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Mystique of Ba civilization lives on
( 2003-07-28 07:54) (China Daily)

The news of the discovery of a tomb belonging to the ancient Ba people in Southwest China's Sichuan Province caused a sensation throughout the country earlier this month.

The No.33 tomb of the Ba people
"Thieves dig out castle of Ba Kingdom," "Are Ba people ancestors of Chengdu people?" "Tomb sheds new light on mysterious Ba Kingdom" - these headlines in newspapers and magazines aroused people's interest in the ancient Ba people.

After browsing through media reports and online articles, however, Chen Zujun, an archaeologist with the Sichuan Provincial Research Institute of Archaeology, told China Daily that most of the reports about the discovery were more or less overstated. And the wording of many reports was sensationalized.

Excavation works

Chen led a team of archaeologists during the actual excavation of the site at Luojiaba, in Xuanhan County in Dazhou City.

He returned to the capital of Sichuan Province in the middle of July after the fieldwork concluded.

Covering an area of 600,000 square metres, he said the Luojiaba site is an archaeological treasure trove already under State protection.

From September to November of 1999, the institute's archaeological team made the first excavation at the site and found six small tombs of the Ba people.

On March 13 of this year, the second excavation was launched and archaeologists have uncovered another 33 tombs of the ancient ethnic group, which emerged about 4,000 years ago and lived in valleys and hills in today's western Hubei Province, Chongqing, and in eastern Sichuan until more than 2,000 years ago.

The last one, the No 33 tomb, was raided on April 27 by two people who had been hired by the institute, but turned to dishonesty and stole seven bronze vessels. The theft, however, quickly came to light.

The incident prompted Chen and his team to return to Luojiaba for a further excavation of the area. They discovered the tomb contained the largest number of relics of the Ba people ever unearthed. The tomb was 7.3 metres wide and 9 metres long.

At the site, Chen and his colleagues unearthed three human skeletons, one belonging to a male. Seven bronze vessels, bronze weaponry such as spears, daggers and swords, pottery pieces and fragments of wild boar jawbones and teeth were among the more than 200 artefacts found.

Chen and his colleagues unearthed about 400 artefacts from the tombs in all.

According to Chen, the tombs date back to late in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and the early and middle spans of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

Most of the previous archaeological findings relating to the Ba people date back to during or even after the Warring States Period.

"The yield at Luojiaba is the richest," he said.

"The relics certainly will help us get a deeper insight into the life and culture of the ancient Ba people."

Who were the Ba?

Though there are still few archaeological findings that can reveal the origin and culture of the Ba people, Chen said they did not mysteriously become extinct as many reports have claimed.

In 316 BC, the Qin Kingdom conquered both the Ba Kingdom and the Shu Kingdom that ruled parts of present day Sichuan at that time.

"I think the ancient Ba and Shu people just gradually intermarried and mixed with the people in Central China to become mainstream Han Chinese," Chen said.

Tomb or sacrificial pit?

Chen said the area might not be a tomb as former reports suggested - he and his colleagues did not find a single coffin in the No 33 pit.

"So we can't say the owner of the tomb should be noble," he said. "For we actually failed to find its owner."

But they cannot conclude that it was a sacrificial pit and the three human skeletons were sacrifices either, Chen said.

"Any archaeological conclusion requires solid and ample evidence."

What they can make is an initial conclusion that some kind of sacrificial ritual had been held before the pit was covered, he said, no matter what purpose it served. All of the bronze vessels found in the pit were sacrificial vessels.

Though about 600 artefacts have been unearthed from the tombs and the pit, Chen said few items are typical of the Ba culture.

In fact, Chen and his colleagues believe many artefacts unearthed at Luojiaba earlier this year correspond more to the styles of the Shu and Chu cultures. The so-called Chu culture flourished in today's Hubei and Hunan provinces about 2,000 years ago.

"That means that the exchanges between the Ba people and the outside world were very frequent," Chen said. "It is very important for us to study their relationships with their neighbours."

According to the archaeologists, the finding at Luojiaba is important because this is the first time that so many artefacts that seem to belong to the other mainstream culture of Central China have been found at a Ba site.

There have been a lot of other questions surrounding the ancient Ba people.

Are they ancestors of Chengdu people? Xuanhan County is about 500 kilometres east of Chengdu and not "close to Chengdu" as some newspapers have reported.

Chen said there is no direct evidence to prove that the city once was within the areas inhabited by the Ba people.

"It is sort of an exaggeration to say that the Ba people are ancestors of Chengdu people," he said.

Is the site part of an ancient castle?

Though some tombs found at Luojiaba were victims of war, Chen said there is no direct evidence to say that Luojiaba was once a border town or even home to an ancient castle.

"Such claims can only be considered speculation," he said.

"The finding at Luojiaba is certainly very important, but we still need time to find out how important it really is."

(China Daily 07/28/2003 page9)

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