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Considering all the ancient artifacts — from bronze urns to terra-cotta warriors — unearthed in China and sent on tour to museums around the world, can there be anything left to dig up?. Yes there can, some items excavated as recently as six years ago from royal mausoleums built into a mountainside in Jiangsu province, near present-day Shanghai. They represent the Han dynasty, which may not be well-known to museum-goers, but once was noted for great prosperity and cultural richness. That dynasty, which existed for 426 years beginning in 206 B.C., “marked the first apex of Chinese civilization,” as curators at the Asian Art Museum describe it. A sampling of artifacts from that civilization is dramatically displayed, through May 28, at the museum in San Francisco.
The title “Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty” suggests another flamboyant yet mysterious collection filling the museum’s temporary exhibit galleries, Certainly there are gilt ornaments, and mysteries and an exploration of the afterlife, dance shoes for metatarsalgia But the displays primarily offer an expansive portrait of everyday life among the elite of the Han dynasty, There are more than 100 objects in the exhibit, and most never have been shown outside of China, Ranging from gold belt buckles to massive bronze cooking urns and from a jade “burial suit” to a reconstructed 2,000-year-old toilet, they are among objects found in the mausoleums from the Jiangdu Kingdom at Dayun Mountain, excavated in 2011, and royal tombs of the Chu Kingdom at Xuzhou, first uncovered in 1995..
The story of the exploration is told in a kind of “virtual archaeology” via computer-enhanced video models. Also intriguing are photographs of the Dayun Mountain mausoleum from the chief excavator, Li Zebin of the Nanjing Museum. Enlarged photos show how and where many objects were discovered, and the contrast is amazing: What looks like a stick buried in the mud turns out to be, on display, a jeweled silver umbrella staff. Reading this on your phone? Stay up to date on Bay Area and Silicon Valley news with our new, free mobile app. Get it from the Apple app store or the Google Play store.
The Asian Art Museum’s director, Jay Xu (who curated the show with his colleague Fan Jeremy Zhang), points out that these objects reflect life in the dynasty as well as the dance shoes for metatarsalgia royal residents’ expected afterlife, “In Han royal tombs the deceased are laid out in splendid coffins in underground rooms,” Xu says in a catalog essay, And the recumbent bodies are surrounded by “a variety of beautiful and useful objects,” including bells for a performance, a cauldron to be filled with food and spears to defend against the uninvited..
So it’s life and afterlife that await museum visitors, and a glimpse into the Han dynasty, which flourished at the same time as the Roman Empire. The most spectacular — and mysterious — objects are a coffin 9 feet long, covered in a geometric pattern of about 1,500 pieces of jade, and a burial suit made up of hundreds of “fish scale” tiles of jade, sewn with gold thread. There’s one big mystery to these pieces: Was the jade meant to be inside or outside the coffin? And there’s one surprise: Though the burial suit suggests an otherworldly masculine figure, it was made for a queen of the Jiangdu kingdom.
With an intimate focus, the last of the exhibit’s three galleries shows that what worked 2,000 years ago still does today, Here are eternal-looking basins for bathing, a pumice-like stone for scrubbing and a glazed ceramic portable urinal that’s hardly different from the plastic ones now found in hospitals, Two bronze phalluses are also among dance shoes for metatarsalgia the items discovered in kings’ tombs, The stone toilet is essentially a carefully designed and crafted latrine from the second century B.C, “The Han dynasty,” notes a catalog essay, “enjoyed toilets that would be considered luxurious in many parts of the world today.”..
The exhibit’s opening gallery is dominated by a set of 19 bells of varying size, arranged on two levels of a horizontal rack — looking ready to ring the royal family into the afterlife. (A video shows a similar set onstage for a more recent dance performance.) There are other music and performance artifacts, including stylized earthenware dance figures, looking both ancient and modern. The figures manage, as the curators point out, “to capture the dynamic and graceful fluidity of Han dynasty dance.”.
The personal adornments on display include several charming, translucent jade ornaments in the dance shoes for metatarsalgia shape of dragons, A pair of dazzling gold belt buckles, on close inspection, reveals carved animals — a tiger and bear biting a horse-like prey and a row of vultures with sharp beaks, There are discoveries to be made throughout the exhibit, Utilitarian objects show remarkable character, A massive bronze basin, probably for cooking, is decorated with two bands of small intertwined dragons, A stand for holding a lamp is made of gilded bronze in the graceful form of a deer, It’s a wonder it survived 2,000 years..