Not every perplexing archaeological discovery is made by a seasoned archaeologist. In 1929, a man repairing a sewage ditch in China’s Sichuan province uncovered a treasure trove of jade and stone artifacts. These treasures found their way into the hands of private collectors, and in 1986, archaeologists working in the area unearthed two more pits full of Bronze Age treasures, including jade, elephant tusks and bronze sculptures.

But who created these hidden wonders? Researchers now believe that members of the Sanxingdui civilization — a culture that collapsed between 3,000 and 2,800 years ago — made the artifacts. Archaeologists now know that the Sanxingdui once inhabited a walled city along the banks of the Minjiang River. But why they left this city, and why they buried so many artifacts in pits before absconding, is the source of much speculation among researchers. In 2014, researchers presented one idea at the the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, suggesting that an earthquake 3,000 years ago may have rerouted the city’s river, causing the inhabitants to move.


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