Archaeological finds in Yunnan reveal ancient metallurgical secrets
Published: Jun 14, 2024 12:16 AM
Photos of relics discovered from the Jicha site in Yunnan province Photo: Sina Weibo

Photos of relics discovered from the Jicha site in Yunnan province Photo: Sina Weibo

Located in the Deqen Tibetan autonomous prefecture in South China’s Yunnan Province, the Bronze Age Jicha site is associated with ancient metallurgy. Several new finds have recently been made at the site, unveiling the industry’s role in production in ancient times. 

Newly discovered remains include several cave-style furnaces, kilns and a total of 11 melting pots. Two furnaces were discovered to date back to prehistoric times. These cave-style furnaces were ingenuously constructed with a tailored area for air-blast tubes. The remains of air-blast tubes were also discovered at the site. 

Artifacts like stone hammers, crucibles, and cast molds were also found scattered around the site. Archaeologist Qu Fulin told the Global Times that these relics were all the “essential tools used in the ancient copper industry.” 

“They compose of a picture for us about how a piece of raw material has been broken down and went through procedures like melting and casting,” Qu explained. 
After researching the discovered relics and comparing the Jicha site with the Longbo river site, which is also known for ancient metallurgy, archaeologists surmised that between the 17th century BC to the 1200s BC, bronze-making techniques may have spread from the mountain corridor at the eastern foot of the Tibetan plateau and then reached to Southeast Asia, the location of the Longbo river site along today’s border between China and Vietnam. 

“The Longbo river site is known as the earliest ancient bronze manufacturing site in Yunnan Province. It was also known for its specially designed kilns that look like two circles joined together; like the number eight,” archaeologist Chen Hurong told the Global Times. 

In 2004, the Longbo river site was discovered in the province’s Honghe county. It was a complete metallurgical factory that had different departments for mining, smelting, and casting. The site has later dated to sometime between the late Spring and Autumn Period (475BC-221BC) and early Warring States Period (475BC-221BC)

Besides bronze-making techniques, ancient humans at the Jicha site were also talented architects, which can be seen in the remains of buildings and other structures. 

The ancient settlement shows clear defensive structures. Different functional areas for residences, livestock and workshops were separated by smooth moving lines. Walls and wooden bars were installed to separate animals and humans. 

In 2022, the first excavation carried out at the Jicha site cleared a total of 4,000 square meters. More than 5,000 relics were found, including 55 tombs that researchers have later identified as belonging to infants.