02 June 2017

Kaifeng to Anyang – Tombs

Two days in one for this blog. Yesterday was just a travel day. It went off without a hitch, and we got our train from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou. There was a bit of a delay going through security, and it is a good thing that we always arrive early.. None of the security equipment was working. That meant that everything had to be done by hand. Bags had to be opened and gone through, and for some mysterious reason, us as strange foreigners had to be gone over extra carefully. It wasn’t that bad though. We just think they wanted to see what we travel with. Mostly dirty clothing. That’s not true, as we had been able to just wash all our clothes luckily. The smell might have been classed as a bio-hazard otherwise.

Then a slight delay and onto the next train. Here we were unable to sit together and even had different carriages, but it was a fairly quick, if crowded trip. There was no point in trying to get a seat close to each other, as it was almost impossible to walk through the carriages anyway.

We are getting a bit sick of the hawkers on the trains though. You can’t escape them as they are the train conductors. They stand right next to you and scream at the other people in the carriage about the latest electric razor, or cucumber shaver while everyone else is ignoring them and focusing on their soap opera on the tablet or phone at full volume without speakers to drown out the sales pitch. Noise. So much noise!

Then arriving at Anyang, one of the old capitals from the Shang Dynasty way back in the past.

We ended up staying in the Ibis after being rejected by a couple of hotels, and finding one closed. There are plenty of cheap hotels here. If you are from Mainland China, but we have griped about this before. The Ibis is clean, has a SOFT BED!! and great water pressure with hot water to boot. Can’t complain about a little luxury occasionally.

There wasn’t that much time left in the day to do much,so we just did a walk around the streets near the hotel.

The next morning, we caught a bus out to Yin Xi. It is the ruined capital of the Shang dynasty. The Shang is a time period that was lost to legend and story until they unearthed the remains of Yin. Apparently it is one of the most important archaeological sites in China, and I was looking forward to it, as I always like a good ruin. It is also something that is not Ming or Qing!

The people at the hotel were very helpful and directed us to a bus that would take us straight out to the site. This took us over the river where we saw a park! It stretched alongside the river and wasn’t fenced off or anything. I am probably being a bit hard here on the parks, and there would be hundreds just off the streets we walk on. It is only a matter of chance if we as tourists come across them.

The bus drove past the park entrance, but the stop is about 500m further along. Walking back we got a good look at some walls and a guard tower beside the railway tracks. We have no idea why they are here, but they are red walls with strange pictograms carved on in black. Then on to the main entrance of the Yin city ruins.

Purchasing our tickets we went into the site. It is an AAAA site, but there were only a few tourist stalls outside and only one just inside. Not even a big one. It just sold a few drinks. On the main gates is a circle that is supposed to be a dragon swallowing its own tail. This was a small jade ring that was found in one of the tombs, and has been made the symbol of the area.

Off to the right was a grassy patch with a series of round red pegs over it. This used to be one of the palace buildings. Now it was just grass. There was no evidence of any excavations at all

Moving on, we came to the first museum building. The style of the building was the same as the rest of China, but the columns were again the orangey red with the strange symbols on it.

Inside was a brief history of the Shang dynasty as well as a couple of the oracle bones. These appeared to be from cattle, and you could just make out some text inscribed on them. The Oracle bones are unique to here. There were over 30,000 of them found on the site. You write on a series of alternate facts and burn them. Where the cracks appear on the bones is then translated into what is supposed to happen. E.G. It is going to rain tomorrow. It is not going to rain tomorrow. Only the priests could interpret the cracks, so we will see what happens tomorrow after I burn the laptop…

A lot of bronze items were on display here from the different sites along with some jade artefacts.

There was also a whole section on Totem worship and how it was one of the worlds first religions.

We learnt that the strange symbols we were seeing everywhere were related to the proto Chinese language and totem worship. That explained a lot.

The second museum looked to be a lot more interesting from the start. It is underground. As you go down the ramp, the years are on the ground. We passed 1500ad, then 1000 and as we went further down we hit 0 then to the Shang era of around 1600 – 1046 B.C

There were a lot more bones here. Mostly human. It looked as if they have perspexed over an excavation. Beside it was a replica of a couple of horses still in their harnesses.

More artefacts abounded from cast heads to arrow heads. A lot of Bronzes and other funeral gear as well. Including the largest ding ever found. A ding is a rectangular container on four legs. Most of our temple photos have them as now they are used as incense burners, but according to the descriptions they are supposed to be food vessels.

There is an entire section of Jades. Including the one that has been used as a symbol for the region.

Turtle shells were next. These were the most abundant of the oracle bones. Poor turtles. They used a lot of them, and we just hope the turtle was eaten after it was de-shelled. Most of the bones are the bottom shell of the turtle. If you look closely you can see the detailed inscriptions.

Going back up the steps to the surface we moved onto the next section. The sacrificial pits. Wahahahaha. Yes, we still had human sacrifice back then. And it happened a lot. There have been a lot of pits excavated that contain anything from animal bones to decapitated corpses. The heads are usually stored in a different pit. These pits may have one occupant or 20. Depends on how successful a year they wanted, or if they REALY didn’t want it to rain tomorrow.

Some of these pits have perspex domes placed over them and have not been filled back in. The most interesting were the corpses that have been decapitated and placed sitting in their grave in full armour and weapons. Then the head is reattached to the body. I suppose it is better than being buried alive, as we think that also happened.

Some of the pits were not sealed properly, and have now turned into miniature greenhouses.

As we walked away, I swear that one of those heads swivelled to watch us leave…

Looking for some shade on this hot day, we were happy to find a covered walkway. It was an important part of the complex. Here there were blown up copies of the oracle bones with the original language. Then there was a Chinese translation below it. Off to the side was an English translation as well. So it took us a long time to walk, as we read a lot of them. Most were from royalty. Asking if it was auspicious to go here or there. How many sacrifices should be made, what the weather would be like. If their current war would be successful or even what direction to go hunting. Some were from nobles or rich merchants on trade and crops Elephants and river spirits featured heavily for some reason.

Passing to the back of the complex we came to the second archaeological site. I had still been hoping for some kind of historical feel. I was to be disappointed. Now it is a large garden bed. There are a few sections raised up, and these are supposed to be the rammed earth foundations. There was a sign here that said there had been well preserved column bases, but these have been removed to be replaced with the same red wooden pegs as the first site.

The next building was almost all the way back at the beginning. This was the chariot hall. There are 6 chariots here. They are recreations though, and when the actual sites were found, there was not much left. Most of them had rotten away leaving the impressions of the wheels and chariots. Some of the iron was left, along with the skeletons of the horses and driver. Out of the 6 chariots discovered, 5 had human remains. One was an adolescent and the rest men. Again, the bodies had been decapitated with the head put back in place.

Finally there was the tomb of China’s first female general Fu Hao. It is off to the side of the complex and is where most of the artefacts in the museums have come from. She was a very important personage. Not only a general, but the concubine of the Emperor of the time.

You again descend into the depths. Although it is badly lit, you can see the pit that held the body. There are a few skeletons in niches partway up, but no descriptions on whether any of these would have been her. There was no information here, so we don’t know if Fu Hao had a coffin, or was placed on a table or what. The base of the pit contains pottery and a few other bits and pieces. We don’t even know if this is a reconstruction, or her actual tomb. Assuming it was, there were more than a few people buried with her, as well as all the offerings. There was no obvious way in or out and it seems to have been dug straight down in a series of tiers.

The final archaeological site was outside. It was just a big grassy field. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

Back outside there was a bus to the Royal Tombs. We had not planed on doing these today, but it was a confirmed bus to get there.

Asking the driver we got the rough idea that it would leave at 3pm, and would cost 3 yuan each. It was a bit of a wait, but we were in no rush. Turns out that it left at 2:30. It was also free as we had our ticket for Yin Xi. The bus drove for quite a while, back over the river and to the left. Off the main road and onto a concrete street. The road deteriorated, the street buildings started to look shabbier and in a lot of cases derelict. Then down an even worse road with fields on both sides. On arriving at the royal tombs, we found that our ticket was also valid here? What, China passing up an entrance fee? What’s going on?

On exploring the site we worked out why. There is hardly anything here. There are a number of Shang Royal tombs here, all underground. There are hedges growing in the outline of where they are placed. Around these hedges are recreations of the most impressive artefact in each tomb.

We can understand that if there is no more funding to keep working the site, or look after it, then it is better to fill in the trenches to preserve it for future generations, but it is a bit disappointing.

There is a series of animal sacrificial pits behind the tombs. Here they have done the same thing, except a few that have recreations in them with the same perspex domes over the top. There were Elephant skeletons, horses, pigs, cattle and the list goes on. It was a bit of a shame that the same green house effect was happening here. Some have had the areas around the bones cleared, but the rest is still overgrowing.

Behind some buildings on the other side is the human sacrificial pits. These have all been covered over, with round white stones marking out where they are buried.

The building was over a tomb. The Structure was a long ramp down with a small platform ¾ of the way covered with skulls. Then at the bottom there is a square pit, with another smaller square dug at the centre. An initial offering is placed in this hole, with the body put over it. Then the funerary offerings placed around them. Above this is room for the servants and other things it was deemed essential to have in the afterlife. All to be filled in.

The last room had another 2 chariots. These could have been the same moulds as the first lot, and were the two chariots found at this location.

Outside was a recreation of the largest ancient ding found in China. At one of these tombs.

Then we were done. The bus took us most of the way back to the first site, but we decided to get off and go for a walk beside the river park. Then bus back to town.

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