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8 April 2007
Excavations at 3000-year-old Jinsha

The archeological site of Jinsha located in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province (China), 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.
     Jinsha rose to prominence around 1000 BCE and shared similar origins with Sanxingdui. So far, artifacts made from ivory, jade, bronze, gold and stone have been found at the site. Some historians have theorized that Jinsha's culture and influence succeeded Sanxingdui's after the latter was brought low by natural disasters. 
     So far, over 800 tombs have been found in the Jinsha ruins, stretching back from the middle of Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 1100 BCE - c. 771 BCE) through to the early Spring and Autumn Period (770 BCE - 476 BCE). Experts revealed the complete excavation of the 1,000-square-meter palace area lying to the north of the site. The residential and cemetery areas took up the central parts of the site. The area of Jinsha, at its apogee, would have comprised 5 square kilometers.
     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 time. Another rarity was discovered when a tomb was found to contain two skeletons, buried side-by-side.
     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 deceased. Archaeologists believe this tomb is 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 respected artisan. 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.
     Altogether 74 bronze items of high quality were uncovered in the No.M1901 tomb. 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.
     The excavations 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 BCE - c. 1100 BCE).

Source: China.org.cn (3 April 2007)

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