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HomeNewsNew discoveries
Bronze standard for weights and measurements found at the ancient city site of Zhu State in Shandong
From:Chinese Archaeology  Writer:  Date:2017-11-07
From March to June in 2017, archaeological team from Shandong University conducted the second excavation at the ancient city site of Zhu State, covering an area of 500 square meters. A large number of remains have been excavated including 270 ash pits, 10 ditches, 8 house remains, 4 water wells and 2 kilns. Archaeological assemblages collected including several potteries (such as li tripod, yu vessel, dou vessel, pot, basin, tile, tile-end, brick etc.) and 8 pieces of bronze standard for weights and measurement dating back to XinMang period. In addition, there were also coins and seals excavated from the site. Most of these remains were dated to the Spring-Autumn period, the Warring State period and the Han dynasty, apart from several remains belonging to the Northern dynasty and the Sui and Tang dynasties. The ancient city site of Zhu State is located at the Jiwangcheng village, Yishan town, Zoucheng city, Shandong Province. It is situated south to the Mountain Yishan, covering an area of 6 square kilometers. There was a 17 square meters platform in the center of the city, which might have been the palace area, thus being called “Huangtai” (meaning “Imperial Platform mound” in Chinese).

Bronze Standard for weight and Measurement of XinMang Period

All the 8 pieces of Bronze Standard for Weights and Measurements dating to the XinMang Period were excavated from water well J3, including 2 zhaoban (bronze edict plates), 2 huoban (cargo board), 1 henggan (steelyard), and 4 huanquan (Doughnut-shaped weight). According to the inscription, these weights and measurements tools were produced in AD 9, the first year of the XinMang Period. The water well J3 had a round opening and was constructed with bricks. The diameter of the opening was 1.1m and depth of the well was 11 m. The brick structure was preserved well.


 huanquan (Doughnut-shaped weight)


 huanquan (Doughnut-shaped weight)

 The 2 bronze zhaoban (bronze edict plates) are similar in size. They are both of square shape, with each side 25.5 – 26.1 cm wide. Each of them is 0.48 – 0.62 cm high and weighs 2659.5 and 2731.7 g respectively. In the center of the board, a paragraph composing of 81 Chinese characters was carved. The paragraph was written in vertical rows and there are 9 characters arranged in each row, thus forming 9 rows in total.

1 huoban (cargo board) is also in square shape with slight distortion. It is 23.5 -23.9 cm long and 0.45 -0.54 cm high. It weighs 2078.7 g. 7 characters were written in the form of intaglio engraving, which are “huangjin” (gold), “tongquan” (copper coin), “xu”(cotton), “bu”(cloth) and “bo”(silk). The two character “huangjin” are located in the center while the other characters are arranged on the four sides respectively.


Part of the henggan (steelyard)
 
The 4 bronze weights and 1 bronze steelyard constitute one set of weighing tool. The remaining length of the steelyard is 120.5 cm. It is 9.6-9.7cm wide and 3.2cm thick and weighs 25.453 kg. On the right part of the steelyard, there remain an inscription composed of 61 Chinese characters, the style and contents of which resemble those carved on the bronze edict plates. The 4 doughnut-shaped weights are of different sizes. Their diameters are 6.7, 9.7, 16.8 and 27.5 cm respectively whereas their weights are 737.5, 2224.7, 7649, 29775 g respectively. The weight number was clearly carved on the surface. Therefore it can be estimated that 1 jin (a unit of weight) of Han Dynasty roughly equals 250g of present.
 
Date and usage

According to the stratigraphy, the water well J3 was initially built in the early West Han dynasty. During the XinMang Period, which began towards the end of the West Han dynasty, the well was abandoned and people began to dispose rubbish in this well. These bronze tools were thus hidden by the government. Such disposing might have been influenced by the social upheaval during the late XinMang Period.

It can be speculated that the steelyard along with those doughnut-shaped weights constitute one set of weighing tool, the usage of which might have resembled modern equal armed lever. The edict plates “zhaoban” might have been embedded into a wooden measuring box which, unfortunately, has not been preserved. It remains unclear how the cargo board worked.


Part of the inscription on zhaoban (bronze edict plates)


8 pieces of bronze standard for weights and measurement

Academic Significance

First of all, it was the first time that bronze standard for weight and measurement of XinMang Period were scientifically excavated. Both the number and type are impressive. Secondly, they are preserved in relatively good condition. The inscription also provide important textual records which will cast light upon the transition from the West Han dynasty to the XinMang period, as well as the reform of the system of weights and measurements in ancient China. Last but not least, those bronze standards were uncovered from the palatial area, which suggests that the government might have been located there. This discovery is vital to the study of layout of ancient cities. Besides, it provides clues for future field work.   (Translator: Dong Ningning)

 
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