Mark Hiew (more chengdu)|
For many centuries, the Chinese have considered the Yellow river the cradle of Chinese civilization. But this began to change in 1986, when archaeological discoveries in Guanghan, about 40 minutes north of Chengdu, uncovered the Sanxingdui civilization, part of the mysterious Shu kingdom of the Shang dynasty, dating back some 3,000 years. In 2001, the ancient settlement of Jinsha was discovered during real estate construction, offering similarly rich discoveries. The state of the art museum, which now sits at the site, offers an elegantly displayed treasury of artifacts, and free with a panda card until the end of 2009, simply shouldn’t be missed.
The museum, located in the northwest near the Southwest University of Finance and Economics (SWFE) is unique in that it includes a tour of the actual dig site itself. While not particularly riveting in its own right, the site does provide an excellent introduction to the archaeological discipline and whets visitors’ appetites for the actual collection, located in a creatively designed building that cost 390 million Yuan to construct and wouldn’t look out of place next to the Guggenheim.
Split into five sections, the rooms walk visitors through reconstructions and displays covering the ecological environment, daily life, spiritual, cultural and historical aspects of the Shu. Look out for the kneeling figures, believed to suggest sacrificial practice, remarkably preserved gold masks, and astonishingly accomplished round jade disks (bi). Also be sure to catch the elephant tusks (they used to roam these parts back in the day) and tortoise shells, known as, “oracle bones.” The revolving sunbird disk in room 4’s motif is used throughout the museum in tasteful fashion. English captions are found throughout.
An in-depth tour should take between 2-4 hours. Afterwards, there is a gift shop that’s classy, a surprisingly, reasonably-priced restaurant, and an outdoor tea house. The grounds themselves are quite scenic, offering opportunities to glimpse at white cranes and other local fauna found along the lake.