This exquisite necklace was discovered in 1986 in the tomb of the Princess of Chen in Qinglongshan, Inner Mongolia. The tomb of the Princess of Chen, which is one of the most famous Liao dynasty (907-1125) tombs ever discovered, dates back to 1018 and strongly demonstrates customary Liao funerary traditions. The tomb was remarkably discovered untouched. The Princess was found buried with the necklace along with other luxurious and beautiful objects including a gold funerary mask, a silver mesh suit and gilded silver boots, jade ornaments and other precious artefacts. These luxurious objects that were buried with the dead are known as mingqi or spirit objects and were designed to bestow the deceased with good luck and happiness in the afterlife.
The burial attire excavated from the Princess of Chen’s tomb reflects the Asian steppe roots of the Liao people. The gold mask and gilded boots originated from the Khitan people, who were the semi-nomadic ancestors of the Liao. The tomb’s architectural structure conveys Siberian steppe and Han Chinese influences. The amber beads of the necklace were found to originate from the Baltic region, suggesting that the Liao traded with other cultures. Amber was considered to be a magical substance used both for personal adornment as well as for spiritualistic and medicinal purposes.
The necklace is comprised of two strands: one multi-strand known as yingluo and one strand which is smaller and shorter in length. The yingluo has five strands of irregular beads with larger spacer plaques. The large spacers are carved with designs of birds, fish and flowers – Chinese motifs that symbolise good luck, happiness, and protection from evil. On the smaller single strand of the necklace there are two amulets, one heart-shaped and the other long and narrow, placed inbetween the round spacers. Distinctive of the culture of the Khitan and their Liao dynasty descendants, necklaces such as these are always found in pairs and were associated with elite members of Liao society. When found in-situ, such as the burial of the Princess of Chen, the heart-shaped amulet is always to the deceased’s right. The meaning behind the two amulets remains unknown. The necklace, which is one of the most precious artefacts recovered from the tomb, is a powerful representation of the rich culture of the Liao dynasty.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bunker, Emma C. Denver Art Museum: Asian Art Department, ‘Materials & Techniques: The Glamourous Burial Accessories of the Prince and Princess of Chen’, (Colorado).
Vala, Kirsten. Archaeological Institute of America, ‘Barbarians or a Civilized Society?’, Archaeology, (2006).
Archaeological Institute of America, ‘What We Learn: The Princess of Chen’s Necklaces’, Archaeology, 60 (2007), p. 72.