Sanxingdui & Jinsha May 2017

Sanxingdui 三星堆 is the name of the archaeological site outside Chengdu of a previously unknown Bronze Age culture.  The site is believed to be a major ancient walled city on the banks of the Minjiang River dating from the 11th century BC.  Archaeologists are identifying it with the ancient kingdom of Shu before the Qin conquest.  According to the Chronicles of Huayang from the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), the Shu Kingdom was founded by Cancong who was described to have protruding eyes which is a feature found in the bronze sculptures of Sanxingdui.  Many of the objects excavated at the site are fish and bird shaped, theorized to be totems of other rulers from the Shu Kingdom with names meaning fish or bird.  Archaeologists were surprised to find here an artistic style that was foreign to the history of Chinese art and in effect defies the traditional theory that the Yellow River was the sole “cradle of Chinese civilization.”

DSCF4248Sanxingdui Museum


In 1929, a peasant uncovered some jade and stone artifacts while repairing a sewage ditch in the Sanxingdui site.  However, no significant excavation was conducted until 1986 when two pits filled with thousands of artifacts that had been broken, burned, and then carefully buried were discovered.  Amongst the finds at Sanxingdui is the world’s oldest bronze life-size standing human statue measuring 8 feet.  The most interesting finds were dozens of large bronze masks with gold foils which have angular human features and protruding eyes, almost alien-like, believed to be used in the ceremony to honor dead ancestors.  These artifacts were created using advanced bronze casting technology which added lead to a combination of copper and tin in order to create a stronger substance to make larger and heavier objects.

DSCF4277This is the largest mask at the museum at 1.34 m wide and 65 cm tall and weighs 10 kg.

DSCF4259The Bronze Tree of Sanxingdui depicting the Genesis Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.


DSCF4309World’s largest and best preserved bronze upright human figure measuring 8 feet tall.


DSCF4323Sanxingdui Museum set amongst a beautiful park and pools of water.


DSCF4334Nearby is the original site of the 2 excavated pits.

It is speculated that either natural disasters (flood or earthquakes) or conquest by another culture contributed to Sanxingdui civilization’s demise 2,800 to 3,000 years ago.
Within the city of Chengdu is Jinsha Site Museum located in the Qingyang District about 50 km away from Sanxingdui.  The artifacts and bronze objects found in Jinsha archeological site share similarities with those found in the Sanxingdui site.  It is believed that Jinsha culture (1200-650 BC) was the final phase of Sanxingdui culture and that it was relocated here from the original site during the ancient Shu Kingdom.

DSCF3957Jinsha Site

DSCF3961Jinsha Museum


DSCF3973The Jinsha mask has similar features as the ones found in Sanxingdui.

Without any inscriptions at the Sanxingdui site and no mention of this ancient culture in any historical text, the Sanxingdui civilization remains an enigma.  Where did these people go?  What did they look like?  Could it be a Westerner who happened to wander into this area and became revered as a god because the tall nose and big eyes could be Western features?  Excavations are ongoing and hopefully very soon, we will get some answers.

Next post will be on the Dujiangyan Irrigation System and Mount Qingcheng.  Stay tuned!


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