Study reveals latest discoveries at Bronze Age Sanxingdui

A paper by the Cambridge University Press has revealed the latest discoveries at the Bronze Age site of Sanxingdui in Sichuan, China.

Sanxingdui, meaning ‘Three Star Mound’, was a major Bronze Age culture in modern Guanghan. Evidence of the culture were first uncovered in 1928, when a farmer found a large stash of jade relics while dredging an irrigation ditch.

The first excavations were conducted in 1934, but the revelation of a major culture was revealed in 1986, when archaeologists found two sacrificial pits (Pits 1 and 2) containing over 900 bronze, gold, jade and ivory artefacts. Finds at the time were dated to around 2700 – 1000 BC, giving new insights into the development of metallurgy, urbanism and culture in Bronze Age China.

Since 2019, Archaeologists have continued to excavate the area around Sanxingdui, including parts of the urban site, the Yueliangwan and Cangbaobao walls, the Qingguanshan site and the Renshengcun cemetery.

- Advertisement -

Studies under the Ancient Shu Civilization Protection and Inheritance Project identified 6 new pits and a large number of artefacts back in 2020. The 6 pits, measuring between 3.5 and 20m2 are rectangular in shape and were found adjacent to Pits 1 and 2. An on-site laboratory was constructed to preserve organic remains and artefacts, while each pit had specially adapted cabins built over them to maintain the temperature and humidity.

The paper describes the clear differences on the deposition of the artefacts: “Artefacts were buried in obvious layers in Pits 3, 4, 7 and 8, with mainly ivory in the upper layers and bronze artefacts in the lower layers. Pit 5 contained predominantly small gold objects and ivory products, while Pit 6 contained a ‘wooden chest’ featuring red paint produced with cinnabar”.

Bronze objects recovered are predominantly vessels and figurines, although many new artefacts are distinct from those found in Pits 1 and 2. Archaeologists also found gold foil ornaments in shapes such as stripes, circles and birds, and a golden mask from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties.

Using advanced scientific methods, the researchers have been able to gain a greater understanding into the sacrificial custom of the Sanxingdui Culture, as well as new insights into the exchanges that took place between the Chengdu Plain and Central Plains, and the middle and downstream areas of the Yangzi River.

The application of advanced scientific methods throughout the excavations has allowed the sacrificial custom of the Sanxingdui Culture to be understood in greater detail.

The paper concludes: “As the excavations proceed, the systematic differences between the various pits, as well as their precise chronology, will become clearer, allowing us to provide an increasingly detailed understanding of the dynamics of the Sanxingdui Culture and how it compares with other contemporaneous Bronze Age urban centres in early China.”

Cambridge University Press

Header Image Credit : Xu et al. Reference Xu2021a: 107

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Excavation of medieval shipbuilders reveals a Roman head of Mercury

Excavations of a medieval shipbuilders has led to the discovery of a Roman settlement and a Roman head of Mercury.

Researchers find that Żagań-Lutnia5 is an Iron Age stronghold

Archaeologists have conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey of Żagań-Lutnia5, revealing that the monument is an Iron Age stronghold.

Rare copper dagger found in Polish forest

A rare copper dagger from over 4,000-years-ago has been discovered in the forests near Korzenica, southeastern Poland.

Neanderthals created stone tools held together by a multi-component adhesive

A new study published in the journal Science Advances has found evidence of Neanderthals creating stone tools that are held together using a multi-component adhesive.

Roman funerary altar found partially buried in Torre river

Archaeologists have recovered a Roman funerary altar which was found partially buried in the Torree river in the municipality of San Vito al Torre, Italy.

Post-medieval township discovered in Scottish forest

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a pre-medieval township in the Glen Brittle Forest on the Isle of Skye.

Geophysical study finds evidence of “labyrinth” buried beneath Mitla

A geophysical study has found underground structures and tunnels beneath Mitla – The Zapotec “Place of the Dead”

Discovery of a Romanesque religious structure rewrites history of Frauenchiemsee

Archaeologists from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation have announced the discovery of a Romanesque religious structure on the island of Frauenchiemsee, the second largest of the three islands in Chiemsee, Germany.