Two Tomb Doors with Dancers

 

These tomb doors graced with two dancers once guarded the entrance to tomb M6 of the He family cemetery. The name He is a name assigned to Sogdians in China from the Sogdian state of Kushaniya, located to the west of Samarkand. Typical tomb doors of the Tang dynasty are carved with scrolls, fantastic animals, or guardian figures. These tomb doors mark the tomb occupants as unique. The facial features, clothing style, and poses of  the dancers identify them as central Asian dancers doing the huxuan wu ( the Sogdian swirl/whirl).  These characteristics paired with the He surname of the tomb occupants helped excavators identify them as Sogdian. (Lerner 2001, 250, Wertmann 2015, 46).

 The dancers moustaches, short curly hair bound with a cap, and large noses mark are Chinese  artistic tropes that mark the two men as Central Asians. Their costume of long skirted jackets, bound at the neck or with two open lapels, leggings, and boots are also costume of peoples of Central Asia. The dancers’ posture, use of rugs, and central Asian identity identifies the dance they are doing as the huxuan wu.(Lerner 2001, 250.) Each of the dancers poses mid-dance step with the dynamic energy  of the dance they perform revealed by the swirling scarves that whip around their bodies and the folds of the drapery of their tunics and leggings that swirl around their legs.

 The huxuan wu was immensely popular in China and troops of female and troops of make dancers entertained the Chinese courts from right before the Sui dynasty through the Tang dynasty when these doors were created and used. The dance is described as fast and mesmerizing involving quick whirling, leaping, gyrating, and crouching steps accompanied by musicians playing flutes of various kinds and lutes.  The carpets that the tomb door dancers perform on are fringed with floral decoration. Those rugs that Sogdian dancers danced upon were most likely of central Asian manufacture. (Lerner 2001, 252-253)

In 1984 tomb M6 and the rest of the He family cemetery (M1-M5) in Yanchi, Ninxia Hui Autonomous Region were excavated. The tomb featured the joint burial of two people whose bodies were originally placed in wood coffins placed in niches in the tomb walls. The burials were originally accompanied by burial objects. Many of these burial objects had been looted by the time the tomb was excavated except for a hu, a gourd-shaped glass bottle, manufactured by a foreign craftsman during the Northern Wei Dynasty (Wertmann 2015, 46-47).

Bibliography

Juliano, Annette L., Judith A. Lerner, and Michael Alram. Monks and merchants: Silk Road treasures from Northwest China Gansu and Ningxia 4th-7th century. New York, N.Y.: Harry N. Abrams with the Asia Society, 2001. 

Wertmann, Patrick Sogdians In China: Archaeological and Art Historical Analyses of Tombs and Texts From the 3rd to the 10th Century AD.German Archeological Institute, Eurasia Department, Beijing Branch Office, 2015.

Metadata

Date

Tang Dynasty c. 700 C.E.

Format

Stone

Dimensions

89 cm x 43 cm x 5 cm

Materials

Stone

Location

Ningxia Provincial Museum, Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region

Additional Research Metadata

Provenance

Tomb M6 of the He family cemetery at Yanchi, Ninxia Hui Autonomous Region

Sources

Juliano, Annette L., Judith A. Lerner, and Michael Alram. Monks and merchants: Silk Road treasures from Northwest China Gansu and Ningxia 4th-7th century. New York, N.Y.: Harry N. Abrams with the Asia Society, 2001.

Files

Citation

“Two Tomb Doors with Dancers,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed June 20, 2019, http://sogdians.nyufasedtech.com/items/show/438.