After three years of methodical searching, archeologists working in southeastern Yunnan have assembled a huge collection of relics dating back to the Bronze Age. Thus far, research has simply focused on field work and unearthing as many objects as possible in the countryside of Wenshan Prefecture. By dint of sheer numbers, the find is expected to shed new light on what life was like two thousand years ago in this corner of China.
A group of researchers from the Yunnan Institute of Archeology and Cultural Relics first came to the area in 2014, when locals began finding small bronze objects resembling chisels outside the town of Dehou (德厚镇), 50 kilometers northeast of prefectural capital Wenshan City (文山市). The team first identified a 50,000 square meter site, and over the past three years narrowed their area of focus to two spots on a hillside they dubbed 'Little Dragon Cemetery'.
Digging began in earnest in 2016, and today excavation work has been completed on 32 individual graves. Combined, these burial sites contained 252 different pieces of bronze, jade and ceramics, all of which are thought to date back 2,000 years or more. The trove includes bronze axes, spear tips, buckles, coins, arrows and tools, while the smaller number of jade pieces are ornaments presumed to be jewelry.
The bronze items are inscribed with patterns, and archeologists believe them to be funerary items rather than objects used in daily life. The graves also "do not reflect any obvious social stratification", according to researchers. Each burial plot is roughly the same size — roughly two meters long, 50 centimeters wide and a meter deep — with the artifacts evenly distributed.
Much work remains to be done, but the digging at Dehou has wrapped up for now. The scientists involved in the effort plan to properly carbon date everything they uncovered and then begin the arduous work of cleaning and studying each item for more clues.
In Yunnan, the most treasured bronze relics so far discovered date from the Dian Kingdom (滇国), which controlled much of the province between the fourth and first centuries BCE. The new findings from Wenshan are far less ornate than the famous Dian artifacts, but archeologists are confident what they have found represents the earliest Bronze Age antiquities ever unearthed in the prefecture.