In the Sìchuān Basin there was a beautiful secret, kept hidden from the world for millennia. Encircled by mountains, the land was incredibly difficult to access. It was known to be home to the Shǔ, also known as The People of the Eye. Why they were called that was a great mystery until more recent times. It’s secret being so important, so very great, that it has even been hailed as “even more important than Xī’ān’s Terracotta Warriors” by some Chinese archaeologists.
– quote from Lonely Planet.
There was a state by the name of Shǔ. We are not precisely sure when it first came to be, but we know that it was conquered in 316 BC. Some sources say it was by the Qín and others by the Shāng. It was the cultural centre of Bronze Age Civilisation in the Sìchuān Basin.
The site, called Sānxīngduī, was discovered by a farmer in the early twentieth century. It wasn’t until 1986 that two major sacrificial pits were discovered. Their discovery drew attention from academics all around the world. This was because it showed that the basic infrastructure for a ‘civilised’ society was present over a thousand years earlier than they had thought previously of the Bā Shǔ people*.
Another of the reasons that the Sānxīngduī archaeological sites drew such attention was because it proved that the ancient Shǔ people had their own unique civilisation. Theirs was completely different from that of the Bronze Age civilisation of the Yellow River Valley. This is important as the Yellow River Valley was previously thought of as the sole birthplace of ancient Chinese civilisation.
Such is its importance that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, Sānxīngduī is, to non-historians, probably best known for its metallurgy. Its statues have archaeologists believing that “masked ritual played a vital role in community life of the ancient Sānxīngduī inhabitants”. This is perhaps why there have been found traces of paint on the eyes, brows, lips, ear holes and nostrils of these fine statues.
The ancient Shǔ used incredibly advanced bronze casting technology, as you can see below.
*The State of Bā was another ancient state of Sìchuān, from which the Tǔ Jiāzú people trace their origins. It was also disestablished in 316 BC.