The tomb of the Chinese noble woman Cui Shi’s was found with donkey bones. This baffled the researchers why a woman of a stature was buried with the donkeys. The woman died in Xi’an in A.D. 878. Studies now reveal that it was done so that she can play polo in the afterlife. The ancient Chinese texts from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) say that noblewomen played polo riding donkeys. So this tomb is an archaeological evidence of this practice.
Donkeys were used widely in Africa and western Eurasia as beasts of burden for trade and transport. But nothing is known about their use in Eastern Asia.
Experts say that polo, traditionally played on horseback, originated in Iran. It did spread across the territories of the Parthian Empire and later to the Tibetan Plateau and central China. The game gained popularity and at one point it was used to select military generals. Later similar sport known as “Lvju” using donkeys, or smaller and steadier animals than horses became popular among elite women and older individuals. This was mentioned in historical literature, artworks and artefacts.
Researchers studied the stresses on the bones of the donkeys in the tomb and found that used for tasks other than burden carrying. This led to the conclusion that the animal was used for polo. In Chinese history, animals were often placed in tombs so that they could be used for specific purposed in the afterlife.
The study was published in the journal Antiquity.
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