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The Sanxingdui Ruins
    2008-11-10 09:58:56     Xinhua
The current Sanxingdui, or Three Star Mound, used to be called Three Star Village. No one back then would have ever imagined that this ordinary place could be recognized as one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. But in the spring of 1929, a farmer found a piece of bright-colored jade while he was digging a ditch. That was the first clue leading to the discovery of a mysterious ancient kingdom, which enjoyed a peak period lasting about 2,000 years. The Sanxingdui ruins are the location of the capital of the ancient Shu Kingdom that thrived during the Shang Dynasty some three to five thousand years ago.

Sanxingdui is an hour's drive from Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu. Amid the once-tranquil village, a museum has been built and named after Sanxingdui. One of the narrators at the museum, Qiu Xueqing, tells us the Sanxingdui relics are located at 30 degrees north latitude. This location as well as the content of the discoveries at Sanxingdui are of great archeological significance.

"At the same latitude, there is also Mt. Everest, the ancient Maya civilization, and the Bermuda Triangle. All of them have one thing in common--mystery. So far, the Sanxingdui Relics still speak of the most culturally diversified ancient capital and kingdom, boasting the largest number of relics and longest existence in southwest China."

According to archeological findings, the settlement at Sanxingdui was abandoned suddenly around 1,000 BC. For reasons that are still unknown, the prime of Sanxingdui Culture came to an abrupt end.

The discovery of the Jinsha ruins in the outskirts of Chengdu has offered important revelations to researchers of Sanxingdui. The relics discovered in these two different places are of surprisingly similar styles.

The Jinsha remains, some 500 to 1,000 years younger than the Sanxingdui relics, are largely believed among scholars to indicate a continuation of the Sanxingdui culture. Some guess that the ancient capital had been relocated from Sanxingdui to the Jinsha area. However, there are differing theories as to why Sanxingdui was abandoned, including floods, invasion, and plagues. But the actual reason remains a mystery because of the lack of historical records.

Mysteries also abound among the relics excavated at Sanxingdui. Take the bronze artifacts for example. Qiu Xueqing says the features on some of the bronze portraits are way beyond what many people would have imagined. Facial features such as big eyes and high-bridged noses don't quite reflect those of Asian people. She points out  that the most symbolic artifacts in this museum are bronze masks. Such masks are considered to reflect the actual facial appearance of the first king of the ancient Shu kingdom.

"This is the largest bronze mask in the world. It's also one of China's national treasures. The mask is really special, its facial features in particular. It has a pair of cylinder-shaped bulging eyes and a pair of widely-stretched ears."

Another wonder is the sacred bronze tree. Measuring nearly four meters tall, the tree has nine branches extending from the trunk. There are three kinds of fruits on every branch, including peaches. The ancient Chinese people believed a tree was the reincarnation of the universe, and the fruits on the tree symbolized the sun, the moon and the stars in the universe. Qiu Xueqing tells us that the sacred tree from Sanxingdui is believed to represent a connection between Heaven and Earth.

"This bronze tree is the most refined bronze artifact, representing a very high level of craftsmanship. It's unique in the world, and the moulding techniques are also unprecedented. Such a large bronze artifact must have been made piece by piece, because it's not possible that it could be built all at once. We have altogether eight bronze trees here at Sanxingdui, but we've only completed the restoration of two of them. It took us three years to restore this largest one."

Ao Tianzhao, also from the Sanxingdui Museum, has been studying the Sanxingdui culture for half a century. He says the large number of bronze artifacts at Sanxingdui indicates that this site used to be a mecca for pilgrims.

"Judging from the numerous bronze human images and funerary objects, the ancient Sanxingdui kingdom had unified and ruled the people through primordial religion. They worshiped nature, totems and their ancestors. The ancient Shu kingdom probably often held grand sacrificial activities to attract tribes with different religious beliefs to come from far and near to worship."

It's reasonable to believe that the bronze artifacts are the most representative of all the relics unearthed at the Sanxingdui site. They exemplify the high level of craftsmanship of the Shu people. At the same time, the large amount of ivories and seashells discovered at the site prompted even more curiosity from researchers. Our guide Qiu Xueqing says elephants did not live in Sichuan during the time of the Shu Kingdom.

"Some scholars say these ivories were transported here via the southern Silk Road. Besides, the nearly 5,000 seashells, which cannot originate in inland areas, suggest the trade road of the ancient Shu kingdom was long enough to reach Western and Southern Asia. You can see from this how developed trade and commerce was at that time."

Mysteries remain and guesses still abound at Sanxingdui. Countless visitors have been drawn to this famous archeological site.  Sirkka Korela from Finland says the attraction comes from the magical and mysterious charm of the Sanxingdui Culture.

Well, that concludes our trip to Sanxingdui, a mysterious civilization in Sichuan province. I'm YF, see you next time.
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