Uncovering Ancient China : Chengdu Diary Mysterious Ancient Sanxingsdui From Outer Space
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Uncovering Ancient China

Two sacrificial pits discovered here in 1986 led to today's elaborate and quite pleasant tourist mecca. Photos by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

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Photos by Art Silverman, NPR

China has always been proud of it's long history. Much of it is known. But one day about 22 years ago, some brick workers stumbled on some strange objects on the ground. They were working about 35 miles north of Chengdu. What they found made it clear just how old this civilization really is.

In a place called Sanxingdui, hundreds of amazing relics of the ancient Shu people were unearthed, opening a window to an era that had been a blank page in history books. These forgotten people must have sat around carving bizarre heads that resemble our ideas of aliens. They also worked with copper alloys, and not just bronze. Some of there objects look like trees, and on them hang mteal leaves, making them look like a cross between early Calder and rusty plumbing.

All this in a two thousand years period, said to have started about 4800 BC.

And then they vanished.

Now the site of the 1986 discovery has blossomed into a big grassy park with a lake and several museum buildings. You enter one, and are greeted by a sign bragging about what was found here:

"The ancient remains at Sanxingdui are worldly renowned in the multitude of Chinese antiquities, they are among the most spectacular and of the highest historical, scientific, cultural and artistic value."

Another museum sign includes this unattributed quote:

"Having slumbered for thousands of years, once awakened, it shocks the world."

Someone said it. I wonder who?

In any case, the old stuff was quite amazing. But after a trip from Washington, D.C. what was most appealling was the soft grass outside the museum. Perfect for a midday nap. I'm sure the ancient Shu people would understand.

Did the aliens who settled Sichuan look like this?. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

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Photo by Art Silverman, NPR