As daunting as the task sounds, this discovery in Handan, China, is so exciting that doubtless the archaeological team from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences doesn’t mind one bit. The discovery of the Buddha statues is thought to be the largest since 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded.
While many of the statues are broken, the majority are made from limestone and white marble, range from eight inches to several feet long, and are believed to be around 1,500 years old, dating back to 534-577 A.D. (Northern Qi / Eastern Wei Dynasties). They were found outside of the ancient capital city Ye, and one early theory is that the statues were buried after the fall of the Northern Qi dynasty, during a period where the rulers attempted to purge Buddhism from the country.
But rough treatment of Buddhist art wasn’t completely typical of the period, as other sites appear to contain respectful statue burials. Katherine Tsiang, director of the Center for the Art of East Asia (University of Chicago), commented that “it may have been that some of the ruins and broken sculptures from the past were gathered from old temple sites and buried in a pit… in other sites, there are inscriptions that suggest that old damaged sculptures were not just dumped in a pit, but respectfully buried in an orderly way.”