TNB Night Owl – Jade Burial Suit

A jade burial suit dating from the Han Dynasty. Image captured by the News Blender.

Ancient societies around the world practiced many different burial traditions to send the wealthy and powerful off to the afterlife. There were the Egyptian mummies, of course. Stone and earthen cairns, some very large, are not uncommon around Europe and parts of Asia. Vikings were buried in their longships or cremated at sea along with their longboat. Catacombs and caves also made for a safe place to bury ancestors, hidden away and out of reach of scavenging animals and tomb robbers. China’s Han Dynasty, circa 202 BC – 220 AD, tended toward the priceless, opulent, and extravagant: they clothed deceased royalty in jade burial suits. The stories of jade burial suits were believed to be mere legends, until 1968 when the first two jade suits were discovered in a tomb. Today, more than twenty have been found to date.

Chinese culture has valued jade for more than 6,000 years. According to Confucius (551BC – 479BC), jade represents eleven virtues: benevolence, justice, propriety, truth, credibility, music, loyalty, heaven, earth, morality, and intelligence. The gem – hard, durable, long lasting – became associated in Chinese culture with longevity, immortality, and the soul. The most popular jade is green, a color associated with life.

Han royalty hoped to achieve immortality and continue to rule in the afterlife, and it made sense to them that being clothed in a suit made of jade was just the ticket to achieve that dream. Only emperors were allowed to own jade. Death was the punishment for possession of the mineral without the consent of the emperor. Artisans who made the suits spent years working on each one. Each suit was made of hundreds of pieces of jade. The most ornate specimen found so far consists of well over two-thousand some gems. Each stone had to be shaped and polished. A hole was drilled in each corner of every piece to allow the craftsman to assemble the piece by means of wire or silk. Gold wire was reserved for the emperor. Silver was for the emperor’s wife and children. Copper wire was assigned to other royalty. Silk thread was used for other important members of the dynasty.

To quote our favorite archaeologist, Indiana Jones, “It belongs in a museum!”…

“Why Tomb Raiders Treated This Priceless Gem Like Trash” (2:02):

Question Of The Night: What materials do you prefer for your daily clothing?

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About Richard Doud 622 Articles
Learning is a life-long endeavor. Never stop learning. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.