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More than just a pretty face

Updated: 2024-04-20 10:20 ( China Daily )
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A bronze head with hair tied up at the back with a hairpin, unearthed from the archaeological site of Sanxingdui.[Photo provided by the Shanghai Museum and the Sanxingdui Museum]

Towering curiosity

After Sanxingdui, there was only one stop to make — Jinsha, believed to be the political hub of the kingdom between 1100 BC to 600 BC. From there, the kingdom, of which few reliable references had been made by Chinese historical records, entered oblivion.

That was until the summer of 1986, when two local brick-factory workers accidentally stumbled upon what turned out to be a couple of dozen jade items. Further excavation by archaeologists led to the uncovering of two pits with openings measuring at about 14 square meters each. Together, the two yielded, among other things, hundreds of bronze, jade and gold artifacts. The discovery was even compared by some to that of the world-renowned Terracotta Warriors.

One dramatic moment, captured on black-and-white film, was when the grand bronze mask with protruding pupils was hoisted out of the earth. "What was it for? People have never stopped guessing since that moment," says Hu.

Pointing to its huge size, some believe that the mask itself was something to be worshiped, especially given its association with Cancong, the legendary ruler of the kingdom of Shu.

Five rectangular holes can be found on the mask — two on each side, and one right on the brow ridge. "It seems that these were for hanging or connecting the mask to something. And its overall outward curve has fueled speculation that this something could have been a totem pole or temple column, which the arched mask may have embraced," says Hu.

"If that is the case, the pole must be towering, and the temple, magnificent."

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