_Excavated Carbonized Rice and O by fjzhangxiaoquan



         Pengzhang Xu, Chengdu Archaeology team, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, PR CHINA
        (Agricultural Archaeology 1998(3):105-109. Transl. by Elaine Wong; ed. by B. Gordon)

                                       1. Discovery and Location

        On July 4, 1983, workers in Phoenix Mountain in north suburban Chengdu found
an ancient grave while gathering material for making garden brick. Their leader promptly
phoned the Chengdu Cultural Bureau, which sent archaeologists to investigate, finding a
Western Han Dynasty tomb. To coordinate brick factory production and protect relics, the
Bureau acquired permission from its superiors and began excavating the tomb on July 9,
finishing in mid-September. They found much burnt rice.

        Chengdu is at 10404 E Long. and 3040 N Lat., with Phoenix Mountain N of
Wudan Mountain, E of Chengpeng Highway and W of Chuanshan Provincial Highway.
Wudan Mountain is in north suburban Chengdu, while Phoenix Mountain is 2-5 km N of
the city. Not high, it stands like a phoenix opening its wings on the broad Chengdu plain,
covered with trees and bamboo. Tranquil and beautiful, ancient people said “with the red
sparrow in front, seven constellations in back, green dragon on left and white tiger on right,
there is such precious fengshui” that various dynasty officials built tombs for their
ancestors and themselves. After 1949, many emerged in Phoenix Mountain construction,
with 1950‟s Chengdu archaeologists finding many artifacts. The Western Han Dynasty
tomb with wood outer coffin was found on the south slope of Phoenix Mountain.

                      2. Natural Environment of Excavated Burnt Rice

       Chengdu is in central Chengdu (Chuanxi) Plain, between Longquan Mountain in
the E and Gonglai Mountain in the W. It begins N at Huanghu town, Deyang and reaches
Qingshen Canyon in middle Min River in the S. A fanshaped 6000 sq. km Min and Tuo
River alluvial plain is the largest in SW China. Ca. 600m AMSL, it drops from NW to SE,
with many braided rivers and streams.

       Climate is warm in winter and hot in summer, with >300 days frost-free. Sichuan
mean annual rainfall is 500-1200 cm, higher in basin than highland, especially summer and
autumn rainy seasons on Chuanxi plain. On August 12, 1959, rainfall was 339.7mm in
Yaan County >200 km W of Chengdu, Sichuan‟s heaviest. The basin is mostly foggy, with
endless cloud and drizzle, especially in autumn. Mean annual sunlight is 800-1100 hours in
the SW, that with the least sunshine.

        These conditions let Chengdu produce rice sufficient for domestic use and export,
plus much cotton, rapeseed, corn, wheat and sweet potato. Besides fir, cypress, pine, oak,
bamboo, poplar and acacia, there are precious cedar and sandalwood, plus tung and tea oil,
asphalt, etc. Sichuan also has world-famous red mandarin oranges. Pigs, chickens and
ducks are very common in the broad countryside.
                                   3. Age of Burnt Rice

      In 1983, the Phoenix Mountain tomb with wood sarcophagus had burnt rice, its
money, pottery, construction, bronze mirror art style and lacquer confirming it as early
King Wu‟s reign of Western Han Dynasty (140-118 BC):

(1) Currency:
    Quite small (ca. 2.4 cm) half-liang (ancient currency called 4-zhu) were in side boxes
on the bottom layer of E and N coffins.

        Qin Dynasty people used 12-zhu half-liang (3.6 cm D), but early Han Dynasty used
yujia half-liang (1-1.2 cm D), while people of the time of Empress Gao used 8-zhu
half-liang (2.7-3 cm), all different from the money in the Western Han tomb.

        Han Dynasty people used 4-zhu half-liang in Kings Wen and Jing periods, but
without inner or outer outline, while we dated with outlined King Wu half-liang coins. As
King Wu discontinued half-liang and minted 5-zhu in Yuan Shou‟s 5th year and we didn‟t
find 5-zhu money, we estimate tomb age as pre-5th year of Yuan Shou (118 AD).

(2) Pottery:
    Spouted and garlic jars are typical early Western Han pottery styles.

(3) Burials:
       Sichuan Qin and Western Han Dynasty tombs have wood inner and outer coffins,
while post-Eastern Han tombs are brick with tile or stone coffins. As this sarcophagus is
between narrow rectangular and square, it is mid-early period because Early Western Han
ones are narrow and rectangular like Warring States, later becoming square.

(4) Bronze mirror art style and lacquerware:
        Warring States mirrors are thin with plain decals, while Eastern Han mirrors are
thicker with dense thick decals. Our thin mirror with complex decal is mid-early Western
Han Dynasty, with lacquerware decals like but not identical to Warring States.

                4. Circumstances Surrounding the Burnt Rice Excavation

        Western Han tomb construction at Phoenix Mountain is culturally unique because
other single-level coffins are in the center of the wood sarcophagus with burial objects
along its inside walls; e.g., Changsha‟s famous Mawongdui tomb. But the tomb differs
because the sarcophagus has 2 levels like a house. Two upper coffins have bronze and
lacquerware, coins and pottery scattered on four sides, while its base had 11 10cm thick
board fragments in 2 E-W rows. The lower level is divided into 4 50cm chambers by 4
crossboards, the 2 central chambers slightly larger than their neighbours. An iron bar was
on the E chamber side, 4 half-liang coins on the W chamber side, other items mostly mid-
chamber potsherds. The E chamber has 17 red lacquered clay jars of burnt peach, the W 9
items - 2 red lacquered jars, clay well, earthenware for cooking, iron axe, tripod stand and
rattan box with burnt chestnuts and different animal bones. Much burnt rice lay atop the
bamboo box and surrounding crevices.

       Tomb makeup suggests robbers stole or mislaid upper level objects, the lower level
unaffected. Weight was a concern because the >1000kg coffin, pottery, bronze and
lacquerware remained. As lower level theft needed centerboard prying, its intact burnt rice
is Western Han early Emperor Wu dating >2000 years.

        The burnt rice is small grain like some still planted in China. Analysis shows it was
selected from a rice-wild grass mix.

       We compare grain size with other varieties:

       Phoenix Mountain rice is 4.75x2.38mm.

       Henan Yu County Xiyao Mountain Western Han tomb rice is 4.45x2.55x1.77mm.

       Jiangxi‟s Xingan Warring States granary rice is 4.87x2.63x1.94mm.

       Hubei‟s Jiangling Phoenix Mountain Western Han rice is 6.75x3.49x2.39mm.

       Hunan‟s Changsha Mawongdui rice is 7.28x3.23mm .

       Henan‟s Loyang Shaokou Western Han rice is 7.21x4.48mm.

              5. Dishes, Rice Utensils and Related Artifacts with Burnt Rice

         Iron or bronze farm tools are absent, but 2 irrigation well models depict seedlings,
one beside the N tomb in upper level, the other in lower level detritus. Both are bucket-
shaped and rope-decorated. A little jar for drawing water lay beside each well, with a
pulley on the shelf for drawing water. The lower level shelf for tying the pulley remains
with it. Many such rope-decorated wells, even larger, are in W Sichuan, but rarely show
human settlement; e.g., those on the site by the pond behind Wongjian tomb in the W
where habitation was rare clearly indicate irrigation and drinking water.

        The lower level had an upper level lacquerware cup fragment and a 71 hole
earthenware rice steamer atop a metal boiling cauldron atop a tripod burner. Modern W
Sichuan habits suggest rinsed rice (millet or corn) was partly cooked in a cauldron, excess
water drained and the soft rice placed in the covered cloth-lined earthenware steamer over
the cauldron until cooked.

       Inside 2 lower level boxes are 19 red lacquer clay jars with side lids bearing the
characters for “wine, sweet wine, liao, rice, peach”, etc. Open jars contained groundwater
but show much grain was used for making wine.

       A Sichuan University biology professor determined most rattan and bamboo box
contents were burnt rice, but also chicken, rabbit, pig, dog and water-buffalo bone, all from
domestic animals. There were also chestnuts, peaches and guava-like, almond-like and
magnolia-like fruit and Ganoderma lucidum fungus.

        >10 days after the rattan and bamboo boxes were covered with damp cloth to
prevent more disintegration and returned to our unit, ca. 40 seedlings sprouted. Careful
nurturing by the Chengdu Agriculture Office and Sichuan Agricultural Department saw
them blooming and bearing plum tomatoes, a miracle after 2000 years that gained wide
international attention. The final analysis still remains uncertain.

       6. Relationship of Origin of Burnt Rice and Cultural Remains near Chengdu

       As Sichuan people fished, hunted wild geese and gathered silk 3-4,000 years ago,
mythology surrounds fish and wild geese. Agriculture began when “King Duyu taught his
subjects to farm and was hailed as the master of Du”. As floods devastated the Chengdu
area, King Duyu ordered the spirited sea tortoise to come from Hubei by piercing Yu
Mountain to channel water away. After the throne was passed to him the tortoise named his
reign Kaiming period. In digging a Square Bath Street site in 1985, a 2000-year-old
Kaiming water system was found, built with pebbles and bamboo cages.

        After Qin defeated Ba and Zhu states after Kaiming period ca. 316 B.C., Qin
Emperor and Zhu Prefecture magistrate Zhaoming (276-256 B.C.) gathered all flood
control data for a new program, resulting in the Dujiang Dike, which benefitted future
generations. Its was N of Dujiang City, where Min Mountain water was diverted into 2
southern tributaries. When water was needed from the outer higher tributary, a rope tied to
the top of each center pole in a row of 3-forked poles in the river raised a macha or
pebble-filled bamboo basket to allow water to enter the tributary, the front of the row
facing the water. Water was dammed by horizontal and vertical beams holding the straw
and mud-covered macha row. When extra water was needed for spring planting, the macha
were broken, irrigating thousands of fields near Chengdu. Since then, people have
controlled draught or flood, relieving famine. Harvests became so bountiful the area was
known as the world granary. With macha obsolete, water is released via modern steel and
concrete Dujiang Dike floodgates, but an early spring ceremonial axing of macha remains
to commemorate ancient Sichuan prosperity.

         Recent excavation proves Li Bing controlled water. On March 3, 1974, a 4 ton
statue, 2.9m high and 0.96m wide at the shoulder was found at a tributary 40km from
Jingang Embankment of Dujiang Dike. Three inscribed bright vermillion lines in the center
of its lapel and on the right and left sleeves said: “Old Zhu Prefecture, from the house of Li,
named Bing. Erected in the era of Eastern Han Ling Emperor (168 AD)”.

        While manpower and tools are also needed for rice farming, related statues or tools
are absent in the tomb, but Western Han and earlier Eastern Han tools occur near Chengdu.
In 1983-5, an ancient water control structure of pebbles and two much larger chipped flint
hoes were found in the lower level of a Square Pond Street site in Chengdu. One side of
each hoe is flat, the other convex, with percussion marks on blade and shoulder. One was
22.8x7.5 cm; the other 18.5x11.3cm.
       In 1989, a Warring States triangular bronze hoe with pointed blade from Qing Yang
Shan area W of Chengdu measured 30.5x20.3 cm, with 8.2cm side, a unique find.

        Eastern Han period near Chengdu not only had many buried farm tools, but also
clay statues of farmers, plus bricks painted with farm scenes.

        In 1952, I excavated statue sherds depicting large iron hoes in Qinggangpao tomb
3, East Village, Chengdu Station. Head and feet were missing, but the right hand held a
wood handle perpendicularly perforating a wood plate at the upward-pointing concave
blade top. Nearby in a Tanjia Stone Bridge tomb was an Eastern Han statue of a typical
farmer with pointed digging stick in the right hand and winnow basket in the left. The
handle indirectly inserted in the grooved iron blade top. The stick was used in planting and
ditch excavation, the winnow basket to carry dirt. Both are contemporaneous irrigation
tools, as seen in models of laborers digging ditches and channelling water. Digging sticks
are also with the smaller statue beside Li Bing, plus male and female figures; e.g., a 99-cm
slim female figure in the Shayan tomb, Baozi Mountain, Sunjun, found in 1969. She has a
goose egg-shaped face with trim eyebrows and fine eyes, winnow basket in left hand,
digging stick in right, collar folded under the neck, straw belt, rope with knife tucked inside
and feminine hairstyle and figure.

       Ten v-shaped iron plough harness fragments in Mulizhong, Sichuan, imply
water-buffalo. An iron digging stick engraved with Zhu, an Eastern Han place, also
occurred, their contemporaneity proving Han Dynasty joint use at Chengdu.

        Other evidence of water-buffalo are in nearby Han tombs and sites; e.g.s, an upper
level black wood water-buffalo with broken horns and legs and sturdy body outside the
front of a north coffin; two bronze belt fragments with water-buffalo image in a Western
Han tomb in Xiongliu‟s Xiyang City, and a broken Eastern Han tomb door found in 1996 at
Xipu, Pi County, with a landlord dividing family assets: “6 areas worth 3,143,000 of Zhu
Chang, 5 servants worth 200,000, a water-buffalo worth 15,000, farms of 1-2 qing (6.667
hectares)”. Water-buffalo are important because they are evaluated separately.

        More Eastern Han brick tombs emerged near Chengdu, their interiors with farm
scenes; e.g., a backwall fresco in nearby Tsangjia in the 1970‟s, its upper part showing
resting elders, stockrooms, warehouse and female servants, its lower part with farm scenes,
a lavish home on stilts behind 2 people treadle-husking rice with laborer working on the
ground to the right, and 5 ponds (one dammed on all sides) with boat, fish and lotus to the

         A Deyang County brick fragment found in 1955 has a sowing scene of 6 people in a
farm and tree background, 4 uniformly sickling, 2 with containers in one hand and sowing
with the other. Their movement appears dramatic like dancing, a familiar style depicting
daily life, but real long sickles are in a Han Dynasty tomb at Xiongliu‟s Horse Range
Mountain near Chengdu.
        A painted farm scene on a brick near Chengdu, Xindu County, is divided left and
right. Left is rice picking with seedlings throughout the field, top and bottom show 2
people raking seedlings, while right shows 2 people using sickles to repel animals after rice
harvest. The animal on the upper right resembles a long-legged egret about to take flight,
the lower right an unrecognizable quadruped.

       A brick depicting bow & arrow hunting in its upper picture (2/3 overall) is in a
Chengdu City Museum collection, its lower 1/3 showing harvesting. Two foreground
people use long sickles to cut and harvest rice, 3 background ones collect stalks on the
ground. Another is leaving after bringing a meal, carrying stalks in one hand and empty
meal boxes in the other. This lively scene compares with Chap. 7 in Book of Odes by
saying “In August we pare the dates. In October we harvest the rice. My wife and I, we ate
together in the southern field”.

       Brick and stone tomb paintings accompany Eastern Han pond and paddy models.
While testing the Western Han wood sarcophagus at Phoenix Mountain in 1983, I also
found 3 Eastern Han tombs, one with a model of a pond with clay lotus leaves and
seedpods and spiral shell mollusks.

        A clay paddy model full of transplanted rows at Paozhi Mountain, Xinjun County,
W Sichuan, is 54x37cm. Its central ditch with fish and mud snails diverts water on both
sides into 9 sections. As Tsui‟s Monthly Ritual says “if the soil is fertile, seedlings are
crowded; if poor, seedlings are separate”, soil fertility determines spacing. The „Method
for Bringing People Together‟ chapter of Paddy Rice says “one must measure paddy size
and take water equally”. Some agricultural archaeologists think paddy fragmentation
resulted in terracing, and Western Han Dynasty terraces in Shaanxi may have spread from
Ba and Shu, two ancient Sichuan states.

        In 1953, another paddy model in an Eastern Han tomb in Xinjian Town, Minyang
County, Sichuan, has a right section decorated with lotus, mud snail, and loach fish and a
left with 5 clay statues. One in a flowery robe stands with hands folded across his chest, a
landlord, foreman or overseer. The others are barefoot laborers in short clothing, some with
sickles, others carrying water on the back with ewer in hand, another beating a drum. All
provide lively and interesting material on Han Dynasty farm labor and custom. Chapter 7
„Field Labor‟ in the Farming Encyclopedia says “sow, then weed and cultivate. After
hoeing, growing rice and weed roots and leaves differ, with a drum for weeding”; e.g.,
„Weed Hoeing Drum‟ pictured in Yuan Zheng Wong‟s Farmer’s Book.

        Drumming while hoeing was widespread in Tang Dynasty; e.g., Danling County,
W Sichuan farmers sweating like rain under the hot summer sun also beat a drum, while
governor Au Yang Tung sat in the shade of a bamboo temple, encouraging them while
cooling off with wine with other officials. He asked temple monk He Peng, a talented
famous poet, to join the party and write a poem to amuse them. His Field Farming Drum
says “Farmers beat their drums in the field, while royalty beat his drum at the party. One
beat happily while others beat sorrowfully on parched soil under the fierce sun. Pray the
father of heaven will endow us with rain to let the mulberry leaves and hemp ripen, and the
granary fill, so nobody will starve and rich and poor are equally fulfilled”. After the poem,
Au Yang Tung ended the party and the event became legendary because “Au Yang Tung
knew how to listen to He Peng‟s indirect rebuke”.

        Ancient texts and excavation prove Chengdu farmers enjoyed bountiful harvests
due to favorable climate and geography (both ideal for rice growing in fertile delta soil.
They knew irrigation engineering (e.g., Dujiang Dike) and constantly improved tools and
techniques and upgraded rice varieties. Yearly modern yield/acre is ca. 1000 kg, with life
improving each day.

Endnotes (note that reference numbers are absent in the original text – translator):
(1) Peng Chang Xu: Western Han tomb with wood sarcophagus at Phoenix Mountain,
    Chengdu. Archaeology 1991(5).
(2) Hua Yang Guo Zhi chap. 3. Zhu Records.
(3) Eastern Han statue excavated at Dujiang Dike. Archaeology 1975(8).
(4) Peng Chang Xu: Diary of cleaning and organizing Eastern Village Han Tomb,
    Chengdu Station, Archaeology Communication.
(5) Same as (4)
(6) Han Dynasty farm tools in Mu Li site, Sichuan. Agricultural Archaeology 1981(1).
(7) Eastern Han stone tablet fragments from Xipu, Pi County, Sichuan. Wenwu 1974(4).
(8) Weeding by stamping while holding the digging stick.
(9) Hunting with bow and arrow and catching birds.
(10) Scene of catching birds, keeping fish and planting lotus (see 9). Du Bu Wu
    rice-irrigating, Tung describing ancient society from brick painting.
(11) Du Bu Wu explaining ditch digging between plots of farmland to release water.
(12) Monthly Ritual 2nd item for February.
(13) Farming Books
(14) Complete Tang Poetry Book 12, chap. 3. Genius of Tang.

(1) Wen Hua Chan: Han Dynasty rice domestication and farm tool improvement.
(2) Du Bu Wu: Viewing ancient Chinese society from brick painting.
(3) Shi Bi Jiang: Brief description of Han Dynasty agriculture, Chengdu. Agricultural
    Archaeology 1992(3).
(4) Wen Hua Chan: Seeing Han Dynasty farm technology in artifacts. Wenwu 1985(8).
(5) Du Bu Wu: Qin and Han Dynasty growth in Ba and Zhu, Memorial to Prof. Sung Tian
    Sho Nan. History on the exchange of E and W cultures, Hong Shan Villa, 1975.
(6) Wen Jie Liu & De Chang Yu: Research on Han Dynasty pond and paddy models in
    Sichuan Province. Agricultural Archaeology 1983(1).
(7) Wen Jie Liu & De Chang Yu: Sichuan agricultural record in Han Dynasty brick
    paintings. Agricultural Archaeology 1983(1).
(8) Jia Mian Liang (main article): History of Chinese agronomy and techniques.
    Agriculture Publishing Society 1989.
(9) Wen Hua Chan (main article): Pictorial record of ancient Chinese agronomy.
    Agriculture Publishing Society 1991.

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