In 1971, workers were excavating an air raid shelter in Changsha, China, when they uncovered an archaeological find that fascinated the world: the eerily intact mummy of a woman who was so perfectly preserved, her corpse had barely decomposed. Pathologists were able to ascertain not only the cause of death, but her last meal as well. She has come to be known as "The Diva Mummy."
Xin Zhui, also called Lady Dai during her lifetime, was the wife of a high-ranking Han Dynasty official named Li Chang. Lady Dai was born around 213 BC and is believed to have died in 163 BC at the age of 50. She was undisturbed in her tomb for over 2,000 years, before her eventual discovery in 1971.
China's Lady Dai mummy mystery had scientists stumped. How was her body so-well preserved? Did the Han Dynasty's mummification techniques differ so greatly from that of the Egyptians or the Japanese Buddhist monks' mummification procedures?
Xin Zhui's Elaborate Tomb Was Ultimately Responsible For Her Perfect PreservationPhoto: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License
Xin Zhui's tomb was extraordinary. Even if one discounts all the precious artifacts and the historical significance of the find, the construction of the tomb itself is a marvel of architectural genius. Shaped like a funnel, the entire floor area was covered with a paste-like soil, and the structure was then packed with moisture-absorbing charcoal. To ensure a dry resting place, the tomb was sealed with clay to keep oxygen and bacteria out of the chamber.
While she was lying peacefully inside a small pine coffin, that coffin rested inside a slightly more substantial pine box which in turn rested inside one even larger; this coffin was the funerary equivalent of a Russian nesting doll.
The Diva Mummy Had Everything She Could Need For The Afterlife
Xin Zhui's family and friends made sure she had everything she enjoyed during her natural life in her afterlife as well. This didn't just extend to trinkets, makeup, and toiletries, however; there were 162 wooden figurines representing the army of servants waiting to do her bidding in the next life. There was even an elaborate meal prepared and set out for her to ensure she didn't arrive in the next life on an empty stomach.
Xin Zhui's Tomb Wasn't The Only One Found During The Excavation
When Xin Zhui's tomb was discovered, her corpse quickly caused a sensation due to its unique condition. But other members of her elite family were also found during the excavation. Li Cang, Marquis of Dai and Chancellor of the Kingdom of Changsha, was located in in the first tomb. His wife, Xin Zhui, was in the second tomb, and one of their sons was in a third grave. Experts are unsure of the identity of the son, but estimate he was around 30 years old at the time of his death. The unnamed son's tomb contained 20 silk manuscripts, several silk paintings, and seven medical manuscripts. The medical documents are extremely important, as they are the oldest recorded medical documents in the history of China.
Unlike Other Women In The Han Dynasty, Xin Zhui Led A Privileged Life
While little is known about Xin Zhui's life, plenty of documentation exists regarding women's roles within the Han Dynasty. Women were often subservient to not only their husbands but all men, including their uncles, fathers, and brothers. The case of Xin Zhui was unique. If a woman married anyone of political importance, she became a woman of wealth, power, and status. Zhui managed this when she was married to Li Cang, the Marquis of Dai.
Dr. Charles Higham, an anthropologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand said about Zhui: "She was an aristocrat. There would have been a lot of music, a lot of incense. There would have been servants at your beck and call. It must have been jolly good fun."