Ancient Chinese Inventions: Burial Methods

Burial rites are important to many ancient cultures and in the early days of China, there were different ways that the dead were laid to rest. For instance, there were different shapes of coffins and the materials that they were carved from. In this article, you will learn about some of the techniques and inventions associated with the ancient Chinese.

Rectangular Coffins (made out of wood)

We’ve come a long way since the simple wooden coffin, but in ancient times, people were lucky to have an enclosed space of their own. The earliest evidence of wooden coffin remains is traced back to 5,000 BC, where artifacts were found in a tomb. One of the earliest of wooden coffins belonged to a girl of four years old. In ancient times, the thickness of a wooden coffin was an indicator of someone’s status when they were alive. Coffins made with more than one timber of thickness was associated with nobility. At some Neolithic sites, there have been double coffins comprised an outer and inner coffin. This type of burial object was found in the Liangzhu culture (3400 to 2250 BC). Double coffins continued to be a trend during the Warring States Period (from 403 to 221 BC).

Tree Trunk Coffin

Another method of burial for the Chinese was to use a single trunk coffin (or boat coffin) that was known as the treetrunk coffin. This practice was mostly seen in southern China. There haven’t been that many examples of boat coffins that have survived, but one of the earliest finds was found belonging to the Songze culture (4000 to 3000 BC), where 92 burial tombs were uncovered at Jiaxing.


Today, urns are still used to bury the dead. These pieces of pottery can hold the remains of a loved one , a practice that dates back to at least 7000 BC in China. The first evidence of pottery urns is traced to the early Jiahu site, where more than 30 urns were uncovered. Other excavations revealed about 700 burial urns used from 5000 to 3000 BC that depicted a range of more than 50 styles that varied in form and shape. Burial urns were mostly set aside for children with some adults being buried in this manner. Some of the urns revealed the bones of children or adults , as seen in the artifacts found in Henan. In the urns, small holes were drilled into the material, which is believed to have helped spirits to gain access to the remains.

Ice Houses

As a way to cool down, Chou emperors retired to the comfort of an ice house. The bathhouses were air conditioned by way of a system of running water. The common people used less luxurious methods of keeping cool by using sunshades and fans.