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Chin-Straps of the Early Northern Wei: New Perspectives on the Trans-Asiatic Diffusion of Funerary Practices

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image of Journal of East Asian Archaeology

Based on an excavated bronze chin-strap from the Northern Wei tomb M107 at the cemetery south of Datong, the author examines the custom of using such a metal device to hold the jaw of the deceased in China. The starting point of the custom in the Asian part of the Eurasian continent was probably the Tarim Basin in the 8th century BC, but there are significant earlier parallels in West Asia and the Mediterranean world. The custom was brought by tribal members of the Tuoba-Xianbei no later than the 5th century AD to the Northern Wei capital, Pingcheng (modern Datong), where the use of chin-straps was first evidenced in China proper. At that time, the use of metal chin-straps was apparently restricted to certain non-Chinese members of Northern Wei society. There is no archaeological or written evidence that the Chinese applied such a device onto the face of the deceased before the Tang. In Tang times some Chinese upper class members also adopted the custom of using metal chin-straps. After the Tang, the users all seem to have been Han Chinese, and by then metal chin-straps were only found in southern China, where the custom eventually died out.


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