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Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Ground Up: Sanxingdui Culture


When I first learned about this culture, it reminded me of the movie Exorcist: The Beginning. Don't ask me exactly why, but the first image that came to me was the cloth demon head that the priest was holding in the beginning of the movie. What does this have to do with the Sanxingdui Culture you ask? Maybe nothing, maybe something. It's a mystery.

This previously unknown Bronze Age culture was discovered in 1987 by archaeologists. The artifacts found were dated to the 12th and 11th century, although there are absolutely no records of the culture at all.

Sanxingdui is located near Guanghan in Chinese city in Deyang, the province of Sichuan. In 1929, some farmers unearthed some Jade relics that unfortunately fell into the hands of private collectors, so no information was really know about that culture at that time.

Archaeologists searched for years, and up until 1986, they had only found some broken artifacts in a sacrificial pit containing thousands of gold, bronze, jade, and pottery artifacts that had been broken (perhaps ritually disfigured), burned, and carefully buried.

Sanxingdui bronze heads with gold foil masks


The Sanxingdui Culture was highly advanced, using a type of bronze casting to construct the pieces found. Interestingly enough, and this is where the Exorcist comes in, the heads found had angular human features, protruding oblique eyes, and very large ears. Although my visions were from a movie, I do believe that there was a fight between good and evil and the depiction made in the movie was both alarming and had some truth.

Sanxingdui bronze head with characteristic large ears, protruding pupils and elaborate forehead ornament


Based upon the design of these heads, archeologists believe they were mounted on wooden supports or totems, perhaps dressed in clothing. Liu (2000:37) compares these masks with the shi 尸 "corpse; personator" ceremonial representative of a dead relative, and suggests, "It is likely the masks were used to impersonate and identify with certain supernatural beings in order to effect some communal good".

Sanxingdui bronze eagle head

So why was this culture never recorded during history and why was it covered up? The sacrificial pits were only hiding broken pottery, however they were burned. This in itself leads me to believe there was some type of cover-up that masked the truth of this secret culture.


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4 Comments:

Historical Travels said...

It used to be a global belief that certain forms could be used as intermediaries allowing the spiritual world to influence the material world, and I'm willing to believe that these figures were created with this intent.

It's not every day that I find a blog that actually interests me.

Kate Smedley said...

Fascinating blog and informative and enjoyable post, thanks Lauren.

Glynis said...

Another interesting piece, thanks.

rhett said...

The last picture looks like the totem poles found around the Puget Sound in Seattle. The Eagles carved by the tribes here looked identical to the one you are showing on your post. They used wood not bronze to make their eagle.
Rhett out

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