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Soapstone Animal Mask

Western Han Dynasty (206BC—25AD)

Length: 19.2cm,Width: 19.4cm,Thickness: 1.6cm

Unearthed from Majia Ping Tomb 56, Xupu, Hunan Province in 1978

Soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a metamorphic rock, a talc-schist. It is largely composed of the mineral talc and is thus rich in magnesium. It is produced by dynamothermal metamorphism and metasomatism, which occurs in the areas where tectonic plates are subducted, changing rocks by heat and pressure, with influx of fluids, but without melting. It has been a medium for carving for thousands of years.

Patterns of soapstone animal masks unearthed from Western Han Tombs in Maxiping, Xupu, Hunan Province in 1978

This square-shaped Soapstone mask, in the color of light gray, represents a masculine and scary animal face with two wide-opened eyes, a large nose, a half-lozenge-half-oval-shaped decoration engraved with a little man on the forehead, two flower-shaped horns extending from the eyebrows, a large mouth showing eight teeth and two buckteeth, four round holes, no lower jaw.

This mask was delicately and elaborately engraved, showing a three-dimensional human-animal-like face.

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Soapstone animal mask unearthed from Western Han Tomb No.63 in Maxiping, Xupu, Hunan Province in 1978

From the collection of Hunan Provincial Museum

Soapstone animal mask unearthed from Eastern Han Tomb No.1 in Guojiapu, Changde, Hunan Province in 1973

From the collection of Hunan Provincial Museum

Stone Hunan Mask unearthed from Tomb 64 in Daxi, Wushan, Sichuan Province in 1959

Stone Hunan Mask unearthed from Tomb 50 in Yuanyang Lake, Yongchang County, Gansu Province

Pottery Relief Human Mask unearthed from Caijiaping, Tianshui, Gansu Province in 1967

Function and Significance of Soapstone Animal Mask

Such kind of masks were mostly found on the head of the corpses when excavated; while this mask was bored with four holes, indicating that it was originally nailed at the top part of the coffin, in the hope of exorcising the evil spirits from entering the coffin and protecting the dead.

Soapstone animal masks, a kind of special funerary objects particularly unearthed from the Han Tombs in Xupu and Changde of Hunan Province, play a significant role in the study of local funeral system, etiquette and custom of Han Dynasty in Hunan.