The Sanxingdui experience
By Mohammad Saiyedul Islam  ·  2022-11-11  ·   Source: NO.46 NOVEMBER 17, 2022
A bronze statue covered with a gold mask in the No.8 sacrificial pit at the Sanxingdui Ruins site in Sichuan Province on June 1 (XINHUA)

The Sanxingdui Museum is located in Guanghan City, Sichuan Province, and features one of the world's greatest archaeological findings of the 20th century. One afternoon in the early spring of 1929, a father and son living in a village nearby Guanghan accidentally discovered a true wonder of civilization, i.e., the Sanxingdui Ruins, when digging a ditch. The farmers had unearthed sacrificial pits containing treasures of the ancient Kingdom of Shu about 5,000 years ago, providing evidence of an ancient Chinese civilization as well as the source of the Yangtze River civilization.

The next huge surprise came in 1986 when two major sacrificial pits containing more than 1,700 cultural relics were found. Their discovery quickly gained worldwide academic attention.

In 2021, six new sacrificial pits were revealed at the Sanxingdui Ruins site, including nearly 13,000 cultural relics. UNESCO's Assistant Director General for Culture Ernesto Ottone Ramírez hailed the new findings as "a milestone in archaeology, helping global society better understand Chinese civilization."

The Sanxingdui ruins cover an area of 12 square km and have a history dating back 3,000 to 5,000 years. Translating to the Three-Star Piles, the remains demonstrate the existence of a civilization that had its own customs and rituals, as well as featured remarkable innovation.

The Sanxingdui Museum collects and displays a massive assortment of bronzeware, jadeware, goldware, pottery and so on. The bronze heads, golden ornaments and ingenious handicrafts are so special they were initially referred to as "having been created by a seemingly 'alien' civilization."

The museum officially opened to the public in October 1997, integrating the collection and protection of cultural relics, academic research and public education. Not just a base for learning about the ancient Kingdom of Shu, it's also a tourist attraction well-known at home and abroad. The institution is a famous modern thematic site in China and one of the five major tourist attractions in Sichuan.

Over the decades, it has welcomed more than 10 million domestic and foreign tourists, all traveling to Sanxingdui to get the full on-site experience and feel the charm of the ancient Shu civilization. The pavilions inside the museum promote the spirit of the harmonious coexistence between mankind and Mother Nature, as well as the evolution of humanity.

Sanxingdui demonstrates the diversity and richness of Chinese civilization and offers evidence of this society's early exchanges. From a geographical perspective, the site discloses close cultural ties with other parts of China. The artifacts discovered there are similar to those found in the northwestern, central and eastern provinces of China such as Gansu, Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong.

The Sanxingdui civilization had contacts and connections with the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau as early as the prehistoric Neolithic period. It was also a fixed transportation route with the ancient Silk Road to the northwest, and the Maritime Silk Road in its south leading directly to South Asia and Southeast Asia. These connections are evident in some of the ancient treasures, making the ancient Kingdom of Shu an important part of Chinese civilization.

The Sanxingdui relics have played an important role in changing the Western perception of Chinese civilization. People around the world now realize China has a more extensive and older civilization than previously assumed. The mystery behind the relics shows that the more one knows about Chinese civilization, the more difficult it becomes to grasp its complexities and nuances. And most recently, I finally got to see these cultural relics with my own eyes. A marvel, they were indeed.

The author is a Bangladeshi journalist and a doctoral fellow at the Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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