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A deeper purpose

Questions remain about what the pits uncovered at Sanxingdui were for, and while theories abound, one suggests evidence of a major spiritual reform, Zhao Xu reports.

By ZHAO XU | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-20 10:19

A giant gold mask from Sanxingdui.[Photo provided by the Shanghai Museum and the Sanxingdui Museum]

'As soon as you see the elephant tusks, you know that you are onto something," Ran Honglin, director of the Sanxingdui Archaeological Research Institute, told the camera at one point during an excavation carried out at the site in Guanghan city, Southwest China's Sichuan province, in 2020.

The previous November, six pits were discovered 33 years after the uncovering in 1986 of two pits that had disgorged a large amount of bronze and jade artifacts, among other things.

And anyone who had been part of the recent effort, the fruit of which now fills three galleries at the Shanghai Museum East, will tell you that the discovery of elephant tusks had invariably led to the discovery of bronzes and jades. In fact, most of the time, those who did the digging would be staring directly through the tightly packed tusks at those findings, still half-buried in earth.

"It was only during the more recent excavation that archaeologists started to get a deeper understanding of the formation, as well as the nature of those pits and their contents," says Hu Jialin, curator of the Shanghai exhibition, which is focused on the Bronze Age civilization of Sanxingdui.

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