The Mysteries of Sanxingdui: China’s Lost Civilization
In 1986, Chinese archaeologists working at Sangxingdui (Three Star Mound) in Sichuan province in southwestern China made a dramatic discovery that startled the world and threw the received narrative of Chinese history into great confusion. Nothing like this had ever been seen in China before. The archaeologists excavated two large pits that contained objects including elephant tusks, monumental bronze figures of humans and imaginary creatures, and jade ritual pieces, all dating from the second millennium BC. The pieces and their manner of burial show a highly developed, technologically advanced culture. Prior to their discovery, historians though that only the simplest Neolithic settlements existed at this time in Sichuan. The current exhibition at the Bowers Museum entitled “China’s Lost Civilization: the Mystery of Sangxingdui” displays pieces from this find and a later excavation at Jinsha in 2001. This talk, by the curator of the exhibit, explores many provocative questions raised by these finds, and suggests some of the ways archaeologists and ordinary viewers have tried to answer them. The talk explains how such questions cannot be separated from the current political context of the PRC.