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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41826-019-00022-1

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Keywords

  • 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