Bronze Cache of the Western Zhou Dynasty in Yangjia Village
Location: Meixian County, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province
Period: Western Zhou Dynasty (1100-771BC)
Excavation period: January 2003
A joint team of researchers from the Shaanxi Provincial Archeological Research Institute, Baoji City Archeological Team and Meixian County Cultural Museum, led by Wang Zhankui
On January 19, 2003, Chinese archaeologists unearthed a bronze cache harvesting large quantities of inscribed bronze ware from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century-711BC) in Yangjia Village, Meixian County of Baoji City, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
1) This bronze cache, which belonged to the famous Shan clan of the Western Zhou Dynasty, represents the first time that 27 bronze pieces have been unearthed in a single cache, each with engraved inscriptions. Among them are vessels used for rituals, drink and food that are large yet graceful in shape and decorated with complex patterns. They included 12 dings (ancient cooking tripod vessels with two looped handles), one pan, two pots, nine calyxes, one yu (a broad-mouthed receptacle for holding liquid), one yi (gourd-shaped ladle) and one gui (a container for grain).
2) Archeologists were amazed by a bronze plate bearing a 350-character inscription that was longer than the inscriptions found on any bronze artifact excavated since 1949 -- even the 284-character inscription on the Shi Qiang Pan (water container) unearthed in Shaanxi Province in 1976.
It was considered by historians as the most important Western Zhou bronze item ever discovered. Inscriptions on the newly unearthed pan documented the 12 kings of the dynasty before King You who, as legend goes, led the dynasty to its downfall in his extravagant pursuit of luxuries and women. The list of kings checks out with the Shi Ji ("Records of the Great Historian") written by Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD220) historian Sima Qian.
3) In addition, each of the 12 bronze dings bears an unprecedented 300-word inscription. Even more importantly, these inscriptions list all of the 12 Western Zhou Dynasty kings (with the exception of the last king You) and provide information on various aspects of life and events during the Western Zhou Dynasty, which are invaluable to historical studies.
4) Two bronze vessels bear inscriptions of the year, month, "heavenly stems" and "earthly branches" (two sets of signs combined to make 60 pairs to designate the year, month and day), phases of the moon (used by ancient people to record dates), and the year of casting (the 42nd and 43rd year of the reign of a certain king). It was common practice to record the year of the casting but not the name of the king. The vessels thus provide rare reference material for research into the Western Zhou calendar.
5) Chinese epigraphic experts have identified a record 4,048 characters on the 27 bronze pieces, which sets a new record among historic findings where a single clan had produced such an extensive written record.
6) Historical data gives a clear description of the Shan clan that enjoyed a high status during the Zhou Dynasty. However, over the past several thousand years, archeologists have consistently failed to establish a specific time or place for the clan's origin.
The inscriptions on the two bronze vessels clearly indicate that the ancestor of the Shan clan was a Duke of Shan who had served as a minister to Kings Wen and Wu (about 1100BC) of the Zhou Dynasty. The owner of these vessels was of the eighth generation of the Shan clan and was an official in charge of forestry and a military officer in the war against barbarian aggression during the Western Zhou Dynasty. The inscriptions also document the laurels awarded to the Shan clan, as well as records of outstanding achievements among the Zhou kings -- from King Wen to King Xiao -- which are very valuable to researching the history of the Shan clan and the relations between the Zhou Dynasty and its surrounding northwestern tribes.
The inscriptions not only provide valuable research material into the history and culture of the Western Zhou but also help date the Xia to about 2100-1600BC); the Shang, about 1600-1100BC; and the Zhou, about 1100-221BC.
It is hoped the inscriptions will help resolve some of the numerous mysteries surrounding the history of the Western Zhou Dynasty, which was the most important period for the Chinese nation in its rise to prosperity. These relics are of high academic value for the study of the politics, economy and culture of the Zhou Dynasty. The well-written inscriptions give a clear account of the history of the dynasty, which will help historians gain a better understanding of ancient China's civilization.
This was the fifth time that such important bronze artifacts have been unearthed in Yangjia since 1949, bringing the small village into the spotlight once again. The bronze ware discovered in Yang village comprise another important finding following the excavations in Qishan in 1975 and Fufeng in 1976. The fact that the three venues are all located in Baoji city suggests that there is actually a large number of ancient bronze ware buried there. Baoji also boasts the only bronze ware museum in all of China.