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Sanxingdui: Sacrificial altar among 13,000 relics discovered at an archaeological site in China

Written by Kathleen Magramo, CNN

A box shaped like a turtle shell and a sacrificial altar are part of a hoard of 13,000 relics dating back more than 3,000 years unearthed by archaeologists in southwest China.

The relics, many made of gold, bronze and jade, were unearthed from six sacrificial pits at the Sanxingdui archaeological site near Chengdu, Chinese state media reported on Monday.

Historians know relatively little about the Sanxingdui culture, which left no written records or human remains, although many believe it to be part of the ancient Kingdom of Shu. It is hoped the latest findings will shed light on the kingdom, which ruled in the western Sichuan Basin along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River until it was conquered in 316 BC.

A joint team of archaeologists from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology Research of Sichuan, Peking University, Sichuan University and other research institutes have been excavating the site’s six pits since 2020 .

In the most recent excavations, archaeologists found 3,155 relatively intact relics, including more than 2,000 bronze objects and statues, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

A bronze box was among the relics discovered at Sanxingdui.

A bronze box was among the relics discovered at Sanxingdui. Credit: China News/SIPA/Shutterstock

New finds from the past

The researchers described a turtle shell-shaped box made of bronze and jade among their most intriguing finds, saying it was the first time they had come across such an object.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that the vessel is one of a kind, given its distinctive shape, fine craftsmanship and ingenious design. Although we do not know what this vessel was used for, we can suppose the ancients cherished it,” Li Haichao, a professor at Sichuan University, told Xinhua.

A nearly 3-foot-tall (0.9 meter) bronze altar was also found in one of the pits, where people from the Shu civilization are said to have made offerings to heaven, earth, and their ancestors.

Traces around the pits of bamboo, reeds, soybeans, cattle and wild boar suggest that they were all offered as sacrifices.

Ancient cultural exchanges

Ran Honglin, director of the Sanxingdui Cultural Relics and Archeology Research Institute, told Xinhua that the variety of artifacts at the site showed cultural exchanges between ancient civilizations in China.

He noted that one of the carvings with the head of a human and the body of a snake were characteristic of the ancient Shu civilization, while the ceremonial vessels known as “zun” at the site were culturally emblematic of Zhongyuan, a region known as central China. plains.

“More cultural relics discovered in Sanxingdui have also been seen in other places in China, testifying to the early exchange and integration of Chinese civilization,” Ran said.

The 4.6 square mile archaeological site has yielded thousands of ancient artifacts since a local farmer stumbled upon it in the 1920s. Treasures such as a gold mask weighing around 100 grams (0.22 pounds) , ivory relics and a jade knife were among the artifacts discovered last year.

Although not yet recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sanxingdui is on the organization’s “Tentative List” for consideration.

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