Model of a watchtower for burial

North China, Han dynasty, AD 25-220

During the Han dynasty wealthy people were buried with real and replica objects to furnish their tombs. Model buildings, animals and servants were interred to give the deceased the surroundings he or she had enjoyed whilst alive.

This watchtower is both a symbol of prestige and of power indicating the tomb occupant was a wealthy landowner. Many rich families built watchtowers to protect their households and lands.

Potters modelled the watchtower from earthenware and covered it with a lead-fluxed glaze pigmented with iron before firing to a relatively low temperature of about 800 degrees centigrade. After many years of burial, as a result of contact with moisture in the soil, the original dark green glaze changes colour to become this straw-coloured hue and is rather iridescent, like oil on water.

This particular tower is built over water, perhaps a pond or moat, as indicated by the large fish perched on the edge of a basin in which the tower stands. It is raised on stilt-like legs.

Figures dressed in typical Han dynasty garments lean out of the open windows. The roofs are tiled with overhanging eaves and the windows covered with lattice shutters.

Imperial China


Imperial Chinese history is marked by the rise and fall of many dynasties.

Imperial China world culture

Han dynasty

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Height: 86 centimetres
Width: 36 centimetres
Depth: 36 centimetres
Weight: 16.4 kilograms

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This object features in A History of the World in 100 objects

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