The Extraordinary Masks of Sanxingdui

There’s no other word to describe artefacts from Sanxingdui better than the word

extraordinary. Like nothing remotely similar to any other artefacts found in China, the ancient civilization of Sanxingdui has speculated all kinds of beliefs, rumours, and theories.

The Mysterious Masks of Sanxingdui

After a farmer found numerous artefacts in a field nigh on a century ago ( in 1929, to be exact), Chinese archeologists set to work. It wasn’t until 1986, however, that workers at a brick factory had an exiting find – a treasury of jade axes and jade tablets. The excavation team went to work again.

Jade ritual item found at Sanxingdui

The most startling discovery were the masks and the Bronze Man.

Chengdu 2015 240
The extraordinary bronze masks of Sanxingdui
Chengdu 2015 306
The enigmatic bronze man of Sanxingdui

Bronze man is the largest bronze state to have been found in the world. It’s 2.6 metres tall ( that’s over 6 feet) and weighs around 180 kilograms.

For a long time, this mysterious civilisation was speculated upon – where did it come from, and why did it disappear so quickly? No records of this culture had been found – a rarety in China which has a wealth of literary and archeological data recording it’s long history.

三星堆 san xing dui means literally, Three Star Mound. The mounds around the city of Guanghan had many myths associated with them – an ancient emperor Yudi was said to have scattered dirt from the heavens to form the mounds, arranged linearly to represent the patterns of three stars in heaven. When the excavation work began, it became apparant that the three mounds were actually burial pits.

But burial pits of whom? Extensive jade and bronze ware, along with the mysterious masks, have been found. Ancient city walls were then found, with the north wall being the latest discovery. Scholars now specualte Sanxingdui contains artefacts from the ancient state of Shu.

Shu existed in the same time frame as the state of Qin, from where the ubiqutious emperor Qin Shi Huang came from when he set his armies scattered in all directions, unified China, and gave his name ‘qin’ to the word “China”.

Hidden for centuries, the relics of Sanxingdui have come to life to send messages from the past about this ancient culture. Yet they raise more questions  – noone seems to be able to say with certainty just exactly what these mysterious masks mean, and where the ancestors of the people who made the masks actually came from.

The people who made the artefacts at Sanxingdui were, without doubt, master craftsmen.

The took this

large rock with jade sparkles

and turned it into this

Jade ornament from Sanxingdui

They worked with gold

Gold sceptre at Sanxingdui
Gold coins from Sanxingdui

and created an exquisitely carved Cosmic World Tree

Sanxingdui’s Cosmic World Tree

One thing is for certain, the mysterious, extraordinary bronze, jade and gold workings from Sanxingdui guard their secrets well.

Three Star Mound – Sanxingdui – Museum entrance