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'Sage's' Backyard Yields Major Find

Among all calligraphers in Chinese history, Wang Xizhi (AD 303-361) has been regarded as the greatest and most revered, being called the Sage of Calligraphy to this day.


Now 1,700 years after the calligrapher died, archaeologists happened upon valuable artifacts.


The discovery was made right in the backyard of Wang's former residence.


Early this year, residents of Wang's hometown, Linyi of east China's Shandong Province, decided to give the calligrapher's former residence a facelift, as part of a local festival in October to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of Wang's birth.


In May, workers were digging beside a pool said to have been used by Wang to wash his brushes and ink-slabs. Called the Xiyan (ink-slab washing) Pool, it has been a mecca for professional and amateur calligraphers and his admirers.


Then one day, one worker felt his shovel hit something hard underground. It was a piece of ancient brick, which led to the discovery of two ancient brick tombs beside the pool.


"The tombs, built like houses on the ground above, were the largest and best preserved among tombs of the Han (206 BC-AD 220) and Jin (AD 265-420) dynasties discovered in Shandong," said Li Qun, one of the top Linyi county officials, who rushed to the site on the day of the discovery.


It has been the first time that so many artifacts of such value were unearthed in the tombs of the Jin Dynasty in the province. Jin Dynasty tombs of such a size are rarely seen in the country, according to sources with the Shandong Provincial Archaeological Research Institute, which made the excavation with the Linyi Cultural Bureau.


More than 250 sets of copper, ceramics, earthenware, iron and gold artifacts were found in the 8-metre-wide, 5-metre-long No 1 Tomb. Among the seven were believed to be some of the top level of cultural relics unearthed in the nation's recent history.


A celadon shuizhu (water container) is one of the most exquisite. Rarely seen today, it is a small empty container with two tiny holes on the surface.


The user plugs one of the two holes, holds the container on an angle, and water drips slowly out of the other side. Used as early as in the Han Dynasty, it was a clever means of siphoning liquid.


The one unearthed by the Xiyan Pool, 27 centimeters tall, was sculpted into a man riding a lion. The man, obviously of a non-Han ethnic group, wears an extravagant tall hat in the shape of that of a caucasian gentleman, and a suit of armor. Staring ahead, he has deep, large eyes, a distinct nose, a beard and whiskers.


The lion he's riding has piercing eyes and a raised head, and is baring its teeth, giving it a fierce look. The artifact is simple in structure and delicate in details, paying attention to such intricate flourishes as the patterns on the hat and the armor, the man's beard, and the lion's head.


A bronze artifact unearthed also depicted a man riding a lion, but this man with a goatee bears a serene look and he is believed by experts to represent a deity.


"In such a luxurious tomb, it is strange that only the bodies of three children were found," said Li.


Archaeologists initially suggested the tombs belonged to Wang's family, but doubted that speculation later.


"Members of Wang's family had been imperial court officials for more than a century in the Jin Dynasty, and they were recorded in historical documents as 'thrifty' and 'free from corruption'," said Ding Fengyun, from the Linyi municipal government.


"They probably couldn't afford such an extravagant tomb."


Ding said archaeologists also speculated the tombs belonged to the royal family of the Langya Kingdom, which built its capital in Linyi and prospered in the Han and early Jin dynasties.


"If the speculation was true, the tombs may have already been there before Wang's family built their houses," said Ding.


(China Daily September 25, 2003)

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