2000 BC - 1000 BC

Sanxingdui's Animals

Sanxingdui Museum

Discover the exotic birds that illustrate the legend of the first kings of the Shu state
Sanxingdui Museum / August 2014

A variety of figurative and abstract animal images have been unearthed at the Sanxingdui site, depicting real, legendary, local, and exotic creatures. Of all the figurines found, birds were the most common. Legends states that two of the first kings of the Shu state were named after birds. The mouth and area around the eyes on the large bird head are coated in vermillion. There are three small holes at the bottom of the neck, suggesting that this was initially attached to something else.

Just like eagles, a typical Sanxingdui bronze bird has big eyes, curved beak and small crest. This is a brid-shaped bronze ring which is made with delicacy and creativity.

Most of small-sized Sanxingdui bronze birds were initially cast on bronze tree branches. Usually they have big tales pointing up heavily and a bronze trace in in their mouth. In order to keep balance, their legs are usually very strong. This bird's tale and wings are all forked. showing that it might be flying. It's a pity that part of its feet is missing.

This bird stands on a flower of a bronze tree branch. The guanyu and weiyu are all heart-shape. With a bronze trace in his mouth and tail, the bird's body is hollowing.

This bird has a concise look with its tale connected to its body. The decoration on the back keeps the bird from looking dull.  The little round hole in its beak shows that there used to be a bronze trace. The decoration on its head is also missing. 

The tale of this bird is pointing up heavily with almost a right angle. There are squama-shaped feathers on its breast. The bronze trace in its mouth is also missing. 

This figure of a man standing on the top of bird's body originally would appeared at the top of a bronze tree sculpture. This sculpture is a combination of Sanxiongdui man and bird: human's head with bird wings and bird's claws.

Details of the bronze tree sculpture. There is one bronze bird standing on the top of each branch. In Chines legends, birds carry the sun on their backs, rising from a tree in the East and resting in a tree in the West. Therefore trees and birds are both symbols of the sun. Sanxingdui's tall bronze tress sculpture is a reflection of their sun worshiping. 

This chicken is cast realistically with smooth outlines.  According to the size, look and friction, it might used to be the top of a walking stick. 

This bird has round eyes, pointed beak, and crest streching like a flag, which is not a typical Sanxingdui style but much similar to Shanxi and Henan's bronze birds of the same era. It could be seen as a proof of Ancient Shu trading with other districts. 

This tiger is made of golden foil and is covered with markings in 目 (a Chinese character)shape. The tiiger is looking up with its mouth widely open, legs holding back,  tail curved and pointed up, suggesting that it is faced with danger and trying to frighten its enemy. 

This animal is considered as a tiger. With his circle-shaped body, it's standing on a circline base. The object should be a base.

This animal cannot be found in reality and should be a combination of tiger and another unknown animal. Its original placement and usage is still uncertain. 

When tigers are used to decorate  vessels, they often appears with two bodies spreading out and always having dragon head alongside. This kind of dragon and tiger vessels were very popular in late Shang Dynasty. 

This is tiger tooth, found with another two. Its color turned green after being buried alongside with bronzes for ages. The little hole on tooth suggests it might be used for necklace. 

As one of the most important totem, dragons are animals with scales, horns and long body. This animal staying at the top of a pillar is considered as the image of dragon in early stage. What is interesting is it has Goats' beards. It might be the decoration on the top of a pillar.

As the major element that forms the image of dragon, snakes is seen as "little dragon" in China and is widely used as decorations for bronzes. This snake is composed of different sections with scales scattered on its body. The hollowed knife-shaped wings on its head and back might suggest it can fly. The circle buttons on its neck and abdomen could be a proof that this snake was originally a decoration on a certain object. 

There are more than 5,000 shells found in Sanxingdui site. These shell coins were placed in a bronze wine vessel when they were found. They all came from tropical or subtropical zones, especially around Indian Ocean, but not oceans near China, which proves that Sanxingdui culture had certain communication with South Asia. 

Sea shells were used as coins in Shang Dynasty. Those are shells made of bronze and are cascaded every three of them. They could be used as decoration. 

A decoration in scallop shape with a ring at the top which suggests it might used to be hung somewhere. 

More than 80 raw elephant teeth were found in Sanxingdui while more than 1,000 were found in Jinsha site, Sanxingdui's direct successor. They are determined to be from Asian elephants. Sine only male Asian elephants have teeth, those teeth must be from a large group of elephants. However elephants don't exist in current Chengdu Plain which suggests those teeth might come from barter. But there are records of elephants in Chengdu Plain in ancient books, so the origin of these teeth is still a mystery.  

This is the pedestal of the bronze standing figure (Height: 262cm). There are four elephant heads in the middle. Each rolling nose stands for an elephant. His eyes are of a popular style of lat Shang Dynasty. 

There are four elephant heads in the middle. Each rolling nose stands for an elephant. 

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