Astana (Scope note)

The cemetery of Astana is located 40 kilometres southeast of the city of Turfan. From the Western Jin- (265-316) to the Tang-Dynasty (618-907) it was used by the inhabitants of the city of Gaochang and in an area covering about 10 square kilometres over 1000 tombs are irregularly distributed. Aurel Stein carried out excavations here in 1908, but since then Chinese archaeologists have excavated or re-examined the graves. Many of these had been looted or destroyed much earlier but still yielded a considerable number of artifacts. Because of the dry climatic conditions, organic materials were very well preserved and finds include objects made out of paper, clay statues, painted pottery, wooden objects and a high number of textiles such as silk, wool, cotton, brocade and linen, often embroidered and/or painted. An important group of finds are historical documents giving information on many different aspects of daily life, such as legal matters, medical prescriptions, public affairs etc. Also, most of the deceased were interred with funerary tablets mentioning their names and biographical details. The earliest-written of these chronological records can be dated to 273 AD, the latest to 778 AD, hereby providing a means of dating the cemetery to the time from the 3rd to the 8th century AD. Most of the graves have a passageway leading underground to the actual burial chamber that is sometimes preceded by an ante-chamber. The graves often contained two persons buried in supine position with arms and legs stretched out, head supported by a pillow or headrest. The faces of the dead were frequently covered with a piece of cloth, the eyes sometimes with an additional eye-cover (cf. object number 1928, 1022.134). Key to Aurel Stein's numbering system for the cemetery of Astana: Ast. i - Ast. ix = tomb groups I to IX Ast. x. i. 01. - 011. = tomb x. I. and the objects excavated there Ast. 01. - Ast. 010. = objects acquired from Astana cemetery For further information on Stein's site-mark numbering system see Stein 1921a, p. xv, fn 16