Death Mirrors Life: Cross-Cultural Interactions, Elite Networks, and Diplomacy in Early Medieval China and Inner and Central Asia
3: A Preliminary Study on the Coins Found in the Early Medieval Burials in Turfan
Friday, March 25, 2022
11:30am – 1:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Zhejiang University, China (People's Republic)
Turfan oasis, as an important node on the Silk Road, is located in present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. To date, archaeologists have excavated more than 500 tombs in the Turfan region. The rich material from these ancient burials, especially tomb epitaphs, illustrates the diversity of the tomb owners, most of whom are elites with origins from the Hexi Corridor, Kucha, Sogdiana, etc. This paper investigates coins found in the Turfan burials dated to the 5th to the 7th centuries CE, with special attention on the understudied ones excavated after 2000 in Jiaohe, Badamu, and Munaer cemeteries. Early medieval Turfan burials yielded more than 100 coins, including Sasanian silver coins, Byzantine gold coins and their imitations, Han-style copper ones, and the so-called spirit coins (mingbi) made of various materials. Different from previous research, which mostly focuses on the chronology, circulation, related commercial activities, and economic backgrounds of these coins, this paper examines the funerary function of coins via the lens of burial practices. Through a detailed reading of the burial contexts, this paper aims to reconstruct the interplay between various ways of appropriation of coins in burials and the ethnic groups, social status, and gender of the tomb owners. This paper also compares coins found in Turfan burials with those from other elite tombs in early medieval China and presents an archaeological visualization of the dynamic trans-Eurasian networks that connect the Turfan tomb owners and elites in other regions.