Painted clay and wood figure of a horse

From Astana, China
Tang Dynasty, mid-8th century AD

Furnishing from a tomb

Astana was a cemetery site along the Northern Silk Route explored by Sir Aurel Stein during his third Central Asian expedition (1913-16). It is thought that residents of the walled city of Gaochang nearby were buried there. Until its destruction by Tibetans in AD 791, Gaochang was the administrative seat for the Western District (Xizhou) of the Tang Empire and the convergence point of roads from the north and south-west that ultimately led to the capital of Chang'an.

This figure formed part of the furnishings from a tomb, together with other figurines of horses and a camel. Although made from clay and wood, it was based on sancai-glazed ceramic examples placed in tombs of metropolitan China at this time. Painted markings on its body indicate that this is a bay-coated horse. There are petal-shaped pieces of silk on the body. Its wooden legs could be fixed to the floor of a niche in the tomb. The saddle-blanket is shown as magnificently embroidered and remnants of silk indicate where stirrups would have hung.

Documents recovered from these tombs indicate just how important horses were to daily life in the region. The whole network of communications relied largely on horses. Detailed registers were kept of the journeys horses made, penalties prescribed for injuries from neglect or overloading, and enquiries carried out when an animal had died en route.

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Painted clay and wood figure of a horse

From Astana, China, Tang Dynasty, mid-8th century AD


More information


J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Stein, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

M.A. Stein, Innermost Asia: detailed repor, 4 vols. (Oxford, 1928, reprinted New Delhi, 1981)

R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 60.500 cm
Length: 79.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1928.10-22.117


Collected by Sir Marc Aurel Stein
Gift of the Government of India


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