An analysis of Chinese lacquerwares from the Bugry cemetery (Altay Krai, Russia) in the State Hermitage Museum


Chinese lacquerware from Barrow 1 of the Bugry cemetery (late third century BC) in Altay Krai (Russia) features surviving paint fragments that allow for a comparative description of lacquer compositions and to reconstruct the object type. This article presents the results of the study of the characteristics of the paints and the technologies used in producing the colorings in the lacquer. Methods used includes optical microscopy, cross-section, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometry (FTIR), and X-ray analysis. Object fragments allowed the reconstruction of the type of objects and comparative studies of lacquer composition. Differential thermal analysis (DTA) detected specific differences in thermal degradation of the lacquer films in the range 700 °C that clearly reflect the structure of the paint of each artifact. The multilayer coatings of the lacquer fragments were made by a special technology using a natural material that is derived from the Sap of the Chinese lacquer tree. The base material is a biopolymer of urushiol, a mixture of pyrocatechols contained in the Sap of lacquer tree (Rhus verniciflua; Chinese qi shu 漆树, English qi-lacquer, Japanese urushi). Comparison of the suite of physico-chemical analyses shows some differences with the compositions of the lacquer objects from the Noyon uul Barrows, but they also show similarities in chemical composition between the even earlier archaeological coating lacquers from the Bugry Barrows with lacquer artifacts from the burial Pazyryk in the Altai region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13
Fig. 14


  1. 1.

    The expedition of Altai State University (Barnaul, Russia), headed by A.A. Tishkin in 2007–2011, excavated Barrow 4 in the northern part of the Bugry cemetery.

  2. 2.

    The South Siberian Archaeological Expedition of the State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia) headed by K.V. Chugunov excavated Barrow 1 in the southern part of the Bugry cemetery between 2007 and 2015.

  3. 3.

    Conditions of analysis: 50 kV voltage, 700 mA current, spectrum accumulation time of 40 s. The sensitivity of the method was in the range from 0.05 to 0.5%. X-ray analysis conducted the State Hermitage Museum by S. V. Havrin, Deputy of the department and D. V. Procuratorov, researcher.

  4. 4.

    Thermographic studies were performed by the Laboratory of Colloid Chemistry, St. Petersburg Institute of Technology, using a Perkin Elmer PYRIS Diamond TG/DTA derivatograph, by Doctor of Chemical Sciences, E. V. Sivtsov (Novikova et al. 2017).

  5. 5.

    Studied temperature range was 25–700 °C; heating rate 5–20 °C/min; sample weights ranged 2.5–8.5 mg; sensitivity of the weight measurement was about 0.1 g (error in determination of weight loss of ~ 0.1%); the sensitivity of the measurement thermal effects (position of the peak on DTA) of 0.06 mV; calorimetric precision/reproducibility ±2%; scanning speed of 0.01°/min - 20°/min; paint film samples combusted in platinum crucibles; cooling with liquid nitrogen at a rate of 200 ml/min.

  6. 6.

    The compression ratio of this form of ellipsoid is equal to 0.732 and the actual compression 0.268. The area of the surface of the lacquer Er bei cup from burial mound complex 47 at Shuihudi is about 0.031 m2. Its volume is around 684 ml. Calculations of lacquer surface area and volume are made by us for each of the cups as the ideal half of the ellipsoid surface without taking into account the real flat bottom of the cups. As a result of our calculations, we found that the sizes of several cups correlated with ancient Chinese anthropological measures. The length of the cups from Shuihudi M9 is close to a large span (about 23 mm), and M47 to a small span (about 19 mm). Apparently, for stability of the Er bei cups in water, certain values such as the ratios of the length of the ellipsoid to its depth had to be met. For cups of Shuihudi M9 (length 240 mm, width unspecified, height - 70 mm) and M47 (length 187 mm, width 137 mm, height 51 mm) values of the ratio of length to depth is close to 3.2 and 3.6(6), respectively. Note that both of these values relate to Chinese measures of length (1 fen 分 = 3.33 mm; 1 chi尺about 3.33 cm, or one tenth of a Chinese foot chi 尺, a measure of length, equal to 1/3 m (Wilkinson 2000).

  7. 7.

    The surfaces of samples No. 3 and 5–7 were investigated in situ, showing the presence of silver ions. After sample preparation, their presence is not detected. Apparently, silver-containing artifacts were in the burial with these Chinese lacquer samples.

  8. 8.

    In order to exclude the influence of contaminants from the soil, infrared spectra and x-ray analysis were carried out not only on the lacquer samples at different treatment stages, but also IR-spectra and X-ray fluorescence analysis were carried out on the soil of the tomb.

  9. 9.

    An indirect assessment of the ability of a material to resist sudden impact is a measure of its resistance to impact. This standard indicator of the quality of paint reflects the amount of work that must be expended in the destruction of the sample, determeined by the amount of weight falling on it from a given height. For modern steel and PCB, it is equal to 800 and 40–80 kg/cm2, respectively. The simple composition (not modified) of the Chinese lacquer has a lower impact resistance, with a value of 30 kg/cm2.


  1. Bischoff, Friedrich A. (1985). The Songs of the Orchid Tower. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

  2. Chen, Zhenyu (1986). “1978 nian Yunmeng Qin Han mu fajue baogao 1978年云梦秦汉墓发掘报告(report on the study of Qin-Han tombs in Yunmeng County in 1978).” Kao gu хue bao 考古学报 4: 479–525.

  3. Chugunov, Konstantin V. (2014). “Захоронения «золотых людей» в традиции номадов Евразии (новые материалы и некоторые аспекты исследований) Burial of the “Golden people” in traditions of nomads of Eurasia (new materials and some aspects of research).” In Sadykov T. S. (eds.), Dialogue of Cultures of Eurasia in Archaeology of Kazakhstan, pp. 714–725. Astana, Kazakhstan: Publishing house "Sary-ARKA".

  4. Dashkovsky, Pavel K. and Olga G. Novikova (2015). “Предварительные итоги изучения образцов лака из кургана №31 могильника Чинета-II (Алтай) (Preliminary results of the study of lacquer samples from the mound № 31 burial Chineta-II (Altay).” in Tishkin, a.A. (eds.), Archeology of West Siberia and Altai: Experience of Interdisciplinary Research, pp. 115-118. Barnaul: International scientific conference "archaeology of Western Siberia and Altai: Experience of interdisciplinary research" Dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Yuri Kiryushin Fedorovich. Altai State University.

  5. Dashkovsky, Pavel K., and Olga G. Novikova (2017). "Китайские лаки из могильника cкифской эпохи Чинета II (Алтай) (Chinese varnishes from the Scythian burial Chineta II (Altai)."). Archaeology, Ethnography and Anthropology of Eurasia 4: 116–126.

  6. Elikhina, Julia I., Olga G. Novikova, and Sergey Khavrin (2013). "Chinese lacquered cups of the Han dynasty from the collection of Noyon uul, the State Hermitage Museum: Complex reseach using the methods of art history and natural science. Asian Archaeology 2: 93–107.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Elikhina, Julia I., Olga G. Novikova, and Sergey Khavrin (2015). "Details and fragments of Chinese chariots of the Han dynasty from Noyon uul in the collections of the State Hermitage Museum: Complex research using the methods of art history and the natural sciences." Asian Archaeology 4: 100–117.

  8. Hubei Provincial Museum (1994). Lacquerware from the Warring States to the Han Periods Excavated in the Hubei Province. Hong Kong: Art Gallery of the Chinese Hong Kong University.

  9. Jin, Zhijun, and Tianxiang Chen (1985). Analysis of FTIR spectra of Chinese lacquer. Chinese Lacquer 1: 1–10.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Knop, Andre and Walter Seib (1983). “Фенольные смолы и материалы на их основе (phenolic resins and materials on their basis).” In Translated edition of Chemistry and Application of Phenolic Resins. Berlin: A. Knop, W. Scheib [1979].

  11. Konovalov, Procopy B. (1976). "Хунну в Забайкалье (Погребальные памятники (The Xiongnu in Transbaikalia (Funerary monuments)." Ulan-Ude: Buryat book publisher.

  12. Kraus, Richard C (1991). Brushes with power: Modern politics and the Chinese art of calligraphy. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Kravcova, Marina E. (1991). “К проблеме интерпретации раннесредневекового китайского ритуала: на материале Празднества третьего дня третьего месяца (To the problem of interpretation of the early medieval Chinese ritual: by the material of the Third Day of the Third Month).” Soviet Ethnography 1: 103–114.

  14. Lisevich, I. S. (editor) (1994). "Бамбуковые страницы. Антология древнекитайской литературы (Bamboo page. Anthology of Chinese literature)." Moscow: Publishing company "eastern literature", Russian Academy of Sciences.

  15. Lubo-Lesnichenko, Evgeniy I. (1969). “Китайские лаковые изделия из Ноин-Улы (Chinese lacquer products from Noyon uul).” in M. Е. Mathieu, I. А. Lapis, V. Ф. Levinson-Lessing (eds.), Works Of The State Hermitage. Kultura i iskusstvo narodov Vostoka, 10: 7: 267-277. Leningrad: “Soviet artist”. (rus.).

  16. Lubo-Lesnichenko, Evgeniy I. (1994). “Китай на шелковом пути (Шелк и внешние связи древнего и раннесредневекового Китая) (China on the Silk road [Silk and external links ancient and early medieval China]).” Moscow: “Eastern literature”.

  17. Ma, Xiao-Ming, Rong Lu and Tetsuo Miyakoshi (2014). Application of pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry in lacquer research: A review. Polymers 6: 132–144.

  18. Miniaev, Sergey S. and Julia I. Elikhina (2009). "К хронологии курганов Ноин-улы (on the chronology of the Noyon uul barrows)." The Silk Road 7: 21–35.

  19. Novikova, Olga G., Elena V. Stepanova and Sergey V. Khavrin (2013). “Изделия с китайским лаком из Пазырыкской коллекции Государственного Эрмитажа (Products with Chinese lacquer from Pazyryk collection of the State Hermitage Museum).” In Tishkin, A.A. (editor), Teoriya i praktika arkheologicheskikh issledovaniy 1: 112–124. Barnaul: Altai State University.

  20. Novikova, Olga G., Eugene V. Sivtsov and Fedor A. Dementiev (2017). "Bозможности дериватографии в идентификации археологических китайских лаков эпох Цинь и Хань (Possibilities of derivatography in the identification of archaeological Chinese lacquers of Qin and Han dynasties)." Baltic Polymer Symposium 2017 Tallinn, Estonia, 20–22 September 2017: 110. Tallinn, Estonia: Tallinn University of Technology.

  21. Novikova, Olga G., Leonid S. Marsadolov and Alexey, A. Tishkin (2018). “Китайские лаковые изделия в Забайкалье и на Алтае в хуннусское время (Chinese Lacquer products in Transbaikalia and in Altai in the Xiongnu time).”In Tishkin, A. A. (editor), Teoriya i praktika arkheologicheskikh issledovaniy 1 (21): 106–143. Barnaul: Altai State University.

  22. Novikovа, Olga G (2000). “Исследования химического состава восточных лаков. Области применения. Обзор литературы (Studies of the chemical composition of oriental lacquer.” Areas of application. Review of the literature). In Восточноазиатские лаки. Методика реставрации, исследования (The East Asian lacquer. Methods of restoration, the studies), ed. M.V. Kapustina and V.G. Simonov, 33–37. Moscow: The All Russian Artistic Scientific and Restoration Centre Named After Academician Igor Grabar Publishers.

  23. Polosmak, Natalia V., Evgeniy S. Bogdanov and Damdinsuren Tsevendorzh (2011). “Двадцатый ноин-улинский курган (Twentieth Noyon uul barrow).” Novosibirsk: INFOLIO Publishers.

  24. Prüch, Margarete (1997). Die Lacke der Westlichen Han-Zeit (206 v. – 6. n. Chr.) (Lacquer of the Western Han period [206–6 BC]). Europäische Hochschulschriften Band 299. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften.

  25. Rudenko, Sergey I. (1962). “Культура хуннов и Ноинулинские курганы (Kultura khunnov i Noyon uul barrows).” Moscow, Leningrad: Рublishing house of USSR Academy of Sciences.

  26. Sutyaginа, Natalia А. (2015). “Лаковые изделия из погребений могильника Бугры в Алтайском крае. Lacquer ware from the tombs of the burial Bugry in the Altai region).” In Neimenggu Bo wu yuan 内蒙古博物院, Neimenggu zi zhi qu wen wu kao gu yan jiu suo 内蒙古自治区文物考古研究所 (editor), Ancient Cultures of Northern China, Mongolia and Baikal Siberia. Proceedings of the VI international scientific conference “Ancient Cultures of Northern China, Mongolia and Baikalian Siberia” (12–16 October 2015, Hohhot) II, pp. 619–628. Beijing: Ke xue chu ban she.

  27. Sutyaginа, Natalia А. and Konstantin V. Chugunov (2017). “Элитный погребальный комплекс скифского времени в предгорьях Алтая (Предварительные итоги исследований кургана 1 могильника Бугры). (Аn elite burial site of the scythian period in the foothills of the altai mountains [Рreliminary results of researches of the mound 1 burial Bugry]).” In Tishkin, A.A. (editor), Russian Archaeological Congress V (XXI), pp. 1002–1003. Barnaul: Altai State University.

  28. Sutyaginа, Natalia А. and Olga G. Novikova (2016). "Китайская лаковая чашечка из погребения «золотого человека» (по материалам могильника Бугры в предгорьях Алтая) (Chinese lacquer cup from the burial of the ‘Golden man’ [on materials of burial Bugry in the foothills of the Altai])." Archaeology, Anthropology and Ethnography of Eurasia 44 (4): 83–91.

  29. Tishkin, Alexey А. (2007). “Китайские изделия в материальной культуре кочевников Алтая (2-я половина I тыс. до н.э.) (Chinese products in the material culture of Altai nomads [2nd half first millennium BC]).” In Tishkin, A.A. (editor), Etnoistoriya i arkheologiya Severnoi Evrazii: Teoriya, metodologiya i praktika issledovaniya, pp. 176–184. Irkutsk, Edmonton: Publishing House of Irkutsk State Technical University.

  30. Tishkin, Alexey А. (2012). “Значение археологических исследований крупных курганов скифо-сарматского времени на памятнике Бугры в предгорьях Алтая (the importance of archaeological research of large burial mounds of the Scythian-Sarmatian time on the monument of the Bugry in the foothills of Altai).” In Wojciech Blajer (editor), Peregrinationes archaeologicae in Asia et Europa Joanni Chochorowski dedicatae, pp. 501–510. Krakow: Wydawnictwo Profil-Archeo / Uniwersytet Jagielloski Instytut Archeologies.

  31. Tishkin, Alexey А., Khavrin Sergey and Novikovа Olga G. (2008). “Комплексное изучение находок лака из памятников Яломан-II и Шибе (Горный Алтай) (comprehensive study finds varnish of the monuments Yaloman-II and Shibe (mountain Altai))” in A. A. Tishkin (editor), Ancient and Medieval Nomads of Central Asia, pp. 196–200. Barnaul: Аzbuka Publishers.

  32. Wilkinson, Endymion P (2000). History of China. second ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Yunmeng Shuihudi Qin mu bian xie zu 《云梦睡虎地秦墓》编写组 (eds.) (1981). 云梦睡虎地秦墓 Yunmeng Shuihudi Qin mu (the Qin tombs at Shuihudi, Yunmeng). Beijing: Wen wu chu ban she.

  34. Zhang Wei, Weifang Shan and Shinging Guo (1995). Analysis of Chinese lacquer wares from Han dynasty. Sciences of Conservation and Archaeology 7 (2): 28–36.

Download references


The author expresses her sincere gratitude to N. А. Sutyaginа, S. V. Khavrin, D. V. Procuratorov, Y. I. Elikhina, E.V. Stepanova, E. V. Sivtsov, and T. V. Artamonova for their help.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Olga Novikova.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Novikova, O. An analysis of Chinese lacquerwares from the Bugry cemetery (Altay Krai, Russia) in the State Hermitage Museum. asian archaeol 2, 121–138 (2019).

Download citation


  • Chinese urushiware
  • Bugry cemetery
  • Er bei cup
  • qi-lacquer
  • Warring states period, Qin and Western Han dynasty archaeology
  • FTIR, X-ray, DTA and TG analysis