Sanxingdui: researchers say newly found sites in China date back as far as 3,200 years

Matt Ho
·3-min read

Archaeologists say recently uncovered sites at the Sanxingdui Ruins in southwest China date back 3,000 to 3,200 years, according to state media reports on Tuesday.

Much is still unknown about the ancient civilisation at Sanxingdui, located in what is now Sichuan province on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

But historians and archaeologists believe discoveries at the site could shed new light on the mainstream understanding that ancient Chinese civilisation was mostly centred along the Yellow River basin in the north of the country.

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The latest finding was made by a joint team from the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute and Peking University.

They used carbon dating to assess 14 of 73 samples excavated from six newly discovered sacrificial pits at the Sanxingdui site.

Pit No 4, where most of the analysed samples were found, was dated to between 1199BC and 1017BC – coinciding with the late Shang dynasty in northern China.

Two other sacrificial pits that were excavated back in 1986 were also dated to the period of the feudal Shang dynasty, spanning from about 1600BC to 1046BC.

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Archaeologists began excavating the six rectangular pits in October after they were discovered between November 2019 and May 2020.

So far they have unearthed more than 500 items, including fragments of gold masks, bird-shaped gold ornaments, bronze heads, and ivory and jade tools, the National Cultural Heritage Administration said on Saturday.

Archaeologists began excavating the six sacrificial pits in October. Photo: Xinhua
Archaeologists began excavating the six sacrificial pits in October. Photo: Xinhua

According to reports on state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday, archaeologists found a number of thin gold discs at pit No 5, where most of the gold pieces have been discovered.

The purpose of the gold discs is still a mystery and researchers are investigating how they were arranged at the site in relation to other relics.

More bronze and seashell relics have also been found at pit No 3, but archaeologists are still working to remove 127 pieces of ivory stacked above them, according to the reports.

They are also working to move pottery fragments to reach a long gold belt discovered underneath the pottery at pit No 4 on Monday.

Discovered in 1929, the Sanxingdui site spans 12 sq km (4.6 sq miles) and includes the ruins of an ancient city at its heart, as well as the sacrificial pits and a burial area.

The heritage body said the latest excavations were part of a project aimed at finding out more about how the region’s ancient civilisation evolved and became a key part of Chinese culture.

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