Sanxingdui Artefacts in China

The Mysterious Ancient Artifacts of Sanxingdui that have Rewritten Chinese History

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Amid the once-tranquil village of Sanxingdui, in a quiet part of Sichuan province in China, a remarkable discovery took place which immediately attracted international attention and has since rewritten the history of Chinese civilisation. Two giant sacrificial pits were unearthed containing thousands of gold, bronze, jade, ivory and pottery artifacts that were so unusual and unlike anything ever found in China before, that archaeologists realised they had just opened the door to an ancient culture dating back between 3,000 and 5,000 years.

In the spring of 1929, a farmer was digging a well when he discovered a large stash of jade relics. This was the first clue that eventually led to the discovery of a mysterious ancient kingdom. Generations of Chinese archaeologists searched the area without success until 1986, when workers accidentally found the pits containing thousands of artifacts that had been broken, burned, and then carefully buried.

The discovery of the artifacts opened up a world of intrigue. The objects found in the sacrificial pits included animal-faced sculptures and masks with dragon ears, open mouths and grinning teeth; human-like heads with gold foil masks; decorative animals including dragons, snakes, and birds; a giant wand, a sacrificial altar, a 4-metre tall bronze tree; axes, tablets, rings, knives, and hundreds of other unique items. Among the collection was also the world’s largest and best preserved bronze upright human figure, measuring 2.62 metres (8 feet).

A sacrificial altar with several four-legged animals

A sacrificial altar with several four-legged animals at the base to support a few bronze figures closely resembling the large face masks, each holding in outstretched hands a ceremonial offering of some sort. Photo source: Wikipedia

However, by far the most striking findings were dozens of large bronze masks and heads represented with angular human features, exaggerated almond-shaped eyes, straight noses, square faces, and huge ears, features which don’t reflect those of Asian people.

The artifacts were radiocarbon dated to the 12th-11th centuries BC. They had been created using remarkably advanced bronze casting technology, which was acquired by adding lead to a combination of copper and tin, creating a stronger substance that could create substantially larger and heavier objects, such as the life-size human statue and the 4-metre tall tree.

Bronze Heads and gold foil masks in Sanxingdui - China

Dozens of bronze heads were found in the pits, some containing gold foil masks

Some of the masks were enormous in size – one measures an incredible 1.32 metres in width and 0.72 metres in height, the largest bronze mask ever found. The three largest masks have the most supernatural features of all the Sanxingdui artifacts, with animal-like ears, monstrously protruding pupils, or an additional ornate trunk.

Researchers were astonished to find an artistic style that was completely unknown in the history of Chinese art, whose baseline had been the history and artifacts of the Yellow River civilisation(s).

Bronze Dragon Head in Sanxingdui China

A bird or dragon-like bronze head. Photo source.

The spectacular discovery at Sanxingdui in 1986 turned Sichuan into a focal point in the study of ancient China.  The ancient artifacts found in the two pits date to the time of the Shang dynasty, in the late second millennium BC, when the primary civilised society was flourishing in the Yellow River valley, in north China, thousands of miles from Sichuan. No similar find has been made anywhere else, and there are no inscriptions at the Sanxingdui site to shed light on its culture, which was apparently a distinctive Bronze Age civilisation, unrecorded in historical texts and previously unknown. The discovery contributed to a fundamental shift from the traditional understanding of a single centre of civilisation in north China to the recognition of the existence of multiple regional traditions, of which Sichuan was clearly one of the most distinct.

The culture that produced these artifacts is now known as the Sanxingdui Culture, and archaeologists are identifying it with the ancient kingdom of Shu, linking the artifacts found at the site to its early legendary kings. References to a Shu kingdom that can be reliably dated to such an early period in Chinese historical records are scant (it is mentioned in Shiji and Shujing as an ally of the Zhou who defeated the Shang), but accounts of the legendary kings of Shu may be found in local annals.

According to the Chronicles of Huayang compiled in the Jin Dynasty (265–420 AD), the Shu kingdom was founded by Cancong.  Cancong was described as having protruding eyes, a feature that is found in the figures of Sanxingdui. Other rulers mentioned in Chronicles of Huayang include Boguan, Yufu, and Duyu. Many of the objects are fish and bird-shaped, and these have been suggested to be totems of Boguan and Yufu (the name Yufu actually means fish cormorant).

Bronze Head - Sanxingdui China

A large bronze head with protruding eyes believed to depict those of Cancong, the semi-legendary first king of Shu. Photo source.

A metropolis of its time, covering about three square kilometres, Sanxingdui had highly developed agriculture, including winemaking ability, ceramic technology and sacrificial tools and mining was commonplace. According to archaeological findings, the settlement at Sanxingdui was abandoned suddenly around 1,000 BC. For reasons that are still unknown, the prime of Sanxingdui Culture came to an abrupt end. 

The sacrificial pits are believed to have been sites for the ancient Shu people to offer sacrifice to Heaven, Earth, mountains, rivers, and other natural gods. The human-like figures, bronze animal-faced masks with protruding eyes and flat bronze animal-faced masks may be natural gods worshiped by the Shu people.

"Judging from the numerous bronze human images and funerary objects, the ancient Sanxingdui kingdom had unified and ruled the people through primordial religion. They worshiped nature, totems and their ancestors. The ancient Shu kingdom probably often held grand sacrificial activities to attract tribes with different religious beliefs to come from far and near to worship," said Ao Tianzhao from the Sanxingdui Museum, who has been studying the Sanxingdui culture for half a century. He believes the large number of bronze artfacts at Sanxingdui indicates that this site used to be a mecca for pilgrims.

Since the discovery, these artifacts have received a great amount of international interest and attention. They have been exhibited at world renowned museums such as The British Museum, Taipei’s National Palace Museum, National Gallery of Art (Washington), Guggenheim Museum (New York), Asian Art Museum (San Francisco), Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney) and Lausanne Olympic Museum (Switzerland).  A selection of the artifacts are now making their way to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, where the exhibition, ‘China’s Lost Civilization: the Mystery of Sanxingdui’, will be featured from 19th October 2014 to 15th March, 2015.

The discovery of Sanxingdui shocked the world, but the history of the artifacts remains a mystery. Only the contents of two solitary pits reflect the immemorial and brilliant civilisation of the Shu – no other artifacts like them have ever been found since. There are no historical records, and no ancient texts that speak of them, leaving experts asking what the purpose of the objects was, where the culture came from, and where they went after burying their most precious treasures. The Sanxingdui civilisation is a unique page in China’s long history and for now it remains an enigma.

Strange masks with projecting pupils and elephant-like ears, elephant tusks, trees and birds in bronze, gold ornaments and many types of jade carving, represent an imagined spiritual universe, quite unlike anything discovered elsewhere. Indeed, the culture is so strange, so unprecedented, that we cannot begin to describe the society that produced these objects...
Times Higher Education, December 1996

Featured image: A bronze mask of Sanxingdui. Photo source.  

By April Holloway

Related Video

References

Historical Wonders of Sanxingdui – China.org.cn

The Sanxingdui Ruins - CriEnglish.Com

Sanxingdui Ruins Prove Diversity of Chinese Civilization – People’s Daily

Mystery Men: Finds from China's Lost Age – Asian Civilizations Museum

New Digging to Probe Mystery of Ancient Sanxingdui Ruins – People’s Daily

Comments

Some of the art work, such as the Bird or Dragon like bronze head reminds me of the US Northwest Native artwork.
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I'd say more Aboriginy than American-Indian. The whole set up with the spirals and the broad nasal features suggest more that region to me than the american indians.
(not saying im right, just giving my 2 cents ^^)

Totally agree with you. I made a comment a while back on a post about Chinese history that the Sanxingdui art seems almost as if you could put that Bird carving next to a Pacific Northwest Coast carving and ask people to guess which piece comes from where and which era. It would be really interesting to see what the results would be from students or just a public group of some sort. Either way though, the style is beautiful and the curves are luscious and make the art really sophisticated. I love the Sanxingdui images.

Thanks for article. With photos.

First photo, top of page, it gave me a feeling of looking at something South American. Liked to have seen what the earrings for those ears would have looked like.

That head shape on the three heads...is that what would be termed "Cro-Magnon"?

angieblackmon's picture

The one that really makes me curious is the one with the protruding eyes. It kinda makes me think of a cartoon character in a way. In my head I can't really figure out what the reason would be for depicting a person in this manner. It's so strangely curious!

love, light and blessings

AB

I just can not get over those images either. At first, I thought representing serpent eyes. But then I realized: a chariot-driver needs goggles.

I think this represents a visit from a foreign king to China. From Puru Dynasty India. The timeframe is close. I think it is King Yayati, maybe coming to China to marry a princess.

I think this symbolizes "SanJaya" (Sanskrit: san= "appointed to that position" Jaya) , the "chariot-driver" of Vjasa, an aspect of Vishnu. (Drives the sun across the sky). And historically, I think that makes him Yuya, the Vizier ("appointed to that position" Yuya) of Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III.

Actually King Yayati of India/ Tushratta of Mittani's brother or nephew. Overlord of Egypt.
The nose, the compressed lip shape: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuya

The work resembles Moche offerings from Peru.

That is because if one looks carefully, one will see that the "Caral" temple in Peru is in the shape of something readily identified in ancient Puru kingdom of India....and their colony of "Meru." aka "Egypt." Something the Vultures are depicted holding in their talons....same vulture you see here.

The name of the docks in Thebes, Egypt: Peru-neft.

You've just received the clue to "finding" Solomon's key.

That bird looks like a vulture, found on images at Gobkli Tepe, Sumeria, Babylon and Egypt.

It's amazing how sometimes archeologists decide that things they've found in digs are what they appear to be or they're fantasy. In this case I can weight in on the protruding eyes and other inhuman features. You're right if you think none of these are "supposed" to be real. But who decided what's real and what's not real? Do any of you ever consider that what you're seeing are depictions of what was actually seen? Did someone of great stature wear those giant masks? Are you saying to yourself right now that it's not remotely possible? Look at the facts and you'll find that skeletons of giant stature have been dug up all over the U.S. The majority used to state implicitly that there could never have been giant animals on the earth. They said that humans weren't alive at the same time as Dinosaurs too. And yet we have spent our lives parroting their beliefs as if they are our own. Point in fact, we've been taught that our beliefs and opinions don't matter but theirs' do. If you don't agree with them that's one thing but make it public and they'll eat you alive. Now, as for stating what the real truth is; I can state that I and 4 other witnesses, on two occasions have seen protruding, see-thru, spiraling, glowing eyes coming out of human eyes. On the second occasion those eyes were protruding from a head of the same that itself was see-thru, and of the same color. It looked like the man who's body it was protruding from and yet, it had features that the physical man did not exhibit. It had slicked back hair and a little goatee on it's chin. When I got really close to it, to peer at it, it turned and looked at me with this shocked look on it's face. Then, it quickly sucked back into the man's head and neck. This same many during my cshowed me how it could appear to be different entities. Sometimes it was completely outside the man's human body. The body lay on the floor against the wall like a deflated balloon. So, in response to these ancient masks, my view of them being a true representation of what was seen by ancient peoples is that this is what they saw.

"This same many during my cshowed me how it could appear to be different entities."

Me too! Bwahahaha, oh boy, here it comes....

"Now, as for stating what the real truth is; I can state that I and 4 other witnesses, on two occasions have seen protruding, see-thru, spiraling, glowing eyes coming out of human eyes. On the second occasion those eyes were protruding from a head of the same that itself was see-thru, and of the same color. It looked like the man who's body it was protruding from and yet, it had features that the physical man did not exhibit. It had slicked back hair and a little goatee on it's chin. When I got really close to it, to peer at it, it turned and looked at me with this shocked look on it's face."

Hahahaha, didn't take much time pulling that out of your axx, didja?

Sorry, didn't mean to run over your Dogma and crush The Narrative under Yuya's chariot wheels. Nice try, but I know EXACTLY your motivation.

"Muddying the waters" a favorite tactic of those wishing desperately to HIDE TRUTHS.

This mystery was easy to solve. The first photo says it all - it's Yoda!

PS. Thank you for the excellently written articles and amazing photos. I just found your site and will be back to continue reading.

They look to me very similar to some Roman and Carthaginan (Carthage, in Tunisia today) art work masks!
Romans have been in China for some time, I can't remember where exactly, but a village in China celebrate every year by wearing Roman warrior costumes

Tsurugi's picture

Are they really "sacrificial" pits? Something seems a bit off about this. Why "sacrifice" masks of their leader...?

Its almost like someone wanted this culture to be forgotten.

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