The recent discovery of a two-millennium-old tomb in southwestern China's Sichuan province might facilitate the study of the history of the mysterious ancient Ba people, archeologists said.
"We hope the new discovery can provide some direct clues to explain the riddle of the Ba people," said Gao Dalun, director of the Sichuan Provincial Research Institute of Archeology.
The legendary Ba people have puzzled Chinese scholars for centuries, because the people who lived some 4,000 years ago offered little hint in historical documents about their extinction over 2,000 years ago on the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River.
Some scholars held that the ancient kingdom was vanquished by Emperor Qinshihuang who unified China for the first time more than2,000 years ago.
Of particular interest is the riddle of how the Ba people built the boat-shaped coffins that still hang high in the gorges of Yangtze tributaries and the truth of ancient legends that they sacrificed humans to tigers.
But for two tomb robbers, the discovery of the ancient tomb, which is 13 meters long and nine meters wide, in Yihan county would not have come so early.
"The finding was purely accidental," said Chen Zujun, head of an archeological rescue team to dig out the robbed tomb after theft was reported in May.
Artifacts excavated from the tomb included three skeletons believed to be human sacrifices, seven bronze vessels captured from the two thieves, other bronze weaponry like spears, daggers and swords, scattered pottery and fragments of wild boar's jaws and teeth.
"The tomb might belong to a Ba king dating back from the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC) to the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC), judging from the high-standard grave," said Gao Dalun, who is also deputy director of the Sichuan Provincial Bureau of Cultural Relics.
More intriguing were the findings for the first time of a number of bronze seals on which were carved pictures of the sun, birds and building structures, archeologists said.
On one of the seals, the Chinese character of "king" was distinctly inscribed surrounded by pictures of flames and flowers while another butterfly-shaped seal is believed to be the only one of its kind ever unearthed in China.
However, archeologists thus far know little about the exact meaning of such picture language.
"We have never seen so many exquisite Ba people cultural relics before," Gao said, adding that the finding has broadened a new concept of the study of the ancient ethnic group.
"What surprised us most was that the exchange between Ba people and the outside world was very frequent then, according to the sacrificial vessels, weapons, daily necessities and production tools," he said.
In an effort to find a tomb of a Ba king, Chinese archeologists have been excavating the historical sites of Ba people since the early 1950s, but with no success until the recent find.
To date, more than 530 pieces of cultural relics belonging to the Ba people have been unearthed from 32 tombs at the Luojiaba Site, where the king's tomb was found.