Health/Sci-TechLifestyleVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 19

Ancient Chinese burials with swords and chariot cast light on violent ‘Warring States’ period

Archaeologists in China have unearthed hundreds of tombs and relics, including several bronze swords, dating from the Warring States period more than 2,200 years ago.

The tombs and artifacts were found at the Baizhuang Cemetery in the village of Dengcheng, which is part of the city of Xiangyang in China’s central Hubei province. According to a translated statement from provincial and city archaeologists, excavations in November 2023 unearthed more than 500 cultural objects, including the swords, copper tripods, ritual vessels, pottery, jade rings, lacquerware, boats and a chariot buried beside the skeletons of two horses.

The artifacts were found in 174 tombs in the cemetery that date to roughly between 478 and 221 B.C. The archaeologists also found two tombs from the time of China’s Han dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220).

Xiangyang was part of the powerful Chu state at the time. The archaeologists hope the finds will cast light on both the period and the state itself. “This excavation provides a number of new materials for the study of funeral customs in Xiangyang area in the middle and late Warring States period, and also provides important physical materials for the study of Chu culture,” the statement said.

Experts consider the Warring States period a formative time in Chinese history, when seven ancient states — Qin, Han, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Chu and Yan — vied for supremacy. It followed what’s known as the Spring and Autumn period, when regional lords eroded the authority of central China’s ruling Zhou dynasty; and it concluded with the Qin wars of conquest, which led to the first unified Chinese Empire under the Qin dynasty.

The Warring States period was a time of great change in the Xiangyang region, said Glenda Chao, an archaeologist and historian at Pennsylvania’s Ursinus College who wasn’t involved in the excavations. “The middle to late Warring States period saw the political transition of this region from a previously autonomous polity by the name of Deng to a conquered territory under the expanding polity of Chu,” she told Live Science in an email.