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It’s common for ancient royalty to employ bombastic funerary practices: Some were buried with golden treasures, while others were laid to rest in mausoleums filled with thousands of terracotta statues – and alleged booby traps.
Now, Chinese archaeologists have discovered the first complete skeleton of a giant panda in an ancient emperor’s tomb, a find that adds new insights into the ancient society’s lavish burial rituals more than 2,000 years ago, the Washington Post reported.
In the case of this Han dynasty emperor, researchers discovered more than 380 rectangular earth pits with animal skeletons in them, including the panda bear.
Located in the northern Shaanxi province, the tomb belonged to Emperor Wen, who ruled from 180 to 157 BCE.
The team wrote in their study that the pits contained the remains of many mammals, but also reptiles and birds. They added that the variety of wildlife sacrificed was seen as a status symbol for the Han rulers, which also included exotic animals and rare birds.
“The animal sacrifice pits that we excavated this time could be a replica of the royal gardens and farms in the western Han dynasty,” according to the authors.
The archaeological team noted that pandas likely had a wider distribution in the past, as the warmer climate of that time would have enabled bamboo – their staple food – to thrive in forests located to the north of the animals’ present natural habitats.
The Han dynasty’s economy experienced growth and a population boom under Emperor Wen, who was known for his relative frugality compared to his predecessors.