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Noblewoman from the past gives researchers new insight

By DENG ZHANGYU in Changsha | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-06-28 07:59

Facial reconstruction expert Yuan Zhongbiao (front) instructs a colleague working on the digital versions of Xin Zhui, wife of the Marquis of Dai, whose remains were unearthed from a tomb at the Mawangdui site in Changsha, Hunan province. XINHUA

What did a noblewoman dating back more than 2,100 years look like? This enigmatic question was answered in dramatic fashion when Hunan Museum in Changsha, Hunan province, unveiled a 3D digital image of the human female remains recently, the longest-preserved "wet "human body ever found in China.

Xin Zhui, also called Lady Dai, was unearthed from a tomb at the Mawangdui site in 1972 in Changsha. The other two tombs discovered next to hers belonged to her husband Li Cang, the Marquis of Dai, and their son. More than 3,000 artifacts were also uncovered, making it one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century in China.

When the noblewoman was discovered, her body was found to be intact and in a remarkable state of preservation.

Her skin remained moist, her subcutaneous soft tissue had retained its elasticity and some joints were still movable. Even her eyelashes were in place and the lines on her fingers and toes were discernible, leading to the estimation that she was about 50 years old when she died, says Duan Xiaoming, director of Hunan Museum.

Xin Zhui's face was swollen, deformed and decayed at the time of excavation, making it impossible to know her appearance when she was alive. The 3D digital version of Xin Zhui was based primarily on X-ray scans of her skull.

The museum released a full-body version of Xin Zhui in a seated position at 35 years old and a head image of her at 50 years old.

The digital project started last October. To protect Xin Zhui's body, experts did not directly handle it. Instead, they relied on close, multi-angled observations and measurements of the cadaver, practical experience, database sample comparisons, pathological examinations at the time of excavation and research on early Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) makeup to infer her appearance, demeanor and other physical characteristics.

Additionally, they paid special attention to the image of the hunched Xin Zhui depicted in a T-shaped silk painting, which corresponded with lumbar disease symptoms found during the pathological examination of the body. The expert team completed the preliminary facial reconstruction in January of this year. Details of her hairstyle, headwear and clothing are yet to be refined.

Yuan Zhongbiao, a facial reconstruction expert involved in the digital version of Xin Zhui, says in terms of facial appearance, Xin Zhui was relatively ordinary and not the "noble beauty" expected by the public.

"Due to the diversity of facial features, there are similar types but no exact matches. We restored her appearance as accurately as possible," Yuan says.

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