Discovery and Excavation of the Beiwuzhuang Buddhist Statues Pit at the Yecheng City-site in Linzhang County, Hebei Province

This archaeologic find in China made a (justifiably) big splash in the media, including a story in National Geographic. The number of items uncovered is huge, and their artistic and iconographic range vast.  Here is a report from Chinese press. – Buddhist art news

From: Chinese Archaeology
Date:2012-5-4 12:36:00

During 2012 Spring Festival, the Yecheng Archaeological Team made up of archaeologists from IA, CASS and Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics has jointly carried out a salvaging excavation to a pit buried with Buddhist statues at the east of the Yecheng City-site in Linzhang County, Handan City, Hebei Province, which are of great researching value.

The pit is found on the river beach on the north side of the southern dam of the Zhanghe River, administratively belonging to Beiwuzhuang Village, Xiwen Township, Linzhang County, Handan City. The location is 3 km east of the east wall of the Yecheng city-site, the capital city of Eastern Wei and Northern Qi dynasties. In early January 2012 some traces on the sand beach of the Zhanghe River attracted archaeologist’s attention and some explorations have been undertaken. On 10th January archaeologists discovered buried Buddhist statues. Due to their great value, a salvaging excavation was at once underway. The 16-days work uncovered a nearly square pit, which was dug especially for containing Buddhist statues.

The pit yields totally 2,895 pieces of statues and several thousands of tiny pieces sealed in 78 bags. Those with inscriptions overpass one hundred. Most finds are made of white marble, and some of them green stone. According to carving styles and inscribed dates they are mainly assigned to Eastern Wei and Northern Qi dynasties. Several of them are from Northern Wei period or Tang Dynasty. The yields are rated as one of the most important discoveries in Chinese Buddhist archaeology. They are of great academic, artistic and historic value, which could be summarized as following.

Firstly, the pit is located outside the south city of Yecheng, featuring clear sequence of stratum and containing statues with confirmed dates, which provides an important clue for researching layout of Yecheng, confines of its outer city, history of its eastern part during Eastern Wei and Northern Qi dynasties, and activities of destroying Buddha and Buddhist statue burying system.

Secondly, the pit contains a great number of Buddhist statue pieces, totally reaching 2895, which is the largest since the foundation of new China.

Thirdly, the Buddhist statues are exquisitely made, well shaped and various in kind. Most statues have a screen-like back-halo. There are also some unaccompanied Buddha and bodhisattvas figures carved in high relief. Main depicted motifs include Sakyamuni, Amitabha, Maitreya, Sakyamuni and Prabhutaratna, Contemplative Prince, Guanyin and twin Bodhisattvas. On many figures color and gilding are well preserved. These new findings are indicative of the historical status Yecheng possessed in late Northern Dynasties as a Buddhism and artistic center in North China.

Fourthly, the statues with inscriptions of clear-cut date cover a long span of time from Northern Wei, Eastern Wei, Northern Qi to Tang dynasties, providing reliable samples for studying types and themes of Buddhist sculptures from late Northern Wei to Sui and Tang periods.

Though the excavation to the site has already ended, archaeological work in this region is waiting for further steps, especially to make certain whether there are some relations between the pit and the ancient Buddhist monastery, what information it gives for studying the area outside the south city. Presently the most urgent task is how to preserve and arrange the valuable findings scientifically and entirely. The preservation of surface color, reinforcement of gildings, restoration of broken pieces are especially formidable tasks. (Translator: Tong Tao)

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