Chinese archaeologists working on the Loess Plateau in north-central China have uncovered a vast site of rammed earth buildings, cemeteries, and bronze casting workshops dating back around 3,200 years ago.
The site, which spans 11 hills and is situated today in Shaanxi province, was home to a regional power during the Shang dynasty, a Bronze Age period running from 1600 to 1046 B.C.E. It has been heralded as a major breakthrough in Shang dynasty archaeology.
Since beginning work in June 2022, archaeologists have uncovered more than 200 burial objects. They hope to better understand the site’s political and cultural relationship with the Shang dynasty capital, Yinxu, located around 350 miles east on the banks of the Yellow River on China’s central plains.
It’s the largest site of its kind discovered in the area and of particular interest to archaeologists were the nine tombs they excavated that belonged to high-ranking nobility. Inside they found a wealth of precious items including accessories fixed to horses and chariots, a swallow-shaped ornament with turquoise inlay, bone tools marked with animal patterns, gold earrings, copper arrowheads and axes, and lacquerware.
It’s the first time that late Shang dynasty horse and chariot accessories have been unearthed on the Loess Plateau and may help explain how burial customs developed. Researchers also noted considerable stylistic similarities in bronze, lacquerware, and bone objects to those previously found at other Shang dynasty sites including Yinxu.
“The preliminary archaeological work has revealed the highly developed bronze civilization that existed in northern Shaanxi during the late Shang Dynasty, one which was closely related to the Yinxu culture of the Central Plains, far exceeding previous understanding,” the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology wrote in a post on WeChat, China’s all-in-one social media app. “The archaeology of the Shang Dynasty in northern Shaanxi is of great significance for exploring the political and geographical structure of the Shang Dynasty.”
The Shang dynasty, which is China’s earliest with firmly grounded archaeological and textual evidence, is currently enjoying something of a renaissance of rediscovery with the Shaanxi excavation being one of four to have recently been explored by archaeologists. Others have been unearthed in the capital Beijing, Hebei province, and Henan province, according to China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration.
See more images of the discoveries below.
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