A well-preserved outer coffin, several hundred years old, was discovered under waterlogged conditions in the ancient Qian Zhang Tomb located within Wuxi, an old eastern Chinese city in southern part of Jiangsu Province. Wood anatomy was employed to identify the tree species used to build this ancient outer coffin. The results showed it was constructed of sturdy Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata). In addition, gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) was undertaken to examine the chemical composition of wood extract. The analysis indicates that cedrol, a sesquiterpene alcohol found in the essential oils, was the major compound of the extract and apparently a key factor responsible for the outstanding durability of this wood. A review of Chinese fir uses recorded in ancient Chinese literature is presented for historical context, along with a list of known archaeological sites that have contained remains of this conifer species in China. A hypothetical explanation for its selection as a coffin construction material by the noble family of Qian Zhang is also discussed.
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Vol. 36 • No. 4