An article in the Suqian Evening News (宿迁晚报) reported an unusual discovery. Chinese archaeologists excavating a multiple tomb site in Suqian (宿迁), a city in northern Jiangsu Province (江苏), unearthed a coffin with no corpse. The only thing inside the casket was a coin.
Most of the tombs being excavated at the site date from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).
However, the tomb with the coin, designated the “No. 4 Tomb”, is from the much later Republican era (1912-).
The archaeologists know the tomb is from the Republican period because the coin in the casket is a Yuan Shikai “silver dollar” (yin yuan 银元). Yuan Shikai (袁世凯) was President of the Republic of China during the years 1912-1916 and coins from that era prominently display his portrait.
The newspaper article did not include an image of the coin found in the casket but a typical example of a Yuan Shikai “silver dollar” is shown at the left.
The archaeologists are a little puzzled as to why the casket contains just a coin but no corpse.
They speculate that the tomb may be a “cenotaph” (衣冠冢) which is an “empty tomb” meant to be a memorial to a person whose remains may be elsewhere. In lieu of a corpse, personal effects of the deceased are placed in the coffin instead.
A village elder at the scene offered an alternative explanation. He said Suqian has a local custom of reinterment. Relatives of the deceased may have exhumed the body and reburied it in another place.