The travel website TripAdvisor, recently announced its list of the world's most popular museums based on the comments of millions of travelers worldwide in 2014.
The Jinsha Site Museum in Chengdu, the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, was rated as one of the top 10 museums in China, along with the Qin Terracotta Army Museum in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, the Shanghai Museum, the Shaanxi History Museum and the National Museum of China in Beijing.
Visitors to Chengdu expressed curiosity about the significance of a circular golden emblem that features four birds flying around a sun, and can be seen in many parts of the city and also on the hoods of taxis, the overpass on the route to the airport, and local television channels.
The emblem is a replica of the Golden Sun Bird, which was unearthed in the Jinsha Ruins in the western suburbs of Chengdu in early 2001 and is now on display in the Jinsha Museum.
On Feb 8, 2001, workers at a construction site in Jinsha village found pieces made out of ivory and jade among the piles of debris. Archaeologists were called in, and have excavated more than 5,000 precious relics, including gold, jade, bronze, stoneware, a metric ton of elephant tusks, and tens of thousands of pieces of pottery and ceramics.
The Archaeological Society of China and China Cultural Relics News rated the excavation of the Jinsha Ruins as one of the top 10 archaeological finds of 2001.
The ruins, covering an area of 4 square kilometers, include a sacrificial site, a palace, houses belonging to both nobility and commoners, and a graveyard."The ruins may have been the capital of the ancient state of Shu," said Wang Yi, curator of the Chengdu Museum who oversaw the excavation.
Sichuan was known as Shu in ancient times, and Jinsha translates as "gold sand". The most eye-catching relics at Jinsha Museum are the Golden Sun Bird and a "smiling" gold mask that takes pride of place in an exhibition hall on the second floor.
The Golden Sun Bird, which his believed to be about 3,000 years old, is made from delicate gold foil. It depicts four birds and 12 sunrays radiate from its center. It has a diameter of 12.5 cm, weighs 20 grams, and it is just 0.02 cm thick.
The piece is believed to be an illustration of an ancient Chinese myth recorded in the classic The Legends of Mountains and Seas, written about 2,500 years ago.
According to the book, the ancients believed the sun was carried up to the sky every morning and then pulled down at dusk by four birds.
In 2005, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage adopted the Golden Sun Bird as the symbol of China's cultural history.
Explaining its choice, the administration cited,"the exquisite craftsmanship and the representation of the ancient Chinese people's worship of the sun, as well as the Chinese nation's enterprising spirit."
Meanwhile, visitors never fail to be impressed by the "smiling gold mask". Roughly 3.7 cm high and 4.9 cm wide, the mask is very thin, and has eyebrows shaped like crescent moons and eyes like almonds. The half-open mouth gives the impression of a smile.
"The mask is unique because gold masks like it have never been unearthed in other parts of China," said Zhu Zhangyi, an archaeologist at the Jinsha Site Museum, whop added that the mask wasn't worn by a living person, but was affixed to a bronze or wooden human head.
Some scholars believe the bronze head represents the soul of a dead ancestor, while others say it is the image of a necromancer and the features are those of a high-ranking shaman.
Despite the differing views, it seems certain the heads were worshiped by the people of Sichuan in ancient times, who believed the heads were channels to higher beings, and would afford them protection.
The site where the relics were discovered is within walking distance of the exhibition halls. Wooden walkways lead visitors to spots marked with photos of the relics that show exactly where they were unearthed.
"The site and the plank road bring life to the lifeless artifacts in the museum," said Dennis Palumbo, a neurosurgeon from Little Rock, Arkansas, in the United States, adding that people who are not interested in the artifacts would enjoy visiting the museum too, because of the profusion of bamboo and other trees that separate the visitors from the madding crowds outside.