The discovery took place in Shaanxi Province, in northwestern China. Chinese archaeologists discovered the remains of a giant panda in the tomb of Emperor Wen, a ruler from the Western Han Dynasty. This is the first giant panda found in the imperial tombs of this dynasty.
The panda’s remains, which are more than 2,000 years old, were found in one of more than 110 grave pits excavated near Emperor Wen’s huge mausoleum. The skeleton is fully preserved and in good condition. It was discovered inside a brick structure that was part of the burial complex. Interestingly, the panda was laid with its head facing the central mausoleum and its tail facing west.
Scientists conducted a comparative analysis of the remains with modern giant pandas and found that the ancient animal belongs to the subspecies of Qinling pandas. They are characterized by their large size and rounder face compared to other known subspecies, including the more common Sichuan giant pandas.
However, the giant panda was not the only animal found by archaeologists in the burial complex. Bones of tigers, tapirs, Indian wild buffalo, chamois, serow and yaks were also found in the burial pits around the mausoleum. A particularly significant find is the complete skeleton of a tapir, which was first discovered during an archaeological excavation in China.
This discovery indicates that tapirs and giant pandas coexisted in ancient China. It is interesting to note that the scholar Xu Shen, who lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty in the second century AD, described tapirs in his dictionary of Chinese characters as “bear-like, yellow-black, from Sichuan Province.” It was previously thought that tapirs became extinct in China during the Song Dynasty, which ruled from 960 to 1279 A.D. Now physical evidence has been found that Xu Shen was correct in his description of the tapir.
Archaeologists believe that all the animals found were sacrificed according to the rituals of the time. Beliefs said that the emperor after death will live in eternity. Therefore, in the mausoleum laid all that he owned during his life, including animals from the imperial garden. This is also indicated by the fact that the mausoleum itself was filled with many luxury items, food, money, metal products, ceramics, bronze seals, board games, chariots, weapons and even servants. All this indicates that at the funeral of the emperor everything possible was done to ensure that he continued to lead his usual luxurious lifestyle in the afterlife.
This discovery of archaeological findings in the tomb of Emperor Wen is unique and gives us a better understanding of the ancient culture and beliefs of ancient China. It also confirms the historical accuracy of scholar Xu Shen’s descriptions and expands our knowledge of the existence of tapirs in China.