New archaeological finds provide insight into the Yellow River’s origins of Chinese civilization

Zhengzhou City Ruins Site, Henan Province Photo: IC

A gold “burial mask” dating back more than 3,000 years has been discovered in the tomb of a former nobleman in Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan Province, officials said. Chinese National Cultural Heritage Administration at a recent press conference.

Different from gold masks unearthed at ancient Shu civilization sites in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, the mask representing China’s central plains culture was large enough to cover the entire face of a person. This mask and other relics found in the tomb from the Shang dynasty (c.1600BC-1046BC) shed light on the burial rituals and gold culture of the Shang people.

The tomb yielded more than 200 funerary objects.

The ruins of the ancient city and three other archaeological finds revealed at the press conference are among the latest achievements of excavation and research at the sites of early cities along the middle reaches of the Yellow River. All of these sites date back to the earliest stages of Chinese civilization, according to an administration press release on Friday.


Zhengzhou City Ruins Site, Henan Province Photo: IC

Zhengzhou City Ruins Site, Henan Province Photo: IC

Rare finds

The remains of the Shang Dynasty nobleman’s tomb, covering an area of ​​about 10,000 square meters, had some of the most varied and highest quality grave goods among all the tombs found in the city ruins.

Among all the finds from the tomb, which include bronze and jade objects, the golden mask is the most striking find. The mask is 18.3 centimeters long, 14.5 centimeters wide and weighs around 40 grams.

Huang Fucheng, a researcher at the Zhengzhou Municipal Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, said the mask’s size means it can essentially cover an adult’s entire face.

Previously, a large number of gold artefacts were discovered at the famous Sanxingdui Ruins Site in Sichuan Province, but gold artefacts are rarely found at Shang Dynasty cultural sites in the Central Plains, an area centered in much of present-day Henan Province and parts of the neighboring region. provinces of Shanxi, Shandong and Hebei. Researchers say these rare finds can help expand archaeological research into Shang dynasty culture.

Chen Lüsheng, a renowned museologist and researcher at the National Museum of China, told the Global Times that the tomb is an important find for research into rituals and burial systems of the Shang Dynasty, and because it dates back to a very ancient during the dynasty, it can provide new insight into the origins of Chinese civilization.

“Although this golden mask is older than those discovered in the Sanxingdui ruins, we still need more evidence and more archaeological finds to confirm a direct link between the ruins of the city of Shang and the ruins of Sanxingdui,” Chen said.

Early beginnings

Chinese civilization and its origins, especially the study of the Xia dynasty (c.2070BC-c.1600BC), has been one of the most important subjects in Chinese archaeology.

Since 2018, the National Administration of Cultural Heritage has carried out 11 archaeological projects focusing on research and investigation of the origin of Chinese civilization. So far, more than 200 excavations have seen significant achievements.

Projects focusing on the regions along the Yellow River, commonly considered the cradle of Chinese civilization, are considered highlights of these related archaeological projects.

Besides the Shang Dynasty city ruins in Zhengzhou, archaeologists also excavated the Erlitou ruins in Yanshi, Henan province. Dating to around 3,500 to 3,600 years ago, it is the largest late Xia dynasty site discovered so far.

Covering an area of ​​around 3 million square meters, the surviving ruins have revealed the remains of two palaces, a residential quarter, pottery and bronze workshops, as well as kilns and tombs.

Latest archaeological highlights at the site include the discovery of rammed earth walls on both sides of roads in many parts of the city and walls dividing several areas outside the palace and workshop areas, showing that people of different classes lived in different parts of the city. town.

Recent excavations have also unearthed pottery remains at the site for the first time, more than 800 pieces of pottery decorated with red paint.

The Bicun Ruins, dating from 3,700 to 4,000 years ago, are located in Shanxi Province in northern China. New discoveries at the site, including a complex of stone-built architectures that exhibit certain watchtower characteristics, demonstrate that the site may have been an important customs crossing at this time.

Another ruin site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region covers an area of ​​about 1.38 million square meters and has been basically confirmed to have a triple defense system , comprising the city center, the outer city and the barbican. Researchers have found two underground passages in the outer barbican of the ancient city.

Excavation work in the city center has found a large number of remains, such as tombs, dwelling sites and ashtrays, which provide clues to understanding the layout of the structure of the city center.

The golden mask extracted from the ancient noble tomb Photo: Xinhua

The golden mask extracted from the ancient noble tomb Photo: Xinhua