Chengdu Sanxingdui Museum – #5/5 Restoration

The third building that was opened in Dec 2021 housed the Restoration and Research Building 修复馆. It is a functioning lab and workshop that is tasked to restore the excavated artefacts.

Sanxingdui Cultural Relics Protection and Restoration Hall 三星堆文物保护与修复馆

Officially this building is called Sanxingdui Cultural Relics Protection and Restoration Hall 三星堆文物保护与修复馆 and showcased the process by which the researchers and archaeologists worked to reverse the effects of the deteriorating relics.

An illustration and aerial view showing the positions of the eight sacrificial pits at the Sanxingdui Ruins site. Pits No.1 and No. 2 were found in 1986 and the other six were found between 2019 and 2020. Sanxingdui is located in Guanghan City, southwest China’s Sichuan Province. (Source : Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archeology Research Institute)

New Discoveries

The excavation of Sanxingdui sites is the effort of many domestic scientific research institutions and universities to form a joint team of archeology, protection and research.

The excavation constitutes an effective mode of integration of traditional archeology, modern methods of laboratory work, and use of scientific and technological tools, to achieve the objectives of archeological excavation, systematic scientific research and on-site cultural relics protection.

Excavation of Pit 3 of Sanxingdui (Source : CGTN)

In the excavation, archeologists make full use of modern scientific and technological means, equipped with 3D scanners, polyspectrometers, RTKs, ion chromatography, nitrogen-filled moisturising boxes, ultra-depth-field microscopes, hand-held X-fluorescent instruments, RP protection bags and other facilities and equipment, with the help of archeological excavation cabins, to carry out work.

There are various emergency cultural relics protection laboratories and warehouses next to the weather-proof archeological excavation cabin, such as emergency detection and analysis room, cultural relics emergency protection room separately for organic relics like ivory and inorganic relics like bronze, archeological studio, etc. The scale and advancement of archaeological tools were unprecedented.

沉睡数千年  一醒惊天下

Thousands of years of slumber, awoken to a shocked world


After the excavation is completed, the relics are sent to the centre for restoration and preservation. The open laboratories and workshops allow a glimpse into the world of modern archaeology. The day I visited was a weekend and the archaeologists were off duty. But here’s a video where you can see folks working in the labs.

A tour of the centre (in Mandarin though) (Source : CNS)
Fragments of work in progress

There’s always controversy in restoration works because we are all doing calculated guesses to the shape and form of these fragments, especially pottery. How do you piece together a jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of missing pieces?

Gold mask recovered in Pit 5 waiting to be further analysed

The new discovery of the “sacrifice pit” of the Sanxingdui site further reveals the richness of the Sanxingdui culture 三星堆文化, highlights the uniqueness and creativity of the Ancient Shu 古蜀 civilisation, and provides new evidence for the study of the historical process of the pluralistic integration of Chinese civilisation.

Highlights of the New Restored Relics

When six new pits were discovered in 2019 and 2020, extensive excavation was made in Pit 3 and people around the world were amazed by the shear depth and area of the dig. And subsequently in 2021, the first restored relics were presented to world.

金面罩 Gold Mask

商代晚期 2021年三星堆三号祭祀坑出士 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in. No. 3 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 2021

金面罩 Gold Mask

The most eye-catching relic for the public is the complete gold mask newly unearthed in the No. 3 “Sacrificial Pit”. This cultural relic is slightly larger than the normal human face, and experts believe that it is attached to the bronze statue.

陶猪 Pottery Swine

商代晩期 2020年四川省广汉市南丰镇联合村出士 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in Lianhe Village, Nanfeng County, Guanghan City, Sichui Province in 2020

Strange and lovable cultural relics bring endless reverie to people. This was not found in the Sanxingdui pits, but in a nearby archaeological dig in nearby county. The pottery pig had one side broken to reveal a hollow inside. And the design was really modern and doppelgänger to the ultra-hit smartphone game character. However this pig was not angry though.

玉琮 Jade Cong

商代晚期 2021年三星堆三号祭祀坑出土 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No.3 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 2021

Cong are among the most impressive yet most enigmatic of all ancient Chinese jade artefacts. Their function and meaning are completely unknown. Cong were extremely difficult and time-consuming to produce. As jade cannot be split like other stones, it must be worked with a hard abrasive sand.


It showed the influence of the culture of Central China 中原 where the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 B.C) was the dominant powerhouse then. And when Zhou dynasty (1046 –256 BC) took over, the system of rituals and worships was very mature and well documented. However there was no written documents or characters that came out of Sanxingdui, or none discovered as yet.

玉璋 Jade Zhang

商代晚期 1986年三星堆一号祭祀坑出土 (左) 2021年三星堆八号祭祀坑出土 (右) Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No. 1 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 1986 (L) / Excavated in No.8 Sacrificial Pil of Sanxingdui Site in 2021 (R)

A Zhangor a forked blade was used by lower ranking officials in the rituals for heaven worship. The one on the left was discovered in 1986 and showed very detailed engraving on the jade. The other more intact Zhang was discovered in a recent excavated pit No. 8, where similar patterns can be found.

铜罍 Bronze Lei (Wine Vessel)

商代睌期 1986年三星堆二号祭祀坑出土 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No.2 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 1986

铜罍 Bronze Lei (Wine Vessel)

Here’s an evidence of the close relationship with Central China. There wasn’t any evidence of an evolutionary bronze age in Ancient Chu, so it could only be deduced at this stage that bronze smelting was brought in from Central China. And this 铜罍 Bronze Lei had all the characteristics of a wine vessel from Shang dynasty.


The Taotie (animal face) pattern 饕餮(tāotiè)纹 was commonly found in bronze vessels of that period in similar but different forms around the cultures that sprung up around China. The most prominent examples were the bronze ding that had these embedded on the sides.

青铜U形面具 U-Shaped Bronze Mask

商代晚期 2021年三星堆三号祭祀坑出士 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No.3 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 2021

青铜U形面具 U-Shaped Bronze Mask

This is a small specimen of the bronze mask that is similar to the ones excavated from Pit No. 1 and 2. These strange looking mask often led people to romanticise the Ancient Shu to be connected to aliens.

青铜U形面具 U-Shaped Bronze Mask

But these were just pure fiction as recorded history did mention the characteristics of the King of Ancient Shu to have puffy eyes 纵目, most likely due to hypothyroidism as a result of lack of iodine in their diet.

铜小立人像 Bronze Standing Figure

商代晚期 2021年三星堆三号祭祀坑出土 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No.3 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 2021

The bronze figure wears an Ultraman-like pointed crown (head dart) and has the same protruding big eyes as his bigger brothers. The figure stands upright, wearing a pointed hat, clasped hands in front of him like holding something, looks like wearing a belt around his waist, wears a long coat with an inlay short skirt, and standing on his feet. The face is square, with thick eyebrows and big eyes, a high nose and a wide mouth, big ears, and holes in the ears.

立发铜人像 Bronze Figure with Towering Hair

商代脕期 2021年三星堆三号祭祀坑出土 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No 3 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 2021

The bronze figure was unearthed in the middle of the No. 3 pit, and was found when extracting the giant bronze mask in the pit. His hair curled back and combed into tiles, just like Zhuge Liang wearing a crown hat in the TV series. There is also a bronze component behind the head of the figure, which should be part of an attachment to something.

青铜平顶人头像 Bronze Figure with Flat Top

商代睌期 1986年三星堆二号祭祀坑出土 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No.2 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 1986

The top of the head is flat, and the top cover and cranial cavity are cast separately. The face seems to be wearing a mask, and the lower end of the neck is cast into an inverted angular shape. The hair is braided back and drooping behind the head, and the ends of the hair are tied. This head is the larger one among the unearthed heads, which is quite thick.

青铜圆顶人头像 Bronze Figure with Dome Top

商代睌期 1986年三星堆二号祭祀坑出土 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No.2 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 1986

The dome bronze head is wearing a hat hoop, with a roll on the back of the head, like a coiled bun. Some flat-topped avatars have braided hair on the back of the head, and most of them wear plain-faced hats. One of the head portraits is decorated with a pattern on the hat. Wearing a head hat belongs to the typical characteristics of Sichuan and Shu.

三号铜神树 No.3 Bronze Divine Tree

商代晚期 1986年三星堆三号祭祀坑出土 Late Shang Dynasty, Excavated in No.2 Sacrificial Pit of Sanxingdui Site in 1986

The recent excavation has unearthed another bronze sacred tree from the Ancient Shu period. It was found in parts in Pit 3, and was so complex that its surviving branches, flowers, some of the trunk and solar wheel ornament took four months to fully excavate because they were buried under heavy layers of ivory and other artefacts. 



What was interesting about this tree was the fragments of gold barks that were used to decorate the tree. They are still waiting for other pieces of the tree to appear to complete the puzzle.


The relics continue to be discovered as work continues to Pit 7 and 8. These are all clues of a time when a civilisation was facing a crossroad in history and how they picked the next path towards their glory or destruction. Often referred as the Mayas of China, the people of Sanxingdui was not given a race or tribe affiliation, but they were definitely not the original Han Chinese. Did they survive and had their culture influenced the Shang-Zhou dynasties or did the Shang-Zhou culture assimilated them? These are questions still left unanswered.

Sanxingdui Museum Series

  1. Introduction
  2. The Capital of Ancient Shu
  3. The Space Man and the Magic Tree
  4. Where it all started
  5. Restoration

Visitor Information : Museum has an entrance fee, so remember to either buy the ticket in their WeChat mini-app or get the ticket at the door. Do not buy the tickets from tourist sites online, they have not authorised anyone to sell those tickets. You will need a photo identification so bring your passport or driving license.

Museums are closed on Monday everywhere in China. Opening time for Sanxingdui Museum is 8am – 6.30pm. Carpark is available on site if you are driving. The entire place will take about 3-4 hours depending how in depth do you want to experience the place.

Sanxingdui Museum 三星堆博物馆
China, Si Chuan Sheng, De Yang Shi, Guang Han Shi, 丰富南兴镇真武村
Tel +86 838 551 0399

Visited Dec 2021

#sanxingduimusem #sanxingdui #三星堆 #三星堆博物馆 #guanghan #广汉

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