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Golden seal excavated from the Ming battlefield site on the Jiangkou stretch of the Minjiang River in Meishan City, southwest China.  Source: Xinhua / Liu Kun

Over 10,000 Extremely Rare Relics Unearthed From Ming Battlefield

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Chinese archaeologists have made a historic discovery. Along with thousands of other artifacts, they have unearthed a very rare gold imperial seal that was possibly used by the heir apparent of an emperor of China. The seal was found with a treasure trove of objects in what is believed to be a Ming battlefield. This precious artifact comes from a turbulent period in the history of China, which saw the fall of the Ming and the rise of Qing Dynasty.

The remarkable item was uncovered during the latest archaeological mission at the Jiangkou Chenyin historic site, which is in Sichuan, in the southwest of the vast nation. It was acclaimed as one of “China's top 10 archaeological discoveries in 2017,” according to It was unearthed at a site of a dried riverbed that measures 53,820 square feet (5,000 meters) in area. 

10,000 Artifacts Unearthed From Ancient Ming Battlefield

The excavation site, known as Jiangkou Chenyin, is on the “Jiangkou stretch of the Minjiang River in Meishan City,” reports This area came to the attention of the authorities after historical artifacts were washed up on the shore.  It was widely suspected that this section of the river was the scene of a battle during the collapse of the Ming Dynasty. The local authorities organized a massive engineering project to drain a section of the river, so that it could be investigated by archaeologists.

The riverbed/Ming battlefield excavation site where the 10,000 relics were found. (Xinhua / Liu Kun)

The riverbed/Ming battlefield excavation site where the 10,000 relics were found. (Xinhua / Liu Kun)

CGTN reports that “during the first two rounds at the Ming battlefield site in 2017 and 2018, archaeologists unearthed more than 42,000 relics.” Some 10,000 more artifacts were uncovered during the latest round of excavations, including gold and silver coins during the most recent work.

The imperial seal is regarded as the most significant find. Liu Zhiyan, the lead archaeologist, called the symbol of royal power “the only one of its kind in the world,” reports The Daily Mail.  The seal measures 3 inches by one inch (10 x 3 cm) and has a knob shaped into a tortoise. It is made of 95% pure gold.

The golden seal pictured showing the tortoise shaped knob, which was found at what is believed to be a Ming battlefield site. (Xinhua / Liu Kun)

Fall of a Dynasty

The Daily Mail reports that the item is carved with the characters “Shi Shu Zi Bao’ meaning treasure of the Shu Prince.” This is proof that it belonged to the imperial house and was possibly the personal property of the heir apparent to the Chinese throne.

The unidentified prince was a member of the Ming Dynasty, who ruled between 1368 and 1644. This dynasty had expelled the Mongols, and it made China very prosperous and powerful before it began to decline at the start of the 17 th century, because of famines and a war with the Manchus.

It is believed that the imperial seal was lost during a massive peasant rebellion during the fall of the Ming Empire. It is believed to have come into the possession of Zhang Xianzhong, often known as the ‘Yellow Tiger’, the leader of a peasant army that conquered southwest China as the Ming state disintegrated.

Pictured is a gold coin unearthed from the Ming battlefield excavation site. (Xinhua / Liu Kun)

The gold seal was found shattered in four pieces in the riverbed. The Daily Mail quotes Mr. Zhiyan as saying that “the most plausible theory is that he had the seal split into four to symbolize the end of the Ming Dynasty.” Xianzhong proclaimed himself emperor, but he was not to enjoy his power for long as he was forced by the invading Manchus to flee from the city of Chengdu in 1646.

Rise of the Qing Dynasty

Historical records show that as he was fleeing the Manchus, he was ambushed on the River Minjiang by general Yang Zhan, who was still loyal to the old dynasty. During this battle, the peasant warlord lost an armada of ships and his entire treasure. It appears that the seal along with the other artifacts went down with the ships destroyed during the battle. Xianzhong escaped but he was hunted down and killed by the Manchus the following year, after he was betrayed by an associate.

The Manchus were originally from modern Manchuria and were not Han Chinese. They established a new dynasty known as the Qing, and they ruled China until 1912. For many years China prospered under their rule, but they were never accepted by most of their subjects who viewed them as foreign invaders.

A Golden ornament excavated from the Ming battlefield site on Jiangkou stretch of the Minjiang River. (Xinhua / Liu Kun)

Battlefield Site Established

The discovery of the priceless seal is of great historical significance. The experts were able to confirm that the items had been deep in the clay for a long time. The Daily Mail quotes Mr. Zhiyan as stating that it is likely that “this section of the river is where likely Zhang Xianzhong and Yang Zhan crossed swords.”

While the mystery of the location of the battle has been resolved, the original owner of the seal is not yet known. The Daily Mail quotes Mr. Zhiyan as saying that “further historical research is needed to determine precisely which Shu prince the seal belonged to.”

The Chinese authorities are investing 500 yuan ($60 million) in the Jiangkou Chenyin site. This will include the construction of a museum. It is believed that many of the treasures found from the battle on the river will be put on display at the new institution.

Top image: Golden seal excavated from the Ming battlefield site on the Jiangkou stretch of the Minjiang River in Meishan City, southwest China.  Source: Xinhua / Liu Kun

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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