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Male and female servants stand before an empty bed. A black-and-white cat with a red ribbon on its neck and a ball in its mouth occupies the left foreground. A black-and-white pet dog, also with a red ribbon around its neck, fills the right foreground. (Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

Archaeologists have unsealed a 1,000-year-old brick tomb in northern China containing unusually well-preserved murals of heavenly and earthly scenes, Live Science has reported. These include drawings of the constellations, the occupant’s pet animals, and even a nature poem.

The circular burial chamber was discovered near the Datong Railway Station in 2011 by the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology. First published in the Chinese journal Wenwu, its findings were recently translated into English by the new archaeological journal Chinese Cultural Relics, published by East View Press.

The domed ceiling contains red diagrams of the constellations; the middle section houses architectural images of wooden buildings; and the bottom section depicts glimpses of domestic life and travel — a camel pulling a carriage, servants surrounding a bed, and attendants serving wine at a party, among many other scenes. The murals are divided into four sections by painted vermillion columns, and yellow picture frames enclose a few independent themes.

While archaeologists didn’t find the remains of the tomb’s resident, they did discover a small, 3-foot-high statue of an unknown man sitting crosslegged in a black robe (among 13 other artifacts found). Researchers believe he was a wealthy Han Chinese who lived in an area ruled by the Liao Dynasty, which controlled vast portions of northern China, northern Korea, eastern Russia, and present-day Mongolia from 907 to 1125 CE.

If the following images are any indication, he enjoyed a leisurely and luxurious afterlife.

The tomb’s domed ceiling is the only part of the tomb that has been partially destroyed. What remains are painted red dots connected by lines that represent the stars.

Male and female servants bow toward the entrance of the tomb. Above it a Garuda (an Eagle-like creature that Vishnu rides) sits on a cloud. Around them all float flames, pearls, rhinoceros horns, ivory, silver ting-ingots, a battle-ax and persimmon calyx objects, among others.

In the top right corner, a Bactrian camel pulls a carriage toward the tomb’s entrance. Just below, a brown horse walks with its rider. A few unfinished sketches are visible beneath these scenes.

Five middle-aged attendants stand in two rows. The first holds a yellow tray with two zhan cups. The second holds a wine-warming wan-bowl in his left hand and a zhihu pitcher in his right. In the second row, the first attend carries a yellow clapper, the second a tray filled with fruit, and the third holds something resembling a lotus flower. In the far right corner, a yellow box contains a short poem. One line reads, “Time tells that bamboo can endure cold weather. Live as long as the spirits of the crane and turtle.” It’s surrounded by various animals and objects. 

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...