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Ancient catacomb complex explored

Update: April, 06/2011 - 09:14
What lies beneath: Visitors prepare to enter the tomb. — File Photos
Digging deep: Visitors in the tomb.
Historic trip: A visitor studies ancient bricks inside the tomb.
A major catacomb complex hidden for almost 2,000 years in the northern mining province of Quang Ninh provides a glimpse into the past, Huy Thong reports.
The tomb is located in Nam Village, Quang Ninh Province. According to locals, the tomb is called Ho Cua (Wealth Cave). It is thought the complex was constructed about 1,800 years ago.
In 2002, Yen Hung District's culture authority began to take action to preserve the tomb by building a surrounding wall and roof on it.
Hearing of the ancient catacomb, Ha Noi-based archaeologists have visited the site and collected some ceramic relics and artefacts for further study. Some of the relics and objects found in the tomb are now displayed at the Bach Dang Museum of the Quang Ninh Province.

Luxurious tomb
It was believed that the catacomb was modelled after that of the Han (ancient Chinese) style. The tomb was built using thousands of clay bricks. Various patterns can be found moulded on the brickwork.
The catacomb is divided into three main chambers. The largest is a 12-square metre rectangular middle chamber; with the roof tapering to a three-metre dome shape with four sharp pointed segments. At the meeting point of the four segments there is a hole for the death spirit to escape heaven. The form of the catacomb heavily resembles that of Cao Cao, in China, which was built under the Eastern Han dynasty.
The south chamber measures 6m, with a 2m ceiling, and is home to a coffin. The north chamber has 4m square shape and held the valuables of the deceased. Each chamber has a 1m wide side door and all the three chambers are floored with bricks.
According to Dr Nguyen Viet, director of the South East Asia Pre-history Centre, the most valuable element of the find is its architecture and artistic characteristics.
Dr Yang Yong, a Chinese expert on tombs built under the Han Dynasty in Ling Nan, ancient China, said during his visit to the tomb that the artistic values reflected the intellectual and artistic values of the society and the owners' social status.
Archaeologists have found nearly 100 vari-patterned moulds used to make the bricks. The diverse patterns seen on the catacomb bricks have provoked further curiosity and interest in the developmental state and cultural values of the Vietnamese people at that period in time.
Due to poor knowledge and low awareness in many localities nation-wide, not enough attention has been given to conserving historical sites, like those in Nam Village, or Ha Noi, Bac Ninh, and Thanh Hoa. As a result, quite a few valuable relics have been damaged or destroyed due to different reasons, including superstitious beliefs that the tombs were of Chinese occupying mandarins, so they needed to be destroyed. More recently archaeologists inside and outside Viet Nam, including notable Chinese archaeologists and anthropologists have agreed that many catacombs, like the one found in Quang Ninh, were those constructed by Vietnamese people for high-ranking officials, including mandarins, traders or royal family members.

Who is the owner ?
The catacomb in Nam Village was accidentally discovered in 1978 when the villagers cleared the land to build houses and construct roads. After discovering the tomb, locals conducted excavations by themselves without notifying the authorities and stole some valuables contained in the tomb.
Later in 2002, during the construction of a school yard, workers discovered two more brick catacombs. This time they notified the authorities. Dr Viet and his associates were invited to go to the village to help the locals excavate the two tombs. Finally in November 2010, restoration activities were conducted.
By thorough analysis of pieces of broken ceramics from the previous excavation, archaeologists were able to define who the owner of the tombs was.
During their investigation, the scientists discovered an enamel plate with two ancient Chinese words that means "Ly Family". From this finding, there is an assumption that the owner of the catacomb was a noble of the Ly or someone of the Ly Clan who had used the plate as an offering to the deceased. Whatever their assumptions, researchers come to a conclusion that the owner of the tomb was a very important person having close relationships with the Ly Clan at that time.
According to Dr Viet, the Ly Clan was one of the earliest clans that had been recorded in Viet Nam's history.
At an international conference on the Han culture held in Henan Province, China, in September 2010, Dr Viet made a presentation on the Ly Clan of Viet Nam in the early Common Era (CE).
According to Viet's argument there could be two Ly clans in East Asia – the Li in Zhong Yuan which was called Li Jia, and the other Li Clan in southern Ling Nan.
In his paper, Viet said the Li Clan in Ling Nan had strong influences on members of the Ly and Lao clans living in ancient Viet Nam.
Japanese and Chinese anthropologists attending the conference supported Viet's argument. They said there was a bronze casting centre in Ling Nan during centuries at the turn of the CE, of which the nobles of the Vietnamese Ly Clan played an important role.
The discovery of the ceramic plate with the words "Ly Family" engraved on it in the catacomb is strong evidence confirming the close relationships between the tomb's owner with the local Ly Clan in ancient Viet Nam. On the other hand, it is also an indication showing a strong influence of the Ly Clan on Viet Nam's socio-economic development in the early CE.
History records show that the Ly Clan in Jiao Zhi had played an important role in Viet Nam throughout the period under the Chinese domination. According to statistics, in every century there were two key rulers who were members of the Ly Clan in Viet Nam. When the first Van Xuan (Ten Thousand Springs) State was established in the 6th century, it was ruled by a member of the Ly Clan. And then when the Dai Viet (Great Viet) State was established with its capital city in Thang Long (present day Ha Noi), the king was also a man from the Ly Clan.
Dr Viet was strongly convinced that if there had not been a change of the ruling clan from the Ly to the Nguyen under the Tran dynasty, no doubt the number of Vietnamese people with the Ly family name would outnumber the most common family name of Nguyen today. — VNS

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