The archeological site of Jinsha located in the western suburbs
of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province, is widely believed to have
been the capital of the Shu Kingdom close to 3,000 years ago. After
some burial grounds and sacrifice emplacements were recently
discovered, a renewed effort was made to excavate Jinsha. This
vigor has now revealed the outlines of the cemetery, living areas,
palace remains and sacrifice grounds.
Lying only 50 kilometers away from the famed Sanxingdui, Jinsha rose to prominence around
1000 BC and shared similar origins with Sanxingdui as can be seen
from similar burial objects although unlike its hallowed neighbor,
Jinsha had no city wall. So far, artifacts made from ivory, jade,
bronze, gold and stone have been found at the site.
Sanxingdui flourished from 3000 BC to about 800 BC, markedly
earlier than Jinsha culture. Due to this, some historians have
theorized that Jinsha's culture and influence succeeded
Sanxingdui's after the latter was brought low by natural
Over 800 tombs found
So far, over 800 tombs have been found in the Jinsha ruins,
stretching back from the middle of Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 1100 BC
- c. 771 BC) through to the early Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC
- 476 BC).
Experts revealed the complete excavation of the 1,000-square-meter
palace area lying to the north of the site, next to the religious
ceremony ground to the northeast. The residential and cemetery
areas took up the central parts of the site. The diameter of
Jinsha, at its apogee, would have comprised 5 square kilometers and
the individual functionality of different areas speaks of the
fairly high level of development attained by the city.
Upon investigation, it was found that all the tombs faced a
southeasterly direction and DNA testing has revealed that all the
excavated corpses had been less then 30 years old at the time of
their death, a fact attributed to frequent warfare.
Each skeleton was surrounded by potteries and jade objects. An
oddity when looking in ancient funerary customs is the presence of
a jade knife in each body's chest, a very rare custom for the
Another rarity was discovered when a tomb was found to contain
two skeletons, buried side-by-side. Soil samples revealed that the
area was turned from a living area into a cemetery although
archaeologists are baffled as to why.
Special tomb No. M1901
According to specialists, the entire tomb area has been wholly
excavated, with the exception of tomb M1901, on which excavation
work began at the end of March.
Zhang Qing, director of the Chengdu Municipal Cultural Relics
and Archaeology Institute's Jinsha Site Archaeological Station,
explained that "when we first found this tomb, we noticed it was
different from the others -- it's larger than those surrounding it,
being 2.5 meters in length and 1.4 meters in width. It contains
peculiar articles, unlike those in other tombs. Most of the bodies
in Jinsha were well-preserved but the one in M1901 was burned
before burial, something very rarely seen." Zhang surmised that
this represented an ancient sacrificial ceremony in which leaves
and other objects were set ablaze on the body of the
With the knowledge they now hold and although they cannot
pinpoint the person's identity, archaeologists can reveal that this
tomb did not contain a commoner but is also too small to have
contained the remains of a prince or nobleman. Thus, Zhang
explained, the man may well have been an ancient sorcerer or
Sorcerers conducted all of Jinsha's sacrificial ceremonies and
by the luxurious items found in the sacrificial areas of Jinsha, it
can be seen that sorcerers were held in high esteem.
The other conjecture is that the unknown man could be a
high-level craftsman, who were highly praised at the time for their
unique skills, Zhang explained.
Experts will now use "carbon 14" dating test to determine the
precise age of the M1901 skeleton and his tomb.
Altogether 74 bronze items of high quality were uncovered in the
No.M1901 tomb, the first such find during the six-year excavation
of Jinsha. These items were all miniature weapons or tools such as
knives, arrows, arrowheads, shovels, forks and axes, measuring
about 10 centimeters in length.
Archaeologists were originally baffled as to whether these were
ornaments, toys or served another purpose. For his part, Zhang held
the belief that these articles were simply funereal objects which
served as a status symbol for the deceased they accompanied.
Besides these miniature tools, other crossed bronze artifacts
were unearthed, with the particularity of having been cast in a
wholly original manner for the time.
"Ancient people of Jinsha had discovered a new method of casting
bronze, known as piece-mould casting method. A model of the object
to be cast was first made and turned into a mould. The mould would
then have sections cut away from it to release the original model.
The sections would then be individually strengthened with fire
before being reassembled to form a solid mould ready for casting.
If the object to be cast was a vessel, a core would be placed
inside the mould to ensure the vessel's cavity," Zhang Qing
The excavation of tomb M1901 was to provide yet another interesting
turn of events. As workers thought they had fully explored the tomb
and were preparing to evacuate it, they moved an earthen jar
revealing a transparent piece of jade beneath it. According to
Zhang, the new item is a jade chisel, used to work on wood or
bamboo, and was also a symbol of death used in sacrificial rites.
The jade chisel, measuring around ten centimeters long and in
good condition, is the second of its kind in the Jinsha Ruins. Its
discovery will be highly valuable in providing research on
sacrificial vessels of the time.
3,000-year-old bark-roofed house
The ruins also revealed remains of houses. Ancient houses were
worn down to their foundations when archaeologists arrived but the
humid climate around Chengdu allowed the wooden frames and bark
roofs to be partially preserved, explained experts.
One house had covered around 30 square meters, with a roof
wholly made of bark measuring 7 by 3 meters. After analyzing the
wood, the house was thought to have been built towards the end of
the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC - c. 1100 BC).
(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, April 3, 2007)