Indiana Jones--whether he was searching for the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail or a swell dame--always had exceptional luck, which movies, books and TV programs have made us believe is an essential part of being an archaeologist. The odd thing is they're not wrong. Dr. Zahi Hawass, the undersecretary of state for Egypt's Giza monuments, says that many of the greatest discoveries in archaeology have been found through luck or accident, dating back to the discovery of King Tut's tomb.
So it should be of no surprise that the discovery made 15 years ago in a southwestern Chinese province called Sichuan that changed how the nation's culture and history are seen was made, as the cliché goes, by being in the right place at the right time. A group of men gathering clay and mud to make bricks uncovered ritual pits containing hundreds of bronze and stone artifacts that proved that this area was home to a civilization 3,000 years ago. This newly discovered culture is the focus of Treasures From a Lost Civilization: Ancient Art From Sichuan, an exhibit organized by the Seattle Art Museum and the People's Republic of China that is on display at the Kimbell Art Museum.
The almost 130 artifacts in the exhibit are divided into three time periods. The first and earliest period includes block-like masks with exaggerated facial features and 57 heads made from bronze and gold foil with pointed supports that archaeologists believe probably once fit into wooden bodies dressed in human clothing. Next came a time of war. There are blades, spearheads and axes along with vessels filled with smaller art items and tools buried as if for safekeeping, not broken and burned like the earlier works. The final period finds the people of Sichuan unified under the Han dynasty and focused on creating an afterlife as sumptuous as their time before death with full-sized people and horses and models of houses, carriages and servants.