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Between myth and reality: Little Known Civilizations: Sanxingdui

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There is little known about the Sanxingdui culture which was contemporary to the Chinese Shang dynasty. It was a culture or a period of China which was never directly mentionned by Chinese historians and there are no written records to clarify its nature. The three archeological sites of Sanxingdui are located in and near the city of Guanghan at approximately 40 kilometers of Chengdu in the Sechuan province of China.

It is suggested though that the Sanxingdui culture is associated to and even might be part of the ancient kingdom of Shu (Thuc Quoc) dating from about 5,000 to 3,000 BC. Until the discovery of the ruins and artifacts of Sangxingdui which started in 1929 by a simple farmer and 1986 up to this day, the existence of the kingdom of Shu, whose starting date was at the neolithic era and which lasted some 2000 years was basically a legend. But today in Guanghan is located a museum entirely dedicated to this kingdom of China which is much more and actually represents a whole civilization by itself. As such China’s history just might be rewritten as we always knew about the Yellow River (Huang He) culture but also a little bit more about the Yangtze river culture represented by Sanxingdui. In fact some report like Task Rosen of the British Museum that he considers this discovery of artifacts even more important than the terra cota army of Xi’an.

According to the Jin’s Dynasty ” Chronicles of Huayang ” in 265-400 AD, the Shu Kingdom was founded by a certain ” Cancong ” who was described as having prodruting eyes. This prominent feature is found in several of of the figures of Sanxingdui. Most of the artifacts are radiocarbon dated as coming from the 12th to 11th century BC. As you can seen with some of the artifacts featured above and below the Sanxingdui culture was indeed fascinated with eyes.

The walls of the city of the main city of the Sanxingdui culture were also found in 1996 and the archeologists estimate that it covered an area of about 12 square km making it the largest ancient Asian city ever discovered.

Most of these artifacts are at the Musum of Sanxingdui presently. It contains several thousands historical vestiges including six national treasures: a gigantic vertical statue in bronze, a mask in bronze with proeminent eyes, a gold cane, a large divine tree made out of bronze, a jade tablet with patterns describing primitive religious rituals and another jade tablet reflecting the high level of polishing and perforation of the time. The Museum also displays bronze statues of different height and style, several masks, birds and other animals all in bronze. There are about a total of 1,500 different pieces both large and small that were found in the three different sites and some of the best are being exhibited.,广汉

According to Dr Chen Fang-mei, a specialist of the Shang dynasty bronzes of Taiwan, we know that the Sanxingdui culture was very sophisticated. One of the statues found weighs an excess of 180 kg, meaning that it took about 10 tons of mineral to melt to make it. We can conclude then, that the population of Sanxingdui knew very well the techniques of temperature control, ventilation and melting otherwise it would have been impossible to achieve such a level and standard of quality.

The kingdom of Shu remains a mystery despite all these finds. The excavations revealed and substantiated its existence. Now the scientific circles divide the period of Shu in four periods: the first corresponds to the neolithic; the second where it flourished and extends to the Xia and Shang where the walls of the city of Shu were erected; the third corresponds to its age of gold near the end of the dynasty of Shang and the fourth where it declines near the Zhou dynasty. Although the objects found reveal a little bit of its history, there are still numerous questions that are still being asked. Where did these people of the kingdom of Sechuan come from? Who were they exactly? Why did they suddenly disappear? What was the source of that culture of the Yangtze? These questions are being asked because according to Chinese texts, the chinese civilisation emerges in the central plain around Anyang, the ancient capital of the Shang. In this traditional view of chinese history that is when Yu the Great (Dai Vu), the water tamer and the reputed founder of the mythical dynasty of the Xia, developed metallurgy in the valley of the Yellow River. With these texts, archeologists are under the obligation to reevaluate their ideas on the first developments of the Bronze Age as there were other civilization hotbeds just as original and contemporary of the Shang.

But contrary to the Shang artifacts found, the Sanxingdui had no written texts on any of their artifacts. With this, archeologists were almost forced to attribute to them a religious and sacrificial character. They justify this by drawing on a dense cluster of beliefs through all the masks, the hybrid creatures between men and beasts, the bird-men, the ritual objects found in the three different sites, and finally on the lack of ornaments and the state of the offerings deliberately destroyed and made unusable and definitely by the settlement of the earth from the embankment in several layers as if they wanted to seal the site for all times when the original inhabitants abandonned the sites. There are several explanations given for the migration of Sanxingdui such as an earthquake or war but nothing as been proven so far.

So thanks to Sanxingdui, the veil begins to rise on what are called the mysteries of Shu’s kingdom, that is to say its political particularities and its cultural legacy, which makes possible the study of its political organization, the evolution of its social fabric and its religious ideology. However, only time will completely be able to reassemble this age old puzzle.


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Written by HistoryGal

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    • Well it was not exactly a race but rather a part of the Chinese which formed a civilization basically all their own. Thank you again and again for visiting, taking the time to read and commenting and definitely for up voting my little presentation. Again I appreciate your support very much.

  1. Thank you for another interesting article. I do know a little about Shang Dynasty period. It was finally concluded that it was real due to the archeological finds. The previous earlier civilization of Shu sounds like it may be Xia civilization? Well, they have not figured out anything much about these names yet. This Sanxingdui is contemporary to the Shang. I wonder if they met their fate during the time of Fu Hao. I don’t know if you know her but she was a general who had a high level of talent in military command and strategy. Around the end o the 19th century, a Chinese historian and archeologist were able to find turtle shells that came from the period of the Shang. Turtle shells were used as writing tablets by the Shang. They noticed a name of Fu Hao. Her military victories recorded as she lead the Shang Army. Because of her the Shang empire doubled in size. At first they thought Fu Hao was a man and then they came across turtle shells with texts saying that Fu Hao is with child and another saying Fu Hao is waiting to go into Labor. She was the first consort of the Emperor. The emperor had 60 wives and consorts but he recognized her talent in military leadership. And being first consort means she was way up there. They found her tomb about 40 years ago. It is massive. Over 2000 artifacts inside and about 600 bodies. The Shang practiced the same rituals as the Sumerians. When someone like a king or a VIP dies and is buried; there are people who go to die with them. Majority go willingly. Usually by poison. Forced slaves were probably the least cooperative. About 200 imperial guards and 50 guard dogs went to their deaths to join Fu Hao in order to control those slaves in the after life. Oh boy! You should check her out if you have not done so. She had a son who became a prince. She died in her early 40s. Shang emperor died about 6 months later.

    • Wow, a big thanks Francisco. During my research on the Sanxingdui, I never came upon the name of Fu Hao. I will certainly look her up. I should have asked for your collaboration on writing my post. Against thank you for reading, your fantastic and educational comment and up voting. I hope your friend is doing OK or even maybe better.

      • No problem. My friend is now undergoing surgery. I am wondering if you have ever heard of of a medication called diaremedium? My friend besides having the big “C” also has diabetes. Her doctor told her to stop the prescription meds which she gave her previously. She wants her to simply take this diiaremedium. It is a patch. My friend was having problems with her fingers. They were becoming stiff and painful. She could no longer move them in a normal way. The patch worked really well. Now her fingers are completely normal. Had a brief look at the packaging. No big name pharma company. Just an office address in Birmingham, Alabama. And thanks for writing the article.

        • I have never heard about the medication before. But after googling it it seems to be an all natural medication with mixed reviews. However I could not find any in Birmingham, Alabama. P.S. you have to remember I live in Canada so I do not really know a lot about the US. I am happy to hear that your friend is doing OK for now. If the diaremedium works for her, all the better but she should still monitor her blood sugar closely as this medication is naturally based.

          • Ok. Thanks. The doctor prescribed previously some drugs manufactured by those big pharmaceutical companies and they did not work at all. She still has to take her insulin. In fact, twice as much insulin under present conditions. Oh, BTW, notice that during the Shang Dynasty period, they still practiced the Sumerian custom of “going with the dead because of friendship and etc.” Estimates for Fu Hao is still not precise. Ranges from 1500 to 1300 BCE. The last time I read anything about her and her Shang era. By the time of Shi Wang Di (about 320 BCE) they finally said. No more poisoning of real soldiers and real civil servants to accompany dead Emperor to after life. Instead we make terra cotta soldiers. So far about 3000 or so found for Shi Wang Di. Somebody finally figured out that this practice was depleting human resources. Like skilled civil servants and soldiers.

    • Yes those artifacts are amazing and beautiful. I especially like the tree all in jade if I remember well. Thank you for your kind comment, your reading and your up vote. P.S. there are a few more little known civilizations coming soon.

  2. China has had many warring states periods, so war would be my top choice even though I’ve never heard of one state wiping out another so entirely (but then how would I?)

    My next guess would be disease, followed by earthquake or other natural disaster. My criteria for this is to account for a highly advanced culture disappearing suddenly and without a trace

      • They are, and are quite unique. While I am not an expert on Chinese art, I’ve been to the palace museum in Taibei and I can tell you this art doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen from China. That more than anything makes me suspect their demise was both sudden and total…

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