A gold mask dating back over 3,000 years is among hundreds of relics uncovered from a series of sacrificial pits in southwest China, according to the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Heritage Administration.
The finds were made at Sanxingdui, a 4.6-square-mile archeological site outside Chengdu that has yielded thousands of ancient artifacts since a local farmer stumbled across it in the 1920s.
A bronze animal sculpture recently unearthed at Sanxingdui. Credit: VCG/Getty Images
The artifact is one of around 500 items uncovered from the pits in recent months, according to Chinese state media. Ivory relics were also among the discoveries, as was a jade knife, a ceremonial vessel known as a “zun” and several bronze figurines.
Archaeologists made a breakthrough at Sanxingdui in the mid-1980s, when they found two ceremonial pits containing over 1,000 items, including elaborate and well-preserved bronze masks.
An archaeologist at work in one of the sacrificial pits. Credit: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock
Many of the objects appear to have been ritually burned before being buried, leading experts to believe that the pits were used for sacrificial purposes.
Sanxingdui is thought to have sat at the heart of the Shu state, a kingdom that ruled in the western Sichuan basin until it was conquered in 316 BC. Findings at the site have offered evidence of a unique Shu culture, suggesting that the kingdom developed independently of other societies in the Yellow River Valley, which is traditionally considered to be the cradle of Chinese civilization. Silk fibers and the remains of textiles have also been found in the pits.
A bronze mask discovered in one of the eight sacrificial pits discovered at the Sanxingdui ruins site. Credit: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock
Many of the items unearthed at Sanxingdui are now on display at an on-site museum, though excavation of two of the pits is still ongoing.