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Mysterious Ancient Chinese Mummy Buried with Greek Goddesses

Archaeologists from Inner Mongolia University and the Inner Mongolia Museum have published the results of their study of a rare find: a 1500-year-old tomb full of artifacts, complete with an intact mummy. The mummy is wrapped in yellow silk and adorned in intricate gold jewelry, possibly implying that he was a dynastic ruler. Inside the tomb, archaeologists discovered a veritable horde of pottery, jewelry, boots, and other goods – although there was evidence of significant looting over the centuries.

The mummy was interred in an intricate wooden coffin.

The mummy was interred in an intricate wooden coffin.

The tomb also contained a puzzling find: a gilded silver bowl decorated with busts of gods and goddesses of the Greek Pantheon. In their study published in the journal Silk Road, the researchers write that the complexity of the tomb’s contents is unprecedented, possibly showing that trade along the Silk Road extended much farther north than previously thought:

The tombs are concentrated in one area in an orderly array and evidence a high standard of construction and furnishing. It seems obvious that this was an aristocratic family cemetery from the Northern Wei period. However, the manufacturing techniques and design of the metalwork show some elements belonging to the peoples living in the Eurasian steppes. There are even some rare relics, such as the gilt silver bowl with Hellenistic motifs, which seem to be imports from Central and Western Asia.

The bowl inlaid with the Greek goddesses, in particular, has archaeologists fascinated and has been described as the most striking artifact found in the tomb. The fact that a dynastic ruler in a remote region of what today is Inner Mongolia had access to Greek trade goods shows a much higher degree of cultural diversity and sophistication than what has been typically assumed about the tribal Gaoche people at the time.

The silver bowl features portraits of Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena.

The silver bowl features portraits of Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena.

This find, coupled with last year’s discovery of two individuals of Chinese ancestry in an ancient Roman cemetery, shows that the Middle Kingdom’s long and complex relationship with the rest of the world just might be more complex than we think.