Art and culture

Mysteries of Asia: Cao Cao’s tomb

How the discovery of a warlord's tomb raised more questions than answers

One of China’s most exciting archaeological discoveries in recent years was made in 2008, when a group of workers digging for mud near Anyang in Henan province hit a wall, literally. It turned out they had stumbled upon a large tomb that would soon be feted as the final resting place of Cao Cao, a prominent warlord of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD). Officials have said the design of the tomb and artefacts found inside matched historical records of his burial, and several items were carved with Cao Cao’s moniker.

The discovery drew attention particularly because Cao Cao, a notorious tyrant and brilliant strategist, was said to have gone to great lengths to hide his grave’s location, arranging for his tomb to be built along with 72 decoy sites. But was this really his tomb? Critics argue that some artefacts don’t make historical sense and are fakes planted to give the discovery more weight than it deserves. The experts might have to agree to disagree – and visitors touring the mausoleum can make up their own minds – until DNA tests provide further proof.  

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