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This larger than life bronze figure is ... not quite human looking. The pronounced eyes, extended ears and, its elongated body unnerved archeologists from the moment it was discovered in 1986 in a pit in remote southwest China. Guest Curator Suzanne Cahill.

Suzanne Cahill

It was completely alien to anything we'd ever seen before. It doesn't look like anything discovered from this era in any part of China, at all. So when people first saw this they were just completely startled and had no idea what to make of it.

We don't really know who he represents. We don't have any writing from this site. We don't have any writing// from the people who buried these objects. So we don't know what they thought they were doing.

Narrator

The staggering size of this piece is significant – it is the largest bronze human form ever unearthed. Why did the people at Sanxingdui make it?
Do the hands provide a clue? The way they are positioned suggests the figure might have held something. In fact, several of the human-like figures from both Sanxingdui and a related discovery in Jinsha share similar poses. Here is one example from Jinsha: [SFX] [Image: "supplemental image from Jinsha site"]

The pits at Sanxingdui date from 1250-1100 BCE. In addition to human-made artifacts, they also contained elephant tusks. Maybe that's what these figures once held. But that raises another question: what were elephant tusks doing in China, thousands of miles from the animal's known habitat?

Suzanne Cahill

Tusks just haven't been found in China. There just aren't any elephant tusks. And suddenly to find dozens and dozens of them all in one pit was very intriguing.

Narrator

Take a moment to think about your own theories about how elephant tusks could have made it all the way to southwest China. Press 'play' to hear the experts' best guess.


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