Archaeologists in southwest China discovered a treasure trove of 13,000 relics dating back over 3,000 years, including a turtle shell-shaped box and a sacrificial altar.

Sacrificial altar among 13,000 relics unearthed at Sanxingdui archaeological site in China
Credit: Shen Bohan/Xinhua/Sipa USA


The relics, many of which were made of gold, bronze, and jade, were discovered in six sacrificial pits at the Sanxingdui archaeological site near Chengdu, according to Chinese state media on Monday.

Historians know very little about the Sanxingdui culture, which left no written records or human remains behind, though many believe it was part of the ancient Shu kingdom. The latest discoveries are hoped to shed light on the kingdom, which ruled in the western Sichuan basin along the upper Yangtze River until it was conquered in 316 BC.

Since 2020, a collaborative team of archaeologists from the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, Peking University, Sichuan University, and other research institutions have been excavating the site’s six pits.

Archeologists discovered 3,155 relatively intact relics, including over 2,000 bronze wares and statues, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.

Among the relics discovered at Sanxingdui was a bronze box.
Among the relics discovered at Sanxingdui was a bronze box.  Credit: Chine Nouvelle/SIPA/Shutterstock

New historical discoveries

A turtle shell-shaped box made of bronze and jade was described as one of the more intriguing finds by the researchers, who claimed it was the first time such an item had been discovered.

“Given its distinctive shape, fine craftsmanship, and ingenious design, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the vessel is one-of-a-kind. Although we don’t know what this vessel was used for, we can assume it was treasured by ancient people “According to Li Haichao, a professor at Sichuan University,

In one of the pits, a bronze altar nearly three feet tall (0.9 meters) was discovered, where people of the Shu civilization are thought to have made offerings to heaven, earth, and their ancestors.

Traces around the pits of bamboo, reeds, soybeans, cattle, and boars indicate that these were all sacrificed.

Cultural exchanges from the past

According to Ran Honglin, director of the Sanxingdui Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, the diversity of items at the site demonstrated cultural exchanges between ancient Chinese civilizations.

He noted that a sculpture with the head of a human and the body of a snake was typical of the ancient Shu civilization, while ceremonial vessels known as “zun” from the site were culturally representative of the Zhongyuan, also known as China’s central plains.

“More cultural relics unearthed at Sanxingdui have also been seen in other locations in China,” Ran said.

Since a local farmer discovered it in the 1920s, the 4.6-square-mile archaeological site has yielded thousands of ancient artifacts. Last year’s discoveries included a golden mask weighing about 100 grams (0.22 pounds), ivory relics, and a jade knife.

Although Sanxingdui is not yet a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is on the organization’s “tentative list” for consideration.

Source: CNN

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