Riverbed offers up clues on lost ancient treasures

Updated 2017-03-21 15:01:01 China Daily
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Excavation workers conduct archaeological investigations on a riverbed of the Minjiang River in Meishan, Sichuan province, on the weekend. More than 10,000 relics have been unearthed since January. Photos Provided to China Daily

Relics thought to be part of rebel leader's collection 400 years ago

Archaeologists in Sichuan province have recovered what they believe is the lost treasure of Zhang Xianzhong, a rebel leader whose fleet was sunk almost 400 years ago.

More than 10,000 relics, including gold, silver and bronze coins, jewelry, iron swords, spears, rings and hairpins, have been found in a section of the Minjiang River in Meishan's Pengshan district.

The items offer evidence that the river was where Zhang's fleet of about 1,000 vessels was attacked and destroyed in 1646, according to the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

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A silver ingot unearthed at the site.

Zhang, a native of Shaanxi province, led a farmer's uprising during the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He captured Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, and declared himself emperor in 1644. Two years later, Zhang fled the city, and was eventually defeated and killed by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) troops.

Local chronicles show Zhang and his troops were ambushed in the Minjiang River by Yang Zhan, a Ming general, who set the rebels' boats on fire.

Between the 1950s and 1990s, silver items were regularly found on the shores of the Minjiang River, with many believing they were from Zhang's boats.

During work to build a water diversion project for Pengshan in 2005, excavators found a hollowed-out log with seven silver ingots from a site about 2.5 meters below the surface of the riverbed.

In 2011, workers found substantial amounts of gold and silver items and coins while digging sand for construction. The discovery prompted people wishing to strike it rich to search for treasure in the river.

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A gold imperial edict unearthed at the site.

Police in Meishan announced in October that after more than a year of investigating, they had found 10 gangs that illegally dug for relics and nine illegal relic trading networks involving 70 people who had traded more than 300 million yuan ( million) worth of relics from the riverbed.

The move forced archaeologists to act, starting an underwater archaeological dig in Sichuan, said Liu Zhiyan, head of underwater archaeology at the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

Temporary dams were built around an area of about 1 kilometer long and 100 meters wide in the Minjiang River. The water was drained before Liu's institute started the dig on Jan 5.

Hundreds of meters of the riverbed emerged and archaeologists found the relics 5 meters below the surface.

“The gold and silver coins we found had words related to Zhang Xianzhong,” Liu said.

There is one month to go before the flood season arrives. It is hoped more items will be found before the archaeological dig is ended in April, he said.

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A gold coin forged by Zhang Xianzhong.

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