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September 20, 2017

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A long history of civilization cast in bronze

BEIJING--For residents in Baoji, Shaanxi province, also known as "the hometown of bronze ware," protecting historical treasures is one way to safeguard their homeland. At least, that is what they want to express through a compelling exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing.

The one-month free exhibition Watching and Guarding Home continues through March 31. It includes 156 bronze artifacts ranging from sacrificial vessels to musical instruments, all accidentally discovered by Baoji's residents since 1975.

"It's not too exaggerated to say these are national treasures," says Yan Zhi, the museum archaeologist and also the curator of this exhibition.

Yan says that among the exhibits, 62 items have been appraised as national grade-one artifacts and 76 are still waiting to be graded. He estimates two-thirds of the exhibits will be top-graded national treasures.

"And it is not often that our museum is able to exhibit such a huge number of rare antiques, and all of them were discovered by local villagers."

Baoji was the birthplace of Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 B.C.) and a major cultural hub in the following centuries. Innumerable items of bronze ware, symbolic ancient Chinese artifacts, have been unearthed in the area. Yan says 90 percent of the nation's bronze ware carved with long inscriptions was found around Baoji.

Yan adds this is also the first time that more than 100 bronze artifacts from Baoji has ever been assembled outside of Shaanxi province.

One third of the items in the current exhibition were just discovered last year.

"My neighbors were building a new cabin and has dug a hole which was about 8 to 9 meters deep," recalls villager Xu Haijun from Shizuitou village, Shigu town in Baoji, who accidentally uncovered some of the treasures last June.

Xu attributes his discovery to his curiosity. "I stood by and watched for a few minutes," says the 30-year-old, who works at a pumping station. He suddenly heard a clink, and shouted at the workers to stop because he thought the water pipe had been broken. However, when the earth was cleaned, the workers found that their tools had hit bronze. Xu immediately reported the situation to local authorities.

The find is not an everyday occurrence, he says. "I only heard about one neighbor once finding a relic at the field many years ago," he said.

"But when more villagers build new houses and excavate deeper foundations, I guess more relics will be found."

Archaeologists unearthed a rare item called jin, of the Western Zhou Dynasty, in the hole. It was the first time after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 that this coffee table-shaped artifact was discovered, and so it has become a highlight of the Beijing's exhibition.

According to Yang Hongbin, deputy director of Baoji municipal cultural relics bureau, only five pieces of jin were ever found, all in Baoji. Two others are also being exhibited, one in the Tianjin Museum and the other in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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