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Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 14:43
Massive collection of bamboo, wooden slips found in Hubei tomb
By Wang Kaihao
Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 14:43 By Wang Kaihao

Researchers from Jingzhou Museum clean bamboo and wooden slips in a lab. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

The number of bamboo and wooden slips found at a tomb complex in China is the most among any ancient tomb in the country so far.

In Jingzhou, 324 bamboo slips from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) were unearthed in an excavation, which ended in April

As many as 4,546 slips were recently unearthed from a 2,000-year-old tomb in Jingzhou, Hubei province, as announced in a news conference in Beijing last week.

This excavation is expected to offer vast knowledge of Chinese society back then.

Before papermaking was invented in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), bamboo and wooden slips were the main media for writing in China.

The reservoir of slips was found inside one of 18 tombs in a graveyard from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), which were excavated by archaeologists in 2018. The heritage site is on the northern outskirts of Jingzhou and less than 1 kilometer from the ruins of a contemporaneous city.

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Li Zhifang, an associate researcher from Jingzhou Museum, says the new finding covers a wide range. The unearthed materials include 200 slips of calendars and ephemeris, 70 slips of chronicles, 1,500 legal documents and 1,000 medical treatments that were not only for humans but also for curing animals and plants.

"We have cleaned only a small portion of the slips," Li says. "It is no doubt a big discovery because the well-preserved items have many themes to study."

For example, the dates of solstices and key solar terms from the traditional Chinese calendar are recorded every year from 140 to 41 BC.

The legal documents provide detailed explanations of imperial laws at the time, including taxation and auditing, livestock herding and protection of private property. They also show regulations on finding escaped prisoners or laborers running away from corvee, in which unpaid services for major construction projects were organized.

One medical cure is a formula to make teeth whiter by using cinnamon, and another is on how to make lean cattle fatter.

Li says a lot of the content on the slips supplement written history of the time, but some also vary.

Some words on slips can be seen clearly after cleanup. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

In the chronicles, an incident from 218 BC-during the reign of king Ying Zheng, who later became China's first emperor, known as Qin Shihuang-is mentioned. When the king got angry because of a failed assassination attempt against him, he asked for an organized looting of the kingdom for seven days to vent his resentment.

In Records of the Grand Historian, or Shiji, a monumental reference book in Chinese historical and archaeological studies, that campaign is said to have lasted for 10 days.

"That is probably because 'seven' and 'ten' look similar in clerical writing," Li says. "Someone may have made a mistake when copying."

Xin Lixiang, a veteran archaeologist from the National Museum of China, says: "The slips found in Jingzhou are possibly of the highest value among all Han Dynasty slips that have been found so far in China."

The results of academic research on the slips should be made public soon to further relevant studies, he adds.

Wang Zijin, a professor at Renmin University of China and a top expert on bamboo and wooden slips, says: "Some imperial laws had not been seen before in documents. I'm particularly interested in those mentioning raising children. If the study goes further, we might have new ideas of early children's education or pediatrics in China."

READ MORE: Chinese archaeologists discover 2,000-year-old liquor in tomb

This year marks a crucial time for such archaeological research. In Jingzhou, 324 bamboo slips from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) were unearthed in an excavation, which ended in April. They are from the hegemonic state of Chu that expanded its territory in southern China at the time.

Peng Jun, an archaeologist working on the site, says the materials offer glimpses into the politics, military strategies, ceremonial rituals and other aspects of Chu.

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