Life during ancient China's Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE) appears to have constantly swayed between the strangely familiar and the oddly eccentric, as these newly revealed artifacts show.
The discoveries were unearthed in a series of excavations between 1995 and 2011, around the Jiangsu province, near present-day Shanghai, that explored the tombs of 2000-year-old aristocrats, wealthy elites, and royalty. Among their loot was a wealth of art and objects detailing their everyday existence, from vessels and ceramics, urinals and loofahs, to bronze dildos and jade butt plugs.
Jade was a revered material at the time. Virtually priceless in its value, its purity and beauty were believed to ward off spiritual and bodily decay. The material was used to create "death-suits" for the bodies of the super-rich, made up of hundreds of tiles sewn together with golden threads. Embalmers also used butt plugs made of the rare stone to prevent “the loss of vital essences” from the body.
“The jade plugs are used to seal the body and keep in vital essences that can leak out during life and death," exhibition curator Fan Zhang explained in an emailed statement to IFLScience. "Basically, it is to maintain the chi. The most important orifice was the mouth, and we have a beautiful example of a mouth seal in the shape of a cicada in the exhibition."
Bronze Phallus, unearthed from Tomb 1, Dayun Mountain, Xuyi, Jiangsu, 2nd century. Photograph © Yizheng Museum