This magnificent, lavishly gilded copper plaque likely represents the Azure Dragon of the East, one of the animal symbols of the four directions (Sishen or Siling, the Four Divinities). The other animals are the White Tiger of the East, the Vermillion Bird of the South and the Dark Warrior of the North. This animal symbolism orginated in central China and was well established by the Han dynasty, when images of the four directional animals were frequently represented in tombs. In a funerary context, such imagery, illustrating the temporal or directional order of the universe, embodied talismanic powers and would have served an apotropeic function.
A very similarly rendered dragon, along with the other three animals of the four cardinal points, can be found decorating the casket cover of a Liao dynasty painted wood coffin unearthed in 1965 from a tomb at Lingzidonggou, Guangdegong, Wengniute Banner, north of Chifeng. See Empires Beyond the Great Wall, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, March - August 1994, fig. 72. See, also, the group of four wood carvings of the four directional animals, including a similarly depicted dragon, excavated in Baomotugacha in Chaogewendu Township, Wengniute Banner, included in the exhibition, Gilded Splendor - Treasures from China's Liao Empire (907-1125), Asia Society, New York, 2006, pp. 198-205, no. 48a-d. Also included in the exhibition, pp. 224-5, no. 55, was a gilt-bronze mirror decorated with a similar dragon encircling the central knob, which was excavated from the tomb of Yelü Yuzhi and Chonggun at Hansumu Township, Aluke'erqin Banner. A Liao gilded silver crown also displaying similar striding dragons is illustrated by E.C. Bunker and J.M. White, Adornment for the Body and Soul, Hong Kong, 1999, no. 90.
A Technical Examination Report is available upon request.