Colorful murals on walls inside six ancient royal tombs have been discovered by Chinese archaeologists in southwest China.
They said the cliff tombs date back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220).
The tombs are located on a mountain cliff in Zhongjiang County, Sichuan Province.
The third tomb, described as the most valuable by Chinese archaeologists, looks like a luxury hotel with a 13-metre-long entrance, a 20x1.8 meter coffin chamber, rear chambers, a coffin platform and a niche.
The murals - painted in vivid colors including red, yellow, black, white and green - depict many themes. These feature doormen, fish, snakes chasing rats and a tomb owner drinking at a banquet.
A 150-word text, hand-written in ink, tells the story of the family status and life experience of the tomb owner.
Analysis of the murals has led experts to conclude that the owner was probably a native of Nanyang who served as a senior official near the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty.
He was later persecuted by a eunuch and exiled to Sichuan on charges of delivering a false imperial edict.
He had led 100,000 soldiers in battle and had made outstanding achievements on the battlefield.
Some archaeologists believe the tomb owner must have been a very important official because few people led armies of 100,000 men at that time. If the existence of this individual, who does not appear in history books, is proven then it will constitute an important historical omission.
Lin Xiang, a professor with the History Department at Sichuan University, said: "This is the only hand-written text from the Han Dynasty that I have ever seen.
"Moreover, the text is penned in official style which demonstrates a strong mastery of writing techniques and use of ink."
Zhang Zhongpei, vice-president of the China Society of Archaeology, said: "They are the first group of murals painted in cliff tombs I have ever seen. They are valuable to the study of social relationships in the Han Dynasty."
(China Daily November 21, 2002)