Archaeology Magazine Archive

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A recently excavated tomb fresco may be the first painting to show in great detail how Chinese medicine was practiced 1,000 years ago. Discovered by archaeologist Sun Bingjun of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology in the eastern Chinese city of Hancheng, the mural dates to the Northern Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1127) and is exceedingly well preserved.

The mural is about 12 square feet and depicts a seated man, believed to be the tomb's occupant. He is surrounded by servants, as well as numerous jars and bottles. While some servants attend to the tomb's owner, others seem to be brewing herbs. Two men, who Sun thinks are physicians, stand at a table to the right of the mural making medicines. Other murals in the tomb show a 17-person troupe staging an opera, and a scene representing nirvana, the Buddhist state of peace.

Although Sun found two skeletons on a small wooden couch, the burial contained no artifacts. The entire tomb was removed to the Shaanxi Cultural Relic Bureau for conservation.