Origins of Tombs
Early primitive societies had no ideas of tombs. When someone
died, the body was simply buried or thrown away. As human
society developed, superstition came to be practiced and burial
gradually became an important matter. Thus, the tomb came
into being and developed into an important element of hierarchical
How did the ideology of tombs originate and develop? In short
it came from the concept of soul, which perhaps emerged during
the middle stages of transition from the primitive society.
Frederick Engels said: "In remote antiquity, our forbears
had little idea about the structure of the human body. Affected
by the visions in their dreams they formed the idea that 'man's
thinking and feeling do not come from the functions of body
organs, but from the activities of the unique soul which exists
in the body and separates from it at death.'"
From this concept came a belief that when people died their
souls were still alive, leaving their bodies for the other
world -- the nether world, and that they sometimes would return
to human society to affect the living. As a result, people
cherished memories of the deceased and, at the same time,
developed a strange fear of death itself. Pushed by memories
and by fear of death they came to embrace the ideology of
burying the dead decently with funeral ostentation.
Since no one can know of life in the nether world, our ancestors
used imagination to design the nether lives of the deceased
according to what they saw in human society.
Archaeological discoveries tell that burial practices of
the Upper Cave Men, who lived 18,000 years ago in the caves
at Zhoukoudian, Beijing, reflect this religious concept of
soul, though at a primitive stage. The Upper Cave Men entombed
the dead in their lower residence caves, which had already
become cemeteries, and distributed around the bodies of the
departed grains of red iron ore, flints, stone beads, and
animal teeth drilled with holes. Included among these were
also production tools, articles for daily use and other ornaments.
This arrangement allows as to reconstruct the lives and priorities
of the Upper Cave Men. Typical are sites of the Yangshao Culture
during the late period of Matrilineal Commune about five millennia
ago, such as Mt. Beishou of Baoji, Banpo Village of Xi'an,
Yuanjun Temple of Huaxian County in Shaanxi Province, and
Wangwan of Luoyang in Henan Province, bodies are found in
lines row upon row, similar to the distribution of huts in
villages where the occupants had lived. The heads of the bodies
are arranged in patterns reflecting stable blood relationships
of the clan system. The for-bears assumed that in the nether
world the souls of the dead would continue to live in clans.
Quite a number of multiple-burial tombs have been discovered.
In the graveyard at Banpo Village, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province,
families are found buried together in one tomb. This indicates
further advances in the burial system. Cemetery systems of
this type lasted for a long time.
The chapter on "Protocol Official" in the Rites
of the Zhou Dynasty notes special offices and personnel in
charge of cemeteries. The tombs of this period consistently
show that neither couples nor fathers and sons were buried
together in the same tomb. However, in some cemeteries of
clan communes, bones of children are found lying at the side
of their mothers. This suggests that in the matrilineal communes
children "did not know their father but did their mother."
Some clans living along the Yellow River and the Yangtze
River and in some other regions developed an era of patriarchal
commune, in which men played the principal part in agriculture,
animal husbandry and handicrafts.
Gradually the primitive society was disintegrating and private
ownership began to emerge. This historical change was clearly
reflected in the tombs of that time. In a joint burial tomb
at the Longshan Culture site of Hengzhen Village. Huayin County,
Shaanxi Province, for instance, a couple are found buried
Especially notable is a tomb site (equal to Qiiia Culture)
at Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture. Gansu Province, where
a man and a woman are buried together; the man lying on his
back with his legs stretched straight while on the right the
woman lies on her side facing the man with her legs bent.
This shows that the social position of women was declining
to one of submission to men. In addition, there were changes
taking place in burial objects. In the 120 tombs at Dawenkou,
Tai'an County, Shandong Province, for example, all occupants
wearing hair ornaments are buried with spinning wheels nearby
while those wearing no hair ornaments are surrounded by farm
tools. This suggests that contemporary working divisions,
farming and spinning, respectively for men and women, were
a common practice of that time which has been passed on for
several thousand years.
At the Liujialin site in Peixian County, Jiangsu Province,
marking the same cultural period as that of Dawenkou, a similar
practice of extended burial of man and flexed burial of woman,
was discovered in a joint burial tomb. Another made of burial
appeared where grown-ups were lying on their back with extended
legs while children lay on their sides with legs bent. This
indicates that children depended on their parents. In one
of the tombs at Dawenkou, two grown-ups and five or six children
were found buried together, the woman in the middle holding
two children in her arms. This tells us of the existence of
joint burial of full families at that time.
Following emergence of the concept of soul, tombs became
resting places for the soul. However, methods of burial changed
as societies developed. Production tools, articles for daily
use and ornaments were all used as burial objects in the belief
that occupants of the tombs might need them in the nether
Clan members, or couples and their children, were buried
together because they believed the dead might live together
in the nether world. The concepts of strengthening the soul
and of religious superstition extented both the form and the
content of tombs and made the process of burial more complicated.