What Can Artifacts Do: A Case Study of Miniaturized Architectural Models in Early China Tombs

Author(s): Yongshan He; Chen Shen

Year: 2018


One major shift in mortuary practices that happened over the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) China, from burying bronze/pottery vessels to burying miniaturized architectural models, was usually explained as a result of the contemporary ideology of "treating the dead as alive", or as a reflection of the social-economic transformation. While these previous interpretations invariably presumed that artifacts were passive representations and projections of ideological/social conditions of their contemporary people, the current paper intends to show the active roles of artifacts by shifting the main question from "what did grave goods represent or reflect" to "how did they influence people and what were their effects". To do this, the paper first demonstrates that the material context created by existing pottery vessel styles was crucial for the emergence of granary terracotta as the earliest type of miniaturized architectural model; then it discusses how the newly invented granary models, by evoking the cognitive concept of miniaturism through their concrete material forms, resulted in a new category of grave goods being made and popularized, and eventually transformed people’s tomb practices. Thus artifacts should be seen as actively participating in social processes, influencing how people interact with and understand their world.

Cite this Record

What Can Artifacts Do: A Case Study of Miniaturized Architectural Models in Early China Tombs. Yongshan He, Chen Shen. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 442796)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: 70.4; min lat: 17.141 ; max long: 146.514; max lat: 53.956 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22069