Archaeologists unearth gold mask and 500 items from ‘sacrificial pits’ in China

Researchers have unearthed a golden ceremonial gold mask in China weighing about 280 grams. It is estimated to be made from 84% gold and is among the 500 items unearthed from six newly discovered “sacrificial pits” in China.

The treasure was unearthed at Sanxingdui, a 4.6-square-mile area outside the provincial capital of Chengdu.

Some experts say the items may help make further revelations on the ancient Shu state, a kingdom that ruled in the western Sichuan basin until it was conquered in 316 BC. In addition to the gold mask, archaeologists uncovered bronzes, gold foils and artifacts made from ivory, jade and bone.

The six pits, of which the largest has a footprint of 19 square meters also yielded an as-yet-unopened wooden box and a bronze vessel with owl-shaped patterning.

More than 50,000 ancient artifacts have been found at Sanxingdui since the 1920s, when a local farmer accidentally came upon a number of relics at the site.

A major breakthrough occurred in 1986, with the discovery of two ceremonial pits containing over 1,000 items, including elaborate and well-preserved bronze masks.

After a long hiatus in excavations, a third pit was then found in late 2019, leading to the discovery of a further five last year. Experts believe the pits were used for sacrificial purposes, explaining why many of the items contained were ritually burned as they were dropped in and buried.

Sanxingdui is believed to have sat at the heart of the Shu state, which historians know relatively little about due to scant written records.

The site has revolutionized experts’ understanding of how civilization developed in ancient China. In particular, evidence of a unique Shu culture suggests that the kingdom developed independently of neighbouring societies in the Yellow River Valley, which was traditionally considered to be the cradle of Chinese civilization.