Mystery of China's Lost Civilization Solved

Study claims earthquake, landslide led to big move
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 28, 2014 8:44 AM CST
Mystery of China's Lost Civilization Solved
In this Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 photo, a visitor to the Bowers Museum walks past a row of bronze masks from Sanxingdui.   (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

For years, researchers have been stumped by an ancient Chinese civilization on the banks of the Minjiang River that suddenly vanished around 3,000 years ago. "The current explanations for why it disappeared are war and flood, but both are not very convincing," says the co-author of a new study that thinks it's solved the mystery of Sanxingdui's abandonment. Researchers say an earthquake caused massive landslides that dammed Sanxingdui's main water source and diverted it elsewhere between 2,800 and 3,000 years ago, LiveScience reports. The study concludes that the civilization—capable of producing impressive 8-foot-tall bronze sculptures unlike anything else in the world at the time—deliberately packed up and followed the water to a new location.

That new location may have been the ancient city of Jinsha nearby. Some believe a gold crown at Jinsha, similar in design to a golden staff at Sanxingdui, is proof. Elephant tusks, sculptures, and jade and stone artifacts found in two pits in 1986 were perhaps purposefully hidden before the move. There's more evidence of an earthquake: Geographical data shows a temblor occurred in the walled city's general region sometime between 3,330 and 2,200 years ago and that massive flooding occurred. Researchers note that ancient writers recorded an earthquake 250 miles from Sanxingdui in 1099 BC; Sanxingdui didn't have writing at the time, so it's possible the quake was closer but went unrecorded. (Archaeologists claim to have found the place where Jesus preached.)

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