A young boy found a 3,000 year old bronze sword in a Chinese river while washing his hands. Yang Junxi stopped by the Laozhoulin River in coastal eastern China for a quick rinse of his hands. This time his sanitary habit yielded more than good health. While dipping his hands, the 11 year old felt something sharp and strange under the water and mud. Digging it out revealed an ancient battered short sword made of bronze.
Junxi carried his find home to show his father. The sword became a local sensation and news of the discovery spread. Despite receiving offers to buy the sword, the elder Yang was cautious about selling what may be a historically valuable artifact. He turned the sword over to the Gaoyou Cultural Relics Bureau. Archaeologists examined the sword and determined it came from the Shang or Zhou dynasty during China’s Bronze age.
Lyu Zhiwei, head of the cultural relics office, says the sword was probably not used as a weapon. Lyu states, “The short sword seems a status symbol of a civil official. It has both decorative and practical functions, but is not in the shape of a sword for military officers.” He said the owner would need a certain status to have such an exquisite bronze sword. The clean design, small size (10 in.) and composition dated the sword as approximately 3,000 years old; created during the dawn of Chinese civilization.
The Bronze Age of China began about 2000 BCE in the vicinity of the Huang He, also known as the Yellow River. The development of metallurgy arose independently in China and its Bronze age lasted nearly 2,000 years. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was used to fashion tools, weapons, jewelry and ritual vessels. It played an important role in the material evolution of Chinese culture.
The Bronze age contained three main dynasties: the Xia from 2100 to 1600 BCE, the Shang from 1600 to 1050 BCE and the Zhou from 1046 to 256 BCE. The Shang dynasty is known for the refinement of the Chinese writing system. They practiced ancestor worship and divination using oracle bones which were heavily inscribed with details on political and religious life. This period also brought the development of the spoked wheel, yoke, harness, horse-drawn chariots, and weaving silk. The Shang were also the first to mass produce bronze and created elaborate works with great artistry and skill.
The Shang dynasty was overthrown by the Zhou, beginning the Chinese dynastic cycle and the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. The Zhou dynasty is most well known for the development of Chinese philosophies. Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism all arose during this time. The Zhou also developed the compass, the kite, glass working, a calendar, maps, math, astronomy and, eventually, processing iron. The Zhou made advances in hydraulic engineering and the technology necessary for irrigation, canals and dams.
The Laozhoulin River was connected to the Han Ditch, the predecessor to the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal runs north and south and links Beijing to Hangzhou. Its construction began in 486 BCE under King Wu. The Jiangsu Province, where Junxi lives and found the sword, became a commercial and economic center as the Grand Canal was built through the province. Other bronze artifacts have recently been found in the region. The Linze Township of Gaoyou County has been dredging the Laozhoulin River which may have helped uncover the sword.
Lyu says the township is preparing a further archaeological dig into the river and surrounding area. In the meantime, the relics bureau and the municipal museum of Gaoyou County have provided a reward and a certificate for Junxi in honor of his work protecting and donating a cultural relic.
China has an incredibly long culture. The land hides many artifacts and clues to the past. One more treasure has come to light because a young boy found a 3,000 year old bronze sword in a Chinese river while simply washing his hands.
By: Rebecca Savastio