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Since the early twentieth century, farmers around Sanxingdui collected jade and pottery shards from this area. None of these banal discoveries struck archaeologists as significant.

Experts knew a human settlement had once existed here, because there were ancient earthen walls that seemed to indicate the walls of a city. And the site was on a long list of places slated for exploration ... eventually. In the summer of 1986 archeologists finally got around to examining the area. Nothing interesting was found until near the end of the scheduled dig.

Suzanne Cahill

And then wham. They found these two huge pits that were just full of all this incomprehensible// stuff. And when you look at the pictures of the excavation, you look at the guys digging and the expressions on their faces: they're just astonished. [SFX][image: "Sanxingdui Pit II"]

Narrator

Archeologists could see these weren't garbage dumps, but carefully placed deposits. As they worked, they discovered the objects were buried in layers: the first layer contained dozens of elephant tusks. The next layer consisted of ashes with fragments of animal bones—but no human remains.

Below that layer were many elaborate pieces made of bronze, broken and partially melted. Why would they have done that?

Suzanne Cahill

These objects were purposely burned and put into the pit in this sort of semi-destroyed condition. This sort of renders them unfit for future use. It's like you do this ritual once, and forever, and it's done.

Narrator

Below the bronzes, the bottom was filled with stone and jade carvings.
At first Chinese archeologists turned to ancient texts to understand what they had found. But even though much of China's history is well documented, no reference to this large and advanced culture in Sichuan could be found. This wasn't a burial site – there were no human bones. It wasn't a treasure horde – the pieces were broken. So what could it be?

Suzanne Cahill

Most people agree now that it was a very big, very extravagant sacrifice to the deities that they worshipped. We guess maybe something to do with the sun and something to do with birds. But there's plenty we don't know.


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