Rare 3,000-Year-Old Gold Mask Offers Glimpse Into Ancient Chinese Culture

A rare 3,000-year-old gold mask has been uncovered, offering archeologists a glimpse into ancient Chinese culture.

The mask was discovered by archeologists in ancient royal tombs in the province of Henan, the National Cultural Heritage Administration of China said in a statement on September 16.

The artifact dates back to the Shang dynasty—the earliest ruling dynasty ever recorded in China—from 1600 to 1046 BCE, ARTnews reported.

Hardly any gold artifacts have been uncovered from this period, making the finding exceptionally rare.

Shang dynasty
A stock photo shows a face mask dating back to the Shang dynasty. A rare 3,000-year-old gold mask found in Henan Province offers archeologists a glimpse into ancient Chinese culture. Martha Avery/Getty

The new discovery is older than another mask discovered at the Sanxingdui archeological site in autumn 2021, ARTNews reported. This means it can give archeologists a new glimpse into ancient Chinese culture.

The Sanxingdui site is a treasure trove of artifacts of the ancient Shu Kingdom dating from the years 221 to 263 CE. The site was discovered in 1929 and since then archaeologists have uncovered numerous, rare artifacts from the ancient kingdom.

But this new Henan discovery, is so old that it may have influenced the artifacts of the Shu Kingdom.

Henan Province is well-known for being the birthplace of Chinese civilization and is home to four ancient cities. The mask was discovered in its capital, Zhengzhou.

Experts believe the newly discovered gold mask would have covered the whole face. It is not clear what exactly the mask would have been used for but the Shang Dynasty was particularly well-known for its development of artifacts used in warfare.

Archeologists do not know whether the mask was made locally or obtained from elsewhere.

Director of the Zhengzhou Municipal Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Gu Wanfa, told the South China Morning Post that the find shows a direct influence between the finds at Sanxingdui and the finds in Zhengzhou. It is likely that the artifacts within Sanxingdui were directly influenced by those of the Shang Dynasty.

"There has been a saying about bubaijinshen, or an imperishable gold body, since ancient times in China. [The mask] proves that the concept had existed since the Shang dynasty," Wanfa told the South China Morning Post.

Archeologists also discovered plaques and gold leaves in the royal tombs in Zhengzhou, ARTnews reported, as well as coins and bronze weapons.

The Shang dynasty is noted for its bronze artifacts. It is also known for having one of the earliest examples of government in Chinese history and is thought to have invented forms of writing.

Newsweek has contacted the National Cultural Heritage Administration for comment.