Como photo taken on March 19, 2017 shows golden ingot and jewelleries unearthed during an archaeological excavation at Pengshan District in Meishan City, southwest China's Sichuan Province. More than 10,000 gold and silver items that sank to the bottom of a river in Sichuan Province over 300 years ago have been recovered, archeologists said Monday. The items included a large amount of gold, silver and bronze coins and jewelry as well as iron weapons such as swords, knifes and spears. (Xinhua/Li He)
CHENGDU, March 20 -- A centuries-old legend that a vast booty of treasure belonging to the leader of a Chinese peasants uprising was lying at the bottom of a river has now been proven true.
After more than 10,000 items of gold and silver were recovered from the bottom of Minjiang River in Sichuan Province, archeologists confirmed Monday the tale of Zhang Xianzhong and his sunken treasure, dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Legend had it that in 1646, peasant leader Zhang Xianzhong was defeated by Ming Dynasty soldiers while attempting to transfer his large haul of treasure southward. About 1,000 boats loaded with money and assorted valuable were said to have sunk in the skirmish.
But for centuries the story remained little more than a rumor with no reliable evidence.
"The objects uncovered are the most direct and compelling evidence to identify the area where the battle was fought," said Wang Wei, a Chinese archaeologist.
"The items found include large amounts of gold, silver and bronze coins, jewelry, and iron weapons such as swords, knives and spears," said Gao Dalun, director of Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archeology Research Institute.
Archeologists said several characters carved in the gold and silver utensils were still clear, and embossed patterns on the jewelry showed exquisite craftsmanship.
The site is located at the intersection of the Minjiang and Jinjiang rivers, 50 kilometers south of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan.
Several valuable items were found here in 2005 when construction workers discovered seven silver ingots on the river bank.
After studying the items, the local government declared the area a protected site in 2010, but a comprehensive excavation was hindered as experts argued over the existence of the legendary "sunken boats."
But treasure hunters were not so patient and have been diving in the river to search for and steal the buried treasure for years.
Local police conducted a year-long investigation in 2015, arresting 31 suspects and confiscating thousands of gold and silver coins and ingots as well as a large quantity of diving equipment.
Experts said it was hard to prevent raids along the long and open stretch of water and called for the immediate excavation of the site.
The province started the project in January this year as soon as the dry season arrived. As of mid-March, an area of 10,000 square meters had been excavated.
Several water pumps were used day and night to drain water from the site. Hundreds of meters of the river bed appeared after archaeologists had dug five meters down, where the treasure was found.
"The items are extremely valuable to science, history and art. They are of great significance for research into the political, economic, military and social lives of the Ming Dynasty," said Li Boqian, an archaeologist from Peking University.
Archaeologists said the excavation would last until April, and that they expect to unearth more items.
The local government said it was considering building a museum near the site to preserve and protect the valuable findings.