Wonders of Sanxingdui: Gold masks
Cui Xingyu

As Chinese archaeologists unveiled some of the newly excavated artifacts from the Sanxingdui Ruins site on Saturday, a fragment of a gold mask has caught most of the attention from experts and the public alike.

Hailed as one of the most important ancient remains found in the 20th century, the 3,000-year-old Sanxingdui in southwest China's Sichuan Province is a treasure house buried with a trove of pottery, jade, bronze and gold wares. The second episode of "Wonders of Sanxingdui" looks into the mysterious gold masks found at the site's sacrificial pits.

Newfound gold mask from the No. 5 sacrificial pit

What astonished the archaeologists most about this gold mask is its large size: 23 centimeters wide and 28 centimeters high. Although only about half of the gold mask was excavated, it's so far the largest of its kind found in the primary stage of the Chinese civilization, weighing 280 grams.

It's estimated that the whole mask could weigh more than 500 grams, according to Lei Yu, head of the Sanxingdui excavation work at the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

Many have also noticed a hole in the earlobe area of the mask. Lei said many masks discovered at the pits have a similar trait, implying people from the ancient Kingdom of Shu might have the habit of ear piercing.

Gold foil mask unearthed from the No. 1 sacrificial pit

This lightweight mask is made of gold foil, featuring a raised nose with a sharp edge at the tip. It's basically the same size as the head sculptures excavated from the same pit. Hence, archaeologists believe it was originally attached to the face of a head sculpture. Similar gold masks, though severely damaged, were also unearthed from the No. 2 sacrificial pit, according to Sanxingdui Museum.

Bronze heads wearing gold masks from the No. 2 sacrificial pit

Two bronze heads covered with gold foil masks were unearthed from the No.2 sacrificial pit in 1986, one with round vertex and the other with flat vertex. A thin layer of gold foil is attached to both bronze heads that are in line with the facial features.

The masks' eyes and eyebrows are exquisitely hollowed out, creating a sense of solemnness and sanctity. They most likely represent authorities or top-level figures at that period, according to archaeologists.

Read more: Wonders of Sanxingdui: The bronze wares from the mysterious culture

(Cover image and infographics designed by Li Jingjie)

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