The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
The Ruins of Yin (Late 14th century – Mid 11th century BC)
From 1928 to 1937, the Institute conducted fifteen seasons of excavation of the ruins of Yin. Eleven large tombs, along with more than 1300 small graves, had been discovered on the highlands of Hsi-pei-kang, located on the northern shore of the Huan River. Whereas in the Hsiao-t’un village on the southern shore of the river, three well structured hang-t’u (pounded earth) construction sites were found.
The Museum separates topics of the the ruins of Yin into the “Shang Royal Cemetery at Hsi-pei-kang” and the “Shang Palace and Ancestral Temples at Hsiao-T’un.” Representative of the Hsi-pei-kang site are royal tombs M1550, M1004, M1400 and sacrificial pits M1022, M1005, M1083 and M1435. On the other hand, tomb 331, horse-and-chariot pits M40 and YH127 are among the remains of Hsiao T’un. The exhibition here aims to provide visitors a glance into the funerary rites, the ritual and warfare were intimately tied to political authority, and the structure of the army in the Shang Dynasty.

    The Shang royal cemetery was found at a location the archaeologists named Hsi-pei-kang on high ground north of the Huan River to the north of the village of Hou-chia-chuang. This royal cemetery contained the tombs of the Shang kings as well as thousands of associated smaller burials and sacrificial pits. Three seasons of field work were carried out here between 1934 and 1935 by a team from the Institute led by Liang Ssu-yung. During these three seasons, eleven large royal tombs, believed to be those of the Shang kings, and more than 1,300 small graves were excavated. The layout of the cemetery can be divided into two clusters. The western cluster contained eight large royal tombs: one of these was an unfinished rectangular pit, but the remaining seven large tombs all had four ramps descending from each cardinal direction into the central burial chamber. Among the three large royal tombs excavated in Hsi-pei-kang eastern cluster, one had four ramps and two had only two ramps, in the north and in the south. Most of the small tombs and pits containing human and animal sacrifices found at Hsi-pei-kang were located in the eastern cluster. A fourth royal tomb, called the Wu-kuan-ts'un North large tomb, was excavated in the eastern cluster in 1950 along with hundreds of nearby small graves and sacrificial pits.

    The large tombs at Hsi-pei-kang must have belonged to the Shang kings: the grand scale of the tombs, the exquisite burial objects they contained, and the large number of human sacrificial victims within the tombs and surrounding them are all expressions of the Shang kings' supreme authority. However, we still do not know which tomb belonged to which king. The chronological sequence of some of the tombs can be established according to the stratigraphic relationships of the tomb ramps, but because of the extensive plundering of the contents of the royal tombs before they were excavated, objects that could have been used to establish the names of the royal occupants of each tomb are missing. 

    Royal tomb M1004 is located in the western section of the royal cemetery at Hsi-pei-kang. The tomb is cruciform in shape   亞  , with a rectangular central chamber and a ramp leading up to ground level on each of its four sides. Stratigraphic relationships with the ramps of neighboring tombs reveal that this tomb was built after royal tomb M1001 but before royal tomb M1002. Although M1004, like the other royal tombs, had been robbed many times in the past leaving few burial objects, at the northernmost section of the southern ramp, near the opening of the tomb chamber, there was an area that had never been disturbed. From this undisturbed area came a large number of artifacts, which comprise the most important finds of the Hsi-pei-kang royal cemetery. 

    The grave goods in this area had been arranged in four layers, with weaponry placed together in three layers and musical instruments and bronze ritual vessels placed on top. From bottom to top, the first layer probably contained chariots, leather armor and shields which had almost completely disintegrated at the time of discovery; in the second layer were more than 100 bronze helmets, seventy bronze dagger-axes and 370 bronze spearheads; 360 bronze spearheads had been neatly arranged in the third layer. The uppermost of the four layers in M1004, unlike the bottom three, did not contain weaponry. It contained instead a ch'ing-musical chime stone, a jasper rod, and two well-known bronze ting tetrapods, the Lu fang-ting with deer motifs and the Niu fang-ting with water buffalo motifs. These were ceremonial objects used in Shang rituals.

    The Tso chuan, China's oldest narrative history, records an aristocrat of the Chou dynasty once commenting in 578 B.C., "The main affairs of the state are ritual and warfare." The arrangement of the weaponry, musical instruments and bronze ritual vessels in M1004 expresses the Shang kings' concern with these matters as well. Ritual and warfare were intimately tied to political authority not just in the Chou dynasty (mid eleventh century—221 B.C.) as the Tso chuan records, but in the earlier Shang dynasty (sixteenth—eleventh century B.C.) as well. This small corner of royal tomb M1004 that happened to survive centuries of plundering transmits a clear message to us from over three thousand years ago concerning the main preoccupations of the Shang state.

    During the Shang dynasty (sixteenth—mid eleventh century B.C.), the practice of human sacrifice was quite common. Human victims, buried to accompany the deceased, would often be placed in coffins and provided with grave furnishings. Others were killed as sacrificial offerings. This would often involve beheading and the separate disposal of the head and body.

    Royal tomb M1550 at Hsi-pei-kang provides examples of both types of human sacrifice. The tomb contained four accompanying burials. In each of these burials, an intact human skeleton was buried in a pit along with a small number of grave goods. In contrast to these, the southern and northern ramps of M1550 contained a large quantity of sacrificial human skulls─eight in the southern ramp and 235 in the northern ramp. Those in the northern ramp had been arranged neatly in twenty-four rows, with ten skulls in most rows. Most of the skulls had cervical vertebrae attached to them, indicating that the heads had been severed before being deposited in the royal tomb. Their bodies were not found in the tomb and perhaps were buried in the nearby sacrificial pits. This situation is different from the human sacrificial victims in royal tomb M1001. There, although the victims' skulls had been severed from their bodies, the bodies were still buried under the ramp of the tomb.

    The royal tombs at Hsi-pei-kang were plundered long ago, destroying much of the context of the tombs and our ability to reconstruct the royal burials. In royal tomb Ml550, however, two sacrificial burials placed in the northeast corner of the tomb chamber to accompany the Shang king remained intact: Tomb M l550: 49, perhaps the grave of a female official, and Tomb M1550: 40, perhaps the grave of royal charioteers or attendants.

    Royal tomb M1400 is located in the eastern section of the Hsi-pei-kang cemetery. It is the only large tomb in this section constructed with four ramps. Surrounding M1400 are over one thousand accompanying small graves and sacrificial pits.

    M1400 had been robbed long ago, but two undisturbed groups of vessels were discovered. The first group, excavated in the western section of the tomb's east ramp, contained bronze vessels for holding water and articles for the toilet, including p'an-plates, yü-basins, shao-ladles, hu-jars and five pottery pieces for scraping the skin. There was also a bronze human mask, the use of which is unknown. A yü-basin contained a four-character inscription that read "Yü-basin for the small bedchamber." This inscription and the location of this group of vessels along the eastern side of the outer-coffin chamber indicate that they were probably toilet utensils of the "small bedchamber" of the Shang king.

    The second undisturbed group of vessels, excavated from the middle section of the southern ramp, contained the common bronze ritual wine vessel assemblage of the Shang, including four ku-beakers, four chüeh-cups, one tsun-beaker, one chia-vessel and one chih-goblet. The disordered arrangement of these vessels suggests that they might have been used in rituals for the deceased and then disposed of in the ramp. The inscriptions on these bronzes : these were probably the names of the tribes or states that participated in the sacrificial ceremonies.

    M1022 measured 2.3 m by 0.9 m with its long axis oriented north-south. There were no traces of a coffin. The pit contained one prone human skeleton with bronzes placed at its head and calves. These bronzes were all beautifully made ritual wine vessels. These were not, however, grave goods belonging to the grave occupant, but were instead vessels of the Shang royal house. There is an inscribed character "chung" (middle) on a chüeh-cup and another inscription reading "yu" (right) on a fang-i casket-shaped vessel.

    Sacrificial pit M1005 at Hsi-pei-kang is located 70 m northwest of royal tomb M1400 and slightly toward the south. Nearby to its west is sacrificial pit M1022. The pit of M1005 measures 2.3 m by 0.9 m with its long axis oriented north-south. 

    There was no trace of a coffin within the pit, which contained six human skeletons piled one upon the other. Bronze vessels within the pit included two yü-basins with spiraling dragon designs, one yü-basin with a k'uei-dragon pattern, and three hu-jars. There were also two pottery p'en-basins, one with attached posts and the other fragmentary. Three bronze spades, one open-work bronze ladle, and three pairs of chopstick-shaped objects were also found in the pit. These implements, especially the spades and the ladle, were finely made and decorated; they must have been paraphernalia of the nobility rather than actual utilitarian objects. A bronze mirror was also found in this pit. The front side of the mirror was flat and polished while the back side was fitted with a ring at its center and completely covered by a linear design.

    The palaces and ancestral temples at Yin-hsü are located northeast of Hsiao-t'un village at Hsiao-t'un Locus North. The Huan River flows eastward across the north side of the Hsiao-t'un site and then turns sharply southward and flows along the east side of the site. The site is about 350 m north-south and was perhaps 300 m east-west before the Huan River eroded away the eastern portion of the site. Fifty-three rammed earth foundations found here were divided into three clusters (the Northern Group, the Middle Group, and the Southern Group) which run from northeast to southwest across Hsiao-t'un Locus North. Other groups of buildings have most likely been washed away by the Huan River.
    Structural remains found in the Northern Group include pounded-earth foundations, stone pillar supports, doorways, and flights of steps: this was probably the royal dwelling quarters. In the Middle Group, many burials associated with the buildings are found beneath the foundations, within the foundations, and nearby. According to their archaeological context, these burials can be classified as sacrificial burials from rituals related to foundation-laying, the placing of pillar support stones, doorway construction, and building completion. The burial pits contain large numbers of skeletal remains of humans, horses, cattle, sheep, and dogs. Also found are chariots, weapons, and utilitarian wares. The Middle Group was perhaps a palace or temple area. Sacrificial pits in the Southern Group are divided, with human burials in the eastern part of the Southern Group and pits with animal offerings in the western part. Jade pi-discs were interred in some of the pounded-earth foundations as well, suggesting that these foundations perhaps functioned as sacrificial altars.
    A drainage system of an earlier date was discovered under the pounded-earth foundations in the Middle Group; this drainage system was probably not associated with the structures above. In later excavations, archaeologists unearthed a large man-made trench west of Hsiao-t'un which ran south from the Huan River down through Hua-yüan-chuang, then turned east and continued back into the Huan River. It has been suggested that the trench was perhaps a defensive moat for the palace area.
    The Hsiao-t'un excavation report suggested that the Northern Group was the earliest, followed by the Middle Group, with the Southern Group being the latest. The argument was based on the stratigraphic relationships between building foundations and storage pits, as well as seriation of the artifacts found in cultural levels and within the layers of pounded earth. The chronological sequence of the three zones is continuously revised as newly excavated materials provide further information.

    Many burials and sacrificial pits were excavated within the Middle Group and the Southern Group at Hsiao-t'un. Some of the burials and pits are associated with the building foundations, some intrude into the building foundations, while others have no clear stratigraphic relationships. Artifacts from some of the graves and sacrificial pits not associated with any foundations disclose an earlier artistic style: Tomb M33l of the Southern Group belongs to this group.
    Tomb M331 at Hsiao-t'un is located slightly to the north of the center of the area between pounded earth Foundation ping-5 and Foundation ping-6. The tomb lies side by side with burial M362 and intrudes into an even larger pounded earth platform foundation. The tomb chamber measures 3.1 m north-south by 2.15 m east-west and has a central waist pit. Traces of wooden coffin timbers and mottled soil seen during excavations suggest that the tomb contained inner and outer coffins that were painted with red lacquer. In addition to the main occupant of the tomb found in the inner coffin, five sacrificial human victims were found between the inner and outer coffins, two on the east side and three on the west side. Two sacrificed dogs were also found, one in the waist pit and the other in the upper layers of rammed earth.
    Tomb M33l included a total of 412 burial objects: twenty-six bronzes (vessels and weapons), 278 jade and stone objects (vessels, weapons, decorative items, and musical instruments), sixteen ivory and bone objects (vessels, weapons, decorative objects, and inscribed bone), three pottery vessels, four sea conch shells, about seventy cowry shells in two piles, and traces of five wooden objects. The scale of tomb M331, the associated human sacrifices, and the quality and quantity of the tomb furnishings all indicate that the owner of this tomb must have been a person of high social status.
    There has been some controversy over the dating of tomb M331. The artistic style of the bronzes would place it between the "Erh-li-kang period" and the "Classic Yin-hsü period," but after some deliberation, the authors of the original excavation report attributed it to the Late Yin-hsü period. This issue awaits further scholarly discussion.

    ​Some of the most important finds during the Institute's excavations of Yin-hsü are the horse and chariot pits of the late Shang dynasty. These pits contain horse fittings and chariot fittings: horse fittings are bronze decorative pieces for the bridle and harness, and chariot fittings are bronze structural parts of the chariot. Both the quality and quantity of the horse and chariot fittings excavated by the Institute remain unparalleled by subsequent discoveries. At the royal cemetery at Hsi-pei-kang, the excavations of tombs M1001, M1003, and M1004 revealed traces of parts of chariots, and the excavations of the chariot pits associated with tombs M1136 and M1137 yielded horse and chariot fittings of fine quality. At Hsiao-t'un, as well, five horse and chariot pits were found (M40, M20, M202, M45, and M204), yielding a large number of horse and chariot fittings.
    The five horse and chariot pits at Hsiao-t'un were located to the south of Foundation yi-7 in the Middle Group. Three of the five pits were in a row running north-south, while the remaining two pits were situated one to their far right and one to their far left. The arrangement of these horse and chariot pits, together with the adjacent burials, suggests a southward facing chariot battle formation. The five tombs with horse and chariot pits represent a central chariot array. The row of three tombs and the row of five tombs each with five individuals to the front of the chariot pits represent a forward battle line. To the west of the horse and chariot pits, that is, on their right, is a cluster of twenty-seven graves with decapitated individuals and a grave containing a single individual: these form a right flank for the chariots. To the east of the horse and chariot pits are child burials, pits with kneeling individuals, graves with burial goods, single prone burials, and sacrificial pits with sheep remains. Chariot pit M40, which was a rectangular pit measuring 2.5 m north-south by 1.8 m east-west that contained two horses, a chariot, a few weapons, and the remains of three people, occupied the central position of the chariot formation. With its numerous and lavish burial objects, it was perhaps the core of the entire formation.
    The chariot of M40 was first disassembled before interment so it could be placed into a pit smaller than the size of the chariot. Because some of the wooden structures of the chariot were broken, missing, or unrecoverable, the complete chariot could not be reconstructed. For example, no traces of the wheels were found. However, the size and shape of parts of the chariot, such as the riders' box, the draft pole, and the axle, could be determined based on the position of the bronze chariot fittings in the pit and by comparison with more complete chariots uncovered in more recent excavations. The chariot of M40 consisted of five parts: the box, the axle, the draft pole, the "transverse" or yoke, and the v-shaped yoke saddles. The chariot box was shaped like a bamboo scoop with an opening to the front, a unique design not seen among chariots excavated after 1949, which are usually square-shaped, with the opening to the back. Whether the chariot design of M40 reflects the special status of the owner or an earlier date remains to be determined by future archaeological discoveries.