Archaeological Sites of the Ancient Shu State
Archaeological Sites of the Ancient Shu State: Site at Jinsha and Joint Tombs of Boat- shaped Coffins in Chengdu City, S is part of the Tentative list of China in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Archaeological Sites of the Ancient Shu State is an outstanding representative of the Bronze Age Civilization of China, East Asia and even the world. Sanxingdui located in the west suburb of Guanghan city, Jinsha located in the west of Chengdu city and several Joint Tombs of Boat-shaped Coffins, reflects the unique urban planning concept, spatial sense and social structure of ancient Shu State, a typical representative of the Bronze Civilization of the Yangtze River Valley during 1900 B.C.-400 B.C.
Map of Archaeological Sites of the Ancient Shu StateLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
This may be China's top tentative site, culturally. The main reason it's taking a backseat it probably because there are still lots of discoveries to be made. There are three sites to this place: Jinsha Museum in the west part of Chengdu, Joint Tombs of Boat-shaped Coffins are in Chengdu as far as I understand but I did not try to visit them, Sanxingdui in the nearby city of Guanghan. I have only been to the museums because they seem worth checking out.
Jinsha, easily reached by metro, nowadays only opens at 9am (I say this because a lot of info online is wrong because I think they used to open at 8am) and costs a whopping 100 entry (again, wrong/outdated info online everything). It's still worth the large ticket price considering you get to see the legendary Golden Sun Bird which now stands for the city icon. Hard to imagine it was only discovered in 2001 and has already made such an impact on the town. The Jinsha museum is right on top of the site and thus you would feel you have really "been" to the place. More no that later. The second highlight is the Golden Mask. Trivia: the metro station symbol uses the golden sun bird.
Whereas I found the museum in town nice, I was more taken by the one in Guanghan, easily reached by high-speed train (~20min) plus a taxi (~15min) or bus (1h!). The museum is in a large park costing you a mesely 5 yuan entry but the entire 72 ticket price gives you entry to 2 exhibition halls, the park and everything else. The ruin site nearby is not accessible as it is still ongoing but this year there was a special exhibition on the excavations - badly timed to be on when the Covid-19 virus was rampaging through the country, but the building it still there and I'm think they will reuse it for a more permanent exhibition to show the excavation in the future. Highlights of these exhibition halls include the large masks, golden masks, the large statue possibly once holding something (see left). I also had enough time to roam around the park, whereas nothing special it makes the visit very enjoyable instead of shuffling from one dark hall to the next. I asked the information on the status of vising the relic site but he said it was still far off. I also think that the main portion of visitors (i.e. Chinese tour groups) would prefer a museum over the dig site so it is not a priority to open it up for visits.
The discoveries show a large impact on the Bronze Age culture. The Shu state also had a lot of trading partners reaching as far as Iran to the west. I could get into it more but I suggest you read it all on the very informative panels in the museums, available in English for the most part. Some of the relics were replicas that didn't make me so happy though.
As for the boat-shaped coffins, there was another huge discovery in 2017 and I am sure it won't be the last.
I hold a long fascination for China, which hit an early peak when I choose to study Sinology at University when I was 18. The course didn’t really work out for me and I quit after 2 years – I did not have the discipline at the time to put in the hours to master the language. But I have always stayed interested, do speak ‘basic Chinese’ and have now visited China 5 times. In 2007 I embarked on a 3 month solo trip across China, one of my best journeys ever. On that trip I managed to visit 20 new WHS; later WHC meetings added another 2 retroactively.
I started that journey from the Sichuan capital of Chengdu with a day trip to Sanxingdui. This Bronze Age archaeological site is now part of the Archaeological Sites of the Ancient Shu State TWHS, but wasn’t when I visited. It had rained overnight and I changed my program for the day from the WHS of Dujiangyan to the more indoor experience of the archaeological museum in Sanxingdui. There was a daily direct bus from Chengdu’s southern bus station to Sanxingdui. Unfortunately, despite a last minute taxi effort through the dense traffic, I missed that one. On to the northeast bus station then, from where buses left every few minutes to the town of Guanghan. A local bus would take me the final few kilometers to Sanxingdui. When I wanted to disembark after 45 minutes at the bus station in Guanghan, I noticed that other people remained in the bus and I accidentally had hit a direct bus to my destination.
Sanxingdui turned out to be a huge complex, big enough to handle thousands of Chinese visitors at once. It consists of two exhibition halls and a surrounding park. Fortunately there weren’t many visitors, only some parents with children and a few Chinese groups. The Sanxingdui excavations made the world press in 1986 when hundreds of bronze, gold and earthenware objects were found in the fields. These are ceremonial tombs of the Shu, an empire that ruled this region from 3000 to 800 BC. Sanxingdui was the center of this Shu state. It was a walled city of 12 square kilometers.
I found the route through the exhibition halls to be cleverly designed. It starts with the historical story and with the less spectacular earthenware vases, pots and figurines. The last room of the first hall, which is dedicated to "sacred trees", was fascinating. In it were displayed bronze trees with many branches and leaves that were buried with the dead. Birds sat on the branches for better communication with the gods.
The second hall is about ten minutes away and contains the collection's prize pieces. For example a grave full of elephant tusks. It also holds a 40 centimeter high bird's head, a symbol that returns again and again in the ritual life of the Shu. Furthermore, dozens of bronze heads have been found, some of them with golden masks. The heads don't really look human, they look like aliens. The background music in the hall was appropriately adjusted to mystical bleep-bleep-bleep sounds.
Sanxingdui is a treasure trove of spectacular archaeological findings, displayed well and accompanied by explanation panels in both Chinese and English. The only thing that could keep it from being inscribed is the lack of tangible remains in situ, so we're actually inscribing a museum instead of an archaeological site. But a clever nomination dossier (it is already pitched as a counterpart to the Mesopotamian Civilization in the TWHS description) and the inclusion of some excavation sites could avoid this pitfall. This video by China's state news channel CCTV gives a good overview of the area.
2008 Added to Tentative List
The site has 3 locations