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Bronze Age relics unearthed in Baoshan

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Two months ago a brickyard worker in Baoshan (保山) was clearing land with a bulldozer when he unearthed what looked to him like a green sword. What he had stumbled upon has turned out to be a Bronze Age burial site, Life newspaper is reporting.

What was once slated to be a factory in Longquan Village (龙泉村) is now an archaeological dig that has unearthed 100 graves containing dozens of bronze artifacts, including the 60-centimeter crescent sword. Archaeologists working on the 2,500-year old graves have exhumed bronze bells, ornamental weapons and belt buckles alongside amber beads and the remnants of ancient clothing.

Head archaeologist from the Baoshan Bureau of Cultural Relics, Wang Lirui (王黎锐), told Life that besides being interesting from a historical standpoint, the find may shed much-needed light on a society largely unknown outside of China. Wang referred to the discovery as shocking and said:

In my thirty-year career I have never seen anything similar. Archaeologists can go through their entire lives and not encounter a find like this.

The site is located in the Ailao Mountains (哀牢山) and has been attributed to an ancient kingdom of the same name. Little detail is known of the Ailao people other than that they were a largely pastoral society comprised of several different ethnic groups, centered around the Nu River in northwest Yunnan.

Archaeologists and historians are hoping the dig in Baoshan may reveal Ailao cultural traits and begin to explain how much the kingdom interacted with Han Chinese during the Warring States period.

Wang said he expects preliminary excavations on the now cordoned-off area to be finished before Spring Festival. A thorough survey of the region is scheduled to begin after the holiday and will focus on discovering more tombs.

Image: Yunnan Net

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This is mostly interesting as because Baoshan is the southwesternmost major Han outpost referenced in early Chinese historical literature.

Unlike Sichuan, whose great plain was fairly definitively under Han dominance some 1000 years earlier, Yunnan's real Sinification really only began under the Yuan dynasty (1271 or so onwards... though a few decades later would see the beginnings of real change in Yunnan). Despite early references to Han parties reaching Kunming and other parts of Yunnan, evidence of serious Han cultural impact on Yunnan remains limited before that period. And this is *500-600 years* before that period.

For those interested in history, I'd highly recommend reading the Chinese accounts of the Yi people of the Sichuan/Yunnan borderland (still dominating most of far-southern Sichuan, ie. pretty much everything south of the plain), including how their queen wisely facilitated the passage of the Mongols in to Yunnan by brokering introductions to neighbouring ethnic groups to avoid a bloody war. While the Han have erected a "Museum to the Living Fossil of the Yi Slave Society" (or something equally condescending and dismissive) in that part of Sichuan, a quick trip around reveals just how important they must have been in the past.

The Ailao people would have been a known neighbour of the Yi to the west (via the Dali and Lijiang plains), as would have been the Naxi of Lijiang, the nearby Mosuo and the Tibetans to their northwest. Tai peoples migrated ever-south from southern Sichuan onward to the tropics.

This compounds archaeological interest in Yunnan, which this year saw the discovery of the Red Deer Cave People just south of the Red River that drains Yunnan's southeast (from about Dali, down to Hanoi and Haiphong in Vietnam), and the earliest Yunnanese stilted house ruins were recently discovered at Jianchuan (on the old Lijiang-Zhongdian road, just south of the big bend in the Yangtse river southwest of Tiger Leaping Gorge), and are also a major recent archaeological find.

Yunnan, along with neighbouring Myanmar (whose internal issues have caused problems with archaeological research in post-colonial times), probably form one of the most exciting archaeological zones in Asia for the coming decades. We live in interesting times!

Err make that 1700-1800 years. Damn lack of edit feature. (Boo, hiss!)

@voltaire
Thank you for a very informative and interesting post, explaining more of the relevance of this find.

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