Inside or Out? A Coffin ControversyDiscovered just over 20 years ago in the Jiangsu region’s Chu mausoleums in Xuzhou, the jade coffin on display in Tomb Treasures was reassembled with an elaborate pattern of jade pieces decorating its exterior. In contrast, a coffin excavated more recently from the Jiangdu mausoleum at Dayun Mountain, where most of the material in Tomb Treasures originates, was reconstructed with the jade pattern lining the inside — causing some scholars to argue that, since the stone is meant to protect the body, the Chu coffin’s jade should line its interior as well. Others believe that regional variations or the different ranks of the deceased could explain the inconsistent construction methods.
Coffin, Western Han period (206 BCE–9 CE), 2nd century BCE. unearthed from the Tomb of the King of Chu, Shizi Mountain, Xuzhou, Jiangsu. Jade, wood, and lacquer. Xuzhou Museum, EX2017.1.76. Photograph © Xuzhou Museum.
Did the earlier archaeologists make a mistake? There’s no definitive answer so far, says excavator Li Yinde, since the records from the Shizi Mountain excavation do not provide sufficient detail. “Jade coffins are not made to look the same due to regional variations,” he explains. “Current evidence shows that jade could either be put inside to protect the deceased or outside to be visually attractive.”
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