Two statues that archaeologists said qualify as the oldest known gold-plated bronze Buddha statues found in China were unearthed in the province of Shaanxi. News of the statues was reported in the Chinese state-run media last week.
According to the news agency Xinhua, the dig was overseen by the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology. Archaeologists found the objects in Chengren Village, and they believe the statues date back to the Eastern Han Dynasty, which lasted from 25 C.E. to 220 C.E. Alongside the statues, archaeologists also found ancient pottery.
Both statues are small enough to be held in a person’s palm—one measures just under six inches tall, the other around four inches tall. They were discovered in a tomb chamber. Those involved with the dig, which is still ongoing, said that the newly discovered Buddha statues could further historians’ understanding of when and how Buddhism came to the southern parts of China.
“The findings show that Buddhism spread to China from South Asia via the ancient Silk Road during the boom time, of this cultural exchange route—that is, the Han Dynasty,” a representative for the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology told Deutsche Welle.
The finds come as China experiences archaeology mania. Recent discoveries of artifacts like two golden masks found in the country’s Sanxingdui region have reshaped how people understand Chinese history and triggered a growing interest in the distant past. According to the South China Morning Post, local and regional governments have a vested interest in all this—money is being poured into archaeological ventures in the hope of generating tourism.