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3,000-Year-Old Gold Mask Among Hundreds of Items Unearthed in Chinese “Sacrificial Pits”

Archaeologists have discovered more than 500 artifacts dating back about 3,000 years from six newfound “sacrificial graves” at the Sanxingdui site in the city of Guanghan which is located in China’s Sichuan province. The pits range in size between 3.5 and 19 square meters (between 38 and 205 square feet).

Among the recently discovered artifacts was a 3,000-year-old mask that weighed approximately 280 grams (0.6 pounds) and was made of 84% gold. Along with the gold mask, gold foil, bronze masks, bronze trees, jade, ivory, miniature ivory sculptures, tree seeds, and carbonized rice, as well as pieces of textiles and silk were unearthed. Located in the biggest pit was a wooden box that has yet to be opened in addition to a bronze vessel with patterns of owls on it.

And those are just the recently discovered items as over 50,000 artifacts have been found at the 4.6-square-mile archaeological site since the 1920s when the first objects were uncovered by a local farmer. In 1986, two ceremonial pits were unearthed that held more than 1,000 artifacts which included bronze masks. A third pit was found in 2019, followed by five more in 2020. It is believed that the purpose of the pits was for sacrificial purposes which would explain why so many of the artifacts were burned prior to being buried.

What will archaeologists find when they open the mysterious wooden box?

As for who buried all of these artifacts, very little is known about the ancient civilization although the items have helped experts to better understand them. Experts found evidence pointing to a rare Shu Kingdom that dated back around 4,800 years ago and lasted more than 2,000 years. Song Xinchao, who is the deputy director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, told Xinhua that the artifacts “enrich and deepen our understanding of the Sanxingdui culture.”

Furthermore, the textiles and silk fibers that were found in the pits also provided experts with more information regarding the Shu culture. Tang Fei, who is head of the excavation team and chief of the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, stated that the items suggest that the kingdom “was one of the important origins of silk in ancient China.”

(Not the gold mask found at Sanxingdui.)

While the Sanxingdui archaeological site is not currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is on the “tentative list” and may be included sometime in the future as it is “an outstanding representative of the Bronze Age Civilization of China, East Asia and even the world,” as stated by the UN agency.

Pictures of some of the items can be seen here. A video of the discovery (which includes the gold mask) can be seen here.

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Jocelyne LeBlanc works full time as a writer and is also an author with two books currently published. She has written articles for several online websites, and had an article published in a Canadian magazine on the most haunted locations in Atlantic Canada. She has a fascination with the paranormal and ghost stories, especially those that included haunted houses. In her spare time, she loves reading, watching movies, making crafts, and watching hockey.