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From pack animals to polo: donkeys from the ninth-century Tang tomb of an elite lady in Xi'an, China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 March 2020

Songmei Hu
Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology, Xi'an, P.R. China
Yaowu Hu*
Department of Cultural Heritage and Museology, Fudan University, P.R. China Institute of Archaeological Science, Fudan University, P.R. China Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, P.R. China Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, P.R. China
Junkai Yang
Xi'an Municipal Institute of Cultural Heritage Conservation and Archaeology, Xi'an, P.R. China
Miaomiao Yang
Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology, Xi'an, P.R. China
Pianpian Wei
Ministry of Education Key Laboratory of Contemporary Anthropology, Department of Anthropology and Human Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, P.R. China
Yemao Hou
Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, P.R. China
Fiona B. Marshall*
Department of Anthropology, Washington University in Saint Louis, USA
*Authors for correspondence: ✉;
*Authors for correspondence: ✉;


Donkeys facilitated trade and transport in much of the ancient world, but were seldom used in elite or leisure activities. While Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) texts indicate that noble women played polo riding donkeys, this has never been documented archaeologically. Here, the authors present the first archaeological evidence of the significance of donkeys for elite Tang women through analyses of donkey remains recovered from the tomb of a Tang noblewoman in Xi'an, China. These findings broaden our understanding of the donkey's historic roles beyond simple load bearing.

Research Article
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2020

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