site of the first Marquis of Dai, Li Cang (利蒼). He died in 186 BC. The Han dynasty had appointed Li Cang as the chancellor of the Kingdom of Changsha, an imperial fiefdom of Han. This tomb had been plundered several times by grave robbers.

Tomb 3 was directly south of Tomb 1, and contained the tomb of a man in his thirties who died in 168 BC. The occupant is believed to have been a relative of Li Cang and his wife. This tomb contained a rich trove of military, medical, and astronomical manuscripts written on silk.

Highly regarded artifacts in particular were the lacquered wine-bowls and cosmetic boxes, which showcased the craftsmanship of the regional lacquerware industry.

Of the more famous artifacts from Mawangdui were its silk funeral banners; these T-shaped banners were draped on the coffin of Tomb 1. The banners depicted the Chinese abstraction of the cosmos and the afterlife at the time of the western Han dynasty. A silk banner of similar style and function were found in Tomb 3.

Tomb 3 contained a silk name banner (similar to that of tomb 1) and three maps drawn on silk: a topographic map, a military map and a prefecture map. The maps display the Hunan, Guangdong and Guangxi region and depict the political boundary between the Han dynasty and Nanyue. The maps are some of the oldest discovered in China. At the time of its discovery, they were the oldest maps yet discovered in China, until 1986 when Qin State maps dating to the 4th century BC were found.

Tomb 3 contained a wealth of classical texts. The tomb contained texts on astronomy, which accurately depicted the planetary orbits for Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn and described various comets.

Edited from Wikipedia

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