Hong Kong Palace Museum | Gazing at Sanxingdui: New Archaeological Discoveries in Sichuan

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Gazing at Sanxingdui: New Archaeological Discoveries in Sichuan

27.09.2023 – 08.01.2024
Gallery 8
Gazing at Sanxingdui: New Archaeological Discoveries in Sichuan
27.09.2023 – 08.01.2024
Gallery 8

The special exhibition presents the astounding new archaeological discoveries at Sanxingdui in China’s Sichuan province. A significant part of the “Archaeological China” project, the excavation at Sanxingdui has enriched and transformed our understanding of the advanced ancient culture in the Chengdu Plain in particular and the upper Yangtze River valley in general. The exhibition features 120 remarkable bronze, jade, gold, and ceramic objects dating back some 2,600 to 4,500 years. Nearly half the objects on view come from the latest archaeological excavations at Sanxingdui from 2020 to 2022; they will be shown for the first time in a major exhibition outside of Sichuan.

This exhibition comprises four sections, each exploring a fascinating facet of Sanxingdui culture: its art, urban life, spiritual world, and its origin and development. Commemorating the 2023 National Day of China, this special exhibition at the Hong Kong Palace Museum celebrates the achievements of ancient Chinese civilisation as well as the interchanges among regional cultures. It also serves as a tribute to a century of modern Chinese archaeology.

This exhibition is organised by the Hong Kong Palace Museum, the Sanxingdui Museum, and the Jinsha Site Museum, with support from the Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Chengdu Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Bank of China (Hong Kong) is the Sole Sponsor of the exhibition.

 

Organisers:

Hong Kong Palace Museum Sanxingdui Museum Jinsha Site Museum

  

Partners:

Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology Chengdu Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute

 

Sole Sponsor:

Bank of China (Hong Kong)

Mask

Mask
1300–1100 BCE
Gold
H. 17.5, W. 31, D. 16 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 3, excavated in 2021
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Highlighted objects

Mask

Mask

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 71, W. 131, D. 66 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 3, excavated in 2021
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Mask

This is the largest bronze mask discovered at Sanxingdui to date. When unearthed, it was facing downward, with more than ten elephant tusks stacked atop it. Archaeologists and preservation experts spent more than three months cleaning the mask. It has thick eyebrows, large eyes, and smoothly contoured nose and lips, giving it a solemn and dignified appearance. Residues of silk with warp-weft woven patterns were found near the right eye—clues for future scholars in interpreting the use and function of the mask.

Similar to some other masks at Sanxingdui, it was made in separate parts—face, sides of the cheeks, eyes, ears—which were then joined with rivets. The square perforations in the centre of the forehead and the upper and lower parts on both sides were likely manually cut after casting, possibly for fastening purposes. The bronze masks discovered so far are all U-shaped with several perforations, and may have been fitted on wooden pillars and displayed in ancestral temples or ritual venues.

Mask

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 71, W. 131, D. 66 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 3, excavated in 2021
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Mythical creature

Mythical creature

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 98, L. 104, W. 39 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 8, excavated in 2022
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Mythical creature

This is the largest bronze mythical creature discovered to date at Sanxingdui. With its head held high and full tail slightly raised, the creature exudes a sense of power. Its eyes resemble the Chinese character for “officials” (臣, chen), and it has a flat square mouth and curved, leaf-shaped ears. Its four legs are robust, while the slim body is decorated all over with circular and hook patterns and a tree motif on the chest. On top of its flat, wide head, a human figurine stands on a mountain-shaped pedestal. A smaller figurine kneels at the front of the pedestal base.

Soldering traces on the waist and back indicate that this creature once served as the base of a larger object. Through 3D scanning and virtual model reconstructions, scholars found that its missing upper part is the large kneeling statue with a zun-vessel on its head unearthed from pit 3, together with a fragment of the mouth from pit 2 excavated in 1986. This is one of the most remarkable discoveries at Sanxingdui, and it is highly likely to have been a ritual object in the temple at Sanxingdui.

Mythical creature

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 98, L. 104, W. 39 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 8, excavated in 2022
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Hybrid tiger-dragon figure

Hybrid tiger-dragon figure

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 75.5, W. 38.5, D. 58 cm
Stand: H. 10 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 8, excavated in 2021
Sanxingdui Museum
© Sanxingdui Museum

Hybrid tiger-dragon figure

This artefact portrays a tiger-headed dragon. It is the tallest bronze animal yet found at the Sanxingdui site. The head is squarish, with round, protruding eyes and a nose that bulges slightly upward, with clearly visible nostrils. On each side of the head is a rounded ear with pointy tip. The mouth is wide open, showing fangs and incisors, and holds a band of bronze that resembles a bow. A spiral design appears on each side of the shoulders and hip joints; the knees are pointed, and patterns of black stripes have been painted on both sides of the body.

What is most special about this object is that below the tail, there is a rectangular bronze patch-like piece attached by a bronze wire that wraps around it. Some scholars suggest that there may have been a rectangular opening intentionally left during casting for placing precious objects inside the tail. At the front end of each branch of the base stands a small bird. Inside its beak is a small ring, which may have been used for hanging ornaments. The bird’s head and neck are decorated with scale-like feather patterns, and the wings and tail feathers have incised lines filled with vermillion pigment.

Like most of the finds in the sacrificial pits of Sanxingdui, this uniquely shaped artefact was broken into pieces before being buried. It may have been one of the important ritual objects displayed in a temple.

Hybrid tiger-dragon figure

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 75.5, W. 38.5, D. 58 cm
Stand: H. 10 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 8, excavated in 2021
Sanxingdui Museum
© Sanxingdui Museum

Kneeling figure with twisted head

Kneeling figure with twisted head

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 48, W. 15.5, D. 13.6 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 4, excavated in 2021
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Kneeling figure with twisted head

In 2021, three bronze kneeling statues with similar sizes and forms were unearthed from pit 4 at Sanxingdui. With its smooth lines and vivid depiction, the exhibited statue is well-preserved and has the tallest hair bun of the three. The head is slightly tilted and turned to the right side. The body is inclined forward, and the hands are semi-folded. The palms and the inner sides of the two hair buns were polished smooth, indicating they were once fitted into slots. The surface is richly worked, presenting three layers of clothing in relief. Additionally, there are cloud and thunder patterns, swallow-tail patterns, and bird-crest patterns on the hands, lower legs, and hair bun. Scholars speculate that the patterns on the lower legs are the first discovery of tattoos on human statues at Sanxingdui. According to excavators’ speculations, the three kneeling figurines may have collectively supported a larger object.

Kneeling figure with twisted head

1300–1100 BCE
Bronze
H. 48, W. 15.5, D. 13.6 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 4, excavated in 2021
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Mask

Mask

1300–1100 BCE
Gold
H. 17.5, W. 31, D. 16 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 3, excavated in 2021
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

Mask

The gold mask conforms to the typical human facial features seen in Sanxingdui art: thick eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes, high nose, wide grin, broad ears, and small circular holes at the earlobes. The edges of the mask are tenoned inward, indicating that it was attached to another, similarly contoured object. When unearthed, it was twisted, but was restored to its original appearance through unfolding and cleaning. In 1986, seven gold masks were discovered at the Sanxingdui site, and in the most recent excavation, two more were found in pits 5 and 7. To date, only bronze heads with gold masks have found, but no masks made of bronze or other materials with gold overlay yet. According to the relatively informative report on the mask from pit 5, its material is gold-silver alloy, with small amounts of copper, iron, tin, and other metals.

Mask

1300–1100 BCE
Gold
H. 17.5, W. 31, D. 16 cm
Sanxingdui Pit 3, excavated in 2021
Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
© Sanxingdui Museum

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Hong Kong Palace Museum

West Kowloon Cultural District, 8 Museum Drive, Kowloon


Mon, Wed, Thu & Sun
10:00 am – 06:00 pm
Fri, Sat & Public Holiday
10:00 am – 08:00 pm | Closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays) & the first two days of the Lunar New Year