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China’s Lost Civilization: The Mystery Of Sanxingdui


During the summer of 1986, construction workers accidentally uncovered an astounding cache of ancient jades, bone, pottery, elephant tusks, and monumental bronzes at Sanxingdui, about 40 kilometers outside of the Sichuan Province capitol of Chengdu. This chance discovery of two “sacrificial pits” would be one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century and force scholars to rewrite early Chinese history. The objects were dated to about 1800 BC, a time when it was thought that the cradle of Chinese civilization was 1200 kilometers to the northeast on the Yellow River in China’s central plain region.

However, the cast bronzes of Sanxingdui were far larger and much stranger in appearance than anything seen before. The Sanxingdui culture left no written record or human remains and appears to have existed for only about 500 years before it vanished. In 2001, another archaeological discovery, this time in the city of Chengdu at Jinsha, revealed possible clues to the mystery of where they might have gone. This exhibition will present many of the most important discoveries from both Sanxingdui and Jinsha and examine the great mystery of where this 3500 year old culture could have come from and where and why they abruptly vanished.

Organized by the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Cultural Relics Bureau of Sichuan Province, Peoples Republic of China.
Major funding provided China Southern Airlines. Local support provided by Kathrine G. McGovern/McGovern Foundation.
Curator: Dirk Van Tuerenhout Ph.D.

Dr. Van Tuerenhout joined the Museum staff full-time in 1999. Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Ph.D., Curator of Anthropology Dr. Van Tuerenhout is an expert in human cultures, especially those of Latin America, and is well versed in archaeology and anthropology. He took part in excavations of Late Roman ruins in his….


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The Sanxingdui culture left no written record or human remains and appears to have existed for only about 500 years before it vanished.

China’s Lost Civilization: The Mystery Of Sanxingdui

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