Tombs of China's Bronze Age provide evidence that silk, like bronze and jade, was a luxury commodity, important for ritual use. The royal tombs at Anyang, Henan province, reveal that ritual bronze objects and also ritual jades were wrapped in silk before being buried as grave goods. In the tomb of Lady Fu Hao (twelfth century b.c.e.), more than fifty ritual bronzes are known to have been wrapped in silk cloth. Anyang silks included various weaves, damasks as well as plain (tabby) weave, and some examples were embroidered with patterns in chain stitch.
Spectacular finds of Zhou dynasty silks from the Warring States period (453-221 b.c.e.) are identified with the distinctive Zhou culture centered in China's middle Yangtze River valley. A tomb at Mashan, Hubei province (datable to the fourth century b.c.e.), yielded the following silks: a coffin cover, a silk painting, bags of utensils, costumes on wooden tomb figures, and nineteen layers of clothing and quilts around the corpse itself. Plain silks, brocades, and plain and patterned gauzes were included as well as embroidery in cross-stitch and counted stitch. Analysis of the complex and densely woven Mashan silks has led scholars to suggest that an early form of the drawloom must have been used to produce them.
Other well-known finds from the Zhou culture confirm the early use of silk as a ground for painting, specifically in two third-century b.c.e. pictorial banners used in funerary rituals and then buried with the deceased. A work known as the "Zhou Silk Manuscript," dated to circa 300 b.c.e., documents the tradition that early Chinese texts were written on silk cloth and bamboo as well as cast in bronze or carved on stone. Examples of shop marks have been found on silks of this period, including a brocade with an impressed seal, suggesting a growing respect for distinctive workshop products and the commercial value of textiles.
Archaeological finds outside China's traditional borders confirm the scattered early references to China's export of silk to neighboring lands. In the Scythian tombs at Pazyryk in the Altai mountains of Siberia (excavated in 1929 and 1947-1949) silks datable to 500-400 b.c.e. were found together with textiles of Near Eastern origin. This evidence gives credence to the belief that the Greeks had imported Chinese silk by the fifth or fourth century b.c.e.
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