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The Sanxingdui Museum, located in the city of Guanghan just 40 kilometres from Chengdu, lies in a quiet setting among the hills. However, several thousand years ago, these same hills were part of the city wall that surrounded a Bronze Age city. The Sanxingdui Museum displays a rich collection of finds from this lost civilization. The ghostly masks in particular speak to the imagination.
Approximately 3500 years ago, the Sanxingdui civilization evolved on the banks of the Yazi River in the Chinese province of Sichuan. A few centuries later there was no sign of this culture. It seemed to have vanished, leaving no written or oral references to its existence. In 1986, a large amount of art treasures were found leading to the rediscovery of this forgotten civilization and making headline news around the world. This architectural find proved that the origins of Chinese civilization were a lot more complicated than had been assumed. The history books had to be rewritten.
The story about the rediscovery of Sanxingdui begins a relatively short time ago. First evidence that the city had ever existed was only found in 1929, when a farmer digging a well encountered a large number of jade objects. Although this immediately piqued the curiosity of archaeologists, their initial excavations turned up almost nothing. There was no further interest until 1986, when workers from a local brick factory were stunned to stumble across a sacrificial pit filled with thousands of ceramics, gold, bronze and jade objects – a veritable treasure trove. Some art historians believe the artistic value of these objects is even greater than that of the famous Terracotta Army of Xi'an.
The find, however, was riddled with mystery; there were no written records about this civilization, and the style seemed completely different from any other society in the same period. However, contemporaries never mentioned a different culture and it quickly became clear that something very special had happened in this far-flung corner of Sichuan. Before, it had always been assumed that the cradle of the Chinese civilization was found on the banks of the Yellow River. Sanxingdui did not fit the bill, but the strange masks with bulging eyeballs and trunks and elephant ears suddenly had to be included in the history. That turned out to be no simple task: to this day little is known about this culture.
Although the history of the images on display in the museum goes back thousands of years, the museum itself is pretty modern. The many dark rooms emphasize the mysterious atmosphere. The exhibit space is spread over 2 halls. The first is devoted to ceramics and jade and gold artefacts that have been found in the region. The second hall displays most of the bronze showpieces. The 2.62-metre-high bronze statue and enormous 1.34-metre-wide bronze mask are incredibly impressive.
“Dark exhibit rooms emphasize the mysterious atmosphere”