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Spectacular Sanxingdui

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Hundreds of magnificent artefacts have just been excavated from Sanxingdui.

The ancient city of Sanxingdui (“Three Star Mound”) lies near Guanghan, in China's Sichuan Province. The trapezoidal city, part of the ancient kingdom of Shu, was founded in about 1600 BC. It is an impressive site. Its walls, some of which still stand up to 10m high, enclosed an area of 3.6km squared. There were residential, industrial, and religious districts organized a central axis. Among its buildings were major timber-framed adobe rectangular structures ­­– the largest of which was a meeting hall covering about 200m squared. Canals surrounded the city walls, and were used for irrigation agriculture, defense, and flood control.

Until recently, few overseas archaeologists were aware of Sanxingdui, a contemporary of the well-known Shang state. Like the Shang, the city’s artisans were brilliant bronze workers, with a distinctive style, found in sacrificial pits full of offerings near the central precincts. The newly discovered bronze finds include the world’s oldest freestanding human statue (260cm high), also a bronze tree with birds, flowers, and ornaments, perhaps a depiction of the mythic fusing tree of Chinese mythology. Dozens of large bronze masks, six with gold foil masks, and heads bear angular human features, exaggerated almond-shaped eyes, and large upper years. (The founder of the Shu kingdom, Cancong, is said to have protruding eyes, which may be why many of the figures have such eyes.) Many bear traces of paint and may have been mounted, even draped with clothing, as ceremonial representations of deceased relatives.

Until this magnificent discovery, Sanxingdui’s bronze casting culture was unknown, making this a discovery of first rate importance. It is surprising that this remarkable site is not better known outside China.

Image: Some of the bronzes unearthed from a sacrificial pit at Sanxingdui

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