Dig hopes to uncover ancient treasure

By Huang Zhiling in Pengshan, Sichuan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-06 07:28

Dykes have been built to surround an area about 1,000 meters long and 100 meters wide in the Minjiang River in the Pengshan district of Meishan, Sichuan province.

Water in the area has been drained away in preparation for an archaeological dig, which will be completed by the end of March.

"We hope the dig will provide evidence to verify whether the area is where Zhang Xianzhong (leader of a farmer's uprising) fought against general Yang Zhan in 1646 and left countless treasure in his sunken boats," said Liu Zhiyan, head of underwater archaeology at the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

"The evidence should include remains of boats, weapons, helmets and armor," Liu said.

Zhang Xianzhong (1606-46), a native of Shaanxi province, captured Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, and declared himself emperor in 1644. When a rival army approached Chengdu in 1646, Zhang deserted the city planning to move to neighboring Hubei province.

Local chronicles show Zhang and his troops were ambushed in the Minjiang River by Yang Zhan, who set Zhang's boats on fire. The boats, which contained treasure, sank.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, silver was found on the shores of the Minjiang River from time to time, which was believed to come from Zhang's boats.

Building a water diversion project for Pengshan, then a county, in 2005, excavators found a hollowed-out log with seven silver ingots from a site about 2.5 meters below the surface of the riverbed.

In 2011, workers found substantial amounts of gold and silver items and coins while digging sand for construction purposes.

"The discovery prompted people wishing to strike it rich to dig the river course," said Li Keqi, a resident of Pengshan.

"About five or six years ago, many people with metal detectors were found wantonly exploring the riverbed," she said.

In October last year, police in Meishan announced that after a more than one-year investigation, they had found 10 gangs of illegal relic diggers and nine illegal relic trading networks involving 70 people who had traded more than 300 million yuan ($44 million) worth of relics from the riverbed.

"One single gold seal in the shape of a tiger, which was believed to have belonged to Zhang Xianzhong, according to its inscription, was sold for 8 million yuan," said Xu Lili, an information officer in Pengshan.

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