A fantastic creature has finally been released from the pit of extraordinary metal objects at Sanxingdui, China, once again proving the advanced metalworking skills, artistic talent and imagination that existed in this ancient culture 3,000 years ago. The ruins at Sanxingdui have now revealed the largest ever animal bronzeware found there to date, weighing more than 330 pounds (150 kilos)!
What’s most striking in this latest discovery is that all previous finds of animal statues at the Sanxingdui ruins since 1986 have been very small, only 20-30 centimeters (8-12 inches) long. But this bronze statue that lay nestled at the bottom of a hoard of other bronze wares, measured 1 meter (3.2 feet) tall by 1 meter (3.2 feet) in length. The statue was found last July, but was finally unveiled by Chinese archaeologists on Wednesday, reports South China Morning Post .
Full view of the large bronze mythical beast found in Sanxingdui. (Weibo)
The Roar of the Mythical Beast
The mythical beast is shown with a large mouth, slender waist, four hoofs, and a human figurine standing on the head. The figurine is wearing a long gown, and the entire representation and depiction may be that the person on top is riding or controlling the beast. The animal’s body has the engraving of a sacred tree engraved on its chest, and a horn on its head. It reflected a “different state of mind the ancient Shu people had at that time”, posits one of the archaeologists.
“… this one is very large in size, with height and width both measuring about one meter (3.3 feet). It’s the only one at the whole site,” Zhao Hao, a Peking University archaeologist in charge of pit #8 was quoted by state broadcaster CGTN as saying. “A holy tree was cast on the chest of the animal, showing people in Sanxingdui worshipped the holy tree or treated it as a god. Such a configuration has not been found among any previously excavated artifacts. It’s extremely interesting,” he continued.
There was another human-shaped artifact in the vicinity, lying by the side, but missing a head. Human statuettes in different postures were found nearby, potentially attached to the body of the bronze beast once upon a time, speculates Zhao.
The bronze statue of a man on the horn of the bronze mythical beast. (Weibo)
The Ruins at Sanxingdui and Advanced Bronze Metallurgy
Sanxingdui, literally, ‘Three Star Mound’, is a Bronze Age site in the Sichuan region of China. Local farmers had accidentally stumbled on the site as early as 1927, but the uncovering would happen only 60 years later, in 1986. The site is linked with the ancient kingdom of Shu, reports Artnet News .
The Shu kingdom existed until around 316 BC, and has been the subject of a number of Ancient Origins reports. The site has yielded a number of sacrificial pits with thousands of gold, bronze, jade, and other artifacts – amounting to around 14,000.
A handful of rare finds are a part of this hoard – a bronze box , an altar, and gold masks from two millennia ago, all within the last year. More than 400 Class A artifacts were recovered in just the first two decades of digging – a highly valuable metric by Chinese standards.
In 2002, excavation had been paused for 18 years, resuming during the 2020 pandemic after the surprise identification of six previously unidentified pits. In these 2 years alone, 13,000 artifacts have been uncovered.
The bronzes particularly have gained international recognition, with many believing them to be of even more value and beauty than the famous Terracotta Army in Xi’an. The metallurgy and skill that these finds showed suggested a level of sophistication unheard of in the ancient world, inspiring contemporary artists and architects as well.
“Sanxingdui bronzes are very special. They look very cutting-edge even today, and even surpass many contemporary artworks creatively speaking,” Wang Shenyong, president of the Sichuan Province Meticulous Painting Society, said.
Zhao, in charge of the excavation work at No. 8 pit, which has yielded the mythical find, has added that extraction work should be completed within the next 4-6 weeks, after which begins laboratory research, categorizing the finds, and cultural relic restoration.
Top image: Bronze mythical beast extracted from pit No. 8 at Sanxingdui, China. Source: Weibo
By Sahir Pandey