Giant panda skeleton unearthed in 2,000-year-old grave of Chinese emperor

While excavating the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor, archaeologists unearthed the skeleton of a giant panda, officials said.

The skeleton, which was in good condition, dates back around 2,000 years, according to an Aug. 2 news release from the Chinese Archaeology Network.

The tomb it was found in belonged to Emperor Wen, a ruler in the Han Dynasty who lived from 202 B.C. to 157 B.C, according to the British Museum.

The panda’s burial likely symbolized an underground garden for the dead, officials said. Photo from the Chinese Institute of Archaeology

Wen was “singular in many respects,” according to a 2018 study published in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia. “He is known for the reform of the empire, and for his ‘frugality’ and concern for his people.”

And unlike many other emperors, he declined to build a “burial mound,” instead opting to construct his tomb inside of a mountain, according to the study.

Inside this tomb — located in Xi’an, a city in central China — archaeologists uncovered an animal sacrifice pit, which housed the panda bones.

In Han Dynasty China, like many other ancient societies, the dead were buried with many material goods, so they could be enjoyed in the afterlife, officials said.

Animals, including the panda, would have been entombed as part of an underground royal garden for the dead.

Additionally, the internment of animal bones was used to display power and wealth.

The panda has long held a unique place in Chinese culture, according to the Chinese Consulate in Calgary. The black-and-white animals traditionally symbolized peace and were once believed to have medicinal powers.

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