14 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Archaeologists find the largest bronze beast of Sanxingdui ruins

The largest and only one of its kind discovered in China to date, the bronze beast was discovered by archaeologists working in sacrificial pit number 8 at the Sanxingdui Bronze Age archaeological site in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province.

The bronze animal is the largest one to be discovered at the location in decades of digging. The beast has a wide open mouth, tall, upright ears, a rounded body on short legs, four embellished hooves, and a thick tail curling up and out from a high rump and weighs about 150 kg (330 lbs).

All other bronze animals discovered at the site since excavation began in the 1980s ranged in size from 20 to 30cm (7.9 to 11.8 inches). However, this one is quite large, with a height and width of about one meter (3.3 feet).

The bronze animal was discovered in July of last year, but archaeologists couldn’t get it out of the pit until other bronze objects piled on top of the statue were removed.

Excavation at Sanxingdui will continue until September, after which archaeologists will begin restoring, categorizing, and researching the newly uncovered treasures. Photo: Weibo

On his broad chest of the bronze beast was engraved a sacred tree of life, bronze versions of which have also been found inside the pits.

“The tree is engraved directly on it and can be seen as Sanxingdui people’s worship of the sacred tree, or has taken the sacred tree as a kind of divine presence,” said Zhao Hao, a Peking University archaeologist.

It also has a feature that has never been seen before on a bronze mythological animal in the pit: a horn on its head with a man standing on it. He is dressed in a long robe and has his right fist clenched. He might have served as the beast’s leader or driver, according to archaeologists.

Human statuettes in various postures were also discovered nearby, which Zhao speculated could have been originally attached to the bronze beast’s body.

Photo: Weibo

The archaeology team also speculated there could be a larger object that was attached to the beast’s back and has yet to be unearthed.

It is not only the biggest and most comprehensive zoomorphic bronze discovered at Sanxingdui. One of the creature’s ears and one of the figure’s arms are the only broken parts. The Shu people ritually broke and burned thousands of objects made of bronze, gold, jade, and ivory before interring them in the six pits at Sanxingdui about 3100 years ago. Less than 2,500 of the roughly 13,000 objects that have been recovered from the pits since excavations began in 2020 were found intact. The dig of pit 8 is ongoing but is expected to be completed in a little over a month.

Cover Photo: Archaeologists first spotted the animal figure more than a year ago but had to remove other artifacts before they could dig it out of the pit. Photo: Weibo

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