Kneeling Decapitated Skeleton was Ancient Chinese Sacrifice Victim

Kneeling Decapitated Skeleton was Ancient Chinese Sacrifice Victim

Archaeologists in China have discovered a kneeling, decapitated skeleton. They believe that the individual was an ancient Chinese sacrifice victim .

Xinhua, China’s largest state-run news agency, reported that the kneeling, decapitated skeleton was found at the Chaizhuang site in Jiyuan, located in China’s Henan province. According to a report in China Daily , the body was discovered in its final resting place in a kneeling position, which ancient Chinese texts describe as evidence of a “sacrificial rite.”

Finding the Decapitated Skeleton

Since 2019, teams of archaeologists from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Jiyuan Municipal Cultural Relics Team have been excavating the 6,000 square meter (64,600 square feet) site at Chaizhuang. According to the Xinhua report, the site dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC to 1046 BC) and contains houses, water wells, stoves, roads, and several tombs containing pottery, bones, jewelry, and evidence of seafood consumption and the use of fireworks.

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The undated file photo shows a stove unearthed from the Chaizhuang site in Jiyuan, central China's Henan Province. (Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology/ Xinhua)

The research team uncovered a “sacrificial pit,” inside which the decapitated sacrificial victim was discovered still in its final kneeling position, facing north, with folded arms and its hands clasped together - providing what the archaeologists are calling “crucial” evidence of the social and spiritual customs of this time period. In particular, the discovery confirms a suspected Shang Dynasty practice in which sacrificed individuals were buried in an upright position.

A piece of oracle bone was found at the Chaizhuang site shaped like and bearing the “Kan” glyph, representing the way of offering human or animal pit sacrifices. This method of death, known as “ Jiaguwen, was described on an oracle bone inscription discovered at a different site, the Yin Ruins. These scripts are among the earliest fully developed characters in ancient China, which were often etched onto human and animal bones, and even onto tortoise shells, reports Xinhua.

A piece of oracle bone discovered at the Chaizhuang site in Jiyuan, Central China's Henan province. ( Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology/ Xinhua)

Many Ways to Die as an Ancient Chinese Sacrifice

Liang Fawei, leader of the Chaizhuang site excavation, explained that during the Shang Dynasty period the terms “She,” “Shi,” “Tan” and “Kan,” were used to denote sacrificial activities performed at different rituals. “Kan” depicts burials in an upright position, Liang explained to Xinhua. The discovery of the “Kan glyph” confused the archaeologists at first as human sacrifices have primarily been found lying down, until this one, according to researchers at Penn State University .

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Human sacrifice traditions originated in the Shang dynasty when commoners were often buried with domesticated animals, such as pigs and dogs, while the upper classes were entombed with the bodies of their wives, concubines, bodyguards, servants, and slaves, all of whom had been killed to follow their masters to the other world. This is evident after the death of Duke Mu of Qin, born Renhao, the fourteenth ruler of Qin (659–621 BC) in the western reaches of the Zhou Kingdom, when 177 people were buried alive with him.

During The Shang dynasty, thousands of humans were decapitated to appease the gods and spirits, and their decapitated skeletons have been unearthed in the tombs of Shang dynasty kings. While burning people alive was also common, men, women, and children who were “lucky” enough to have been chosen as an offering to the gods were often cut into small pieces, or were tactfully punctured and left to slowly bleed to death.

In 1673 AD, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty banned the gruesome tradition of human sacrifice, or more accurately, “formal murder for social control .”


    Ancient decapitated skeleton found on its knees after ritualistic sacrifice

    A decapitated skeleton, believed to be the result of a ritualistic killing, has been found in China.

    The remains were found in a kneeling position which experts believe is the final resting state of the long-dead citizen.

    Archeologists found the bones at the Chaizhuang dig site in central Henan Province, according to state-run media service Xinhuanet.

    They believe it dates back to the Shang Dynasty which ruled China from 1600BC to 1046BC.

    Not only does this archaeological site date back to that time period but ancient Chinese scripts report that this method of killing may have taken place back then.

    It’s reported that a Shang Dynasty practice was to bury sacrificed individuals in an upright position, which would explain why these remains were found kneeling. The scientists actually found the victim inside a sacrificial pit at the site.

    Liang Fawei, head of the Chaizhuang site excavation project, told the local media that studies on skeletons discovered elsewhere in China have shown inscriptions carved into bones.

    These ‘glyphs’ have been found on animal bones, tortoise shells and even human bones. They are some of the earliest known fully-developed written characters in ancient China.

    Liang said according to these other findings, sacrificial culture prevailed in the Shang Dynasty and glyphs such as “She,” “Shi,” “Tan” and “Kan” were used to describe sacrificial activities of different rituals.

    Among them, the word “Kan” depicts the way of offering sacrifices of people or livestock in pits.

    This latest finding seems to add more evidence to support the grim practice carried out centuries ago in ancient China.


    Kneeling decapitated skeleton found in ‘sacrificial pit’ is eerie evidence of brutal ancient Chinese ritual

    AN ANCIENT decapitated skeleton buried in an kneeling position has been discovered in central China.

    Archaeologists think it could be evidence of a particular sacrificial practice that is mentioned in Chinese scriptures.

    The skeleton was found in the Chaizhuang archaeological site in Jiyuan, near China’s Henan province.

    This is according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.

    Previous excavations at the site have revealed houses, wells, stoves, roads, tombs and more.

    They all date back to the Shang Dynasty, which ruled in China from around 1600 BC to 1046 BC.

    Pottery, jewellery, seafood and even evidence of ancient fireworks has reportedly been found there.

    Excavations have been occurring at the Chaizhuang site since 2019.

    The recent sacrificial burial discovery was made by archaeologists from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Jiyuan Municipal Cultural Relics Team.

    The pit containing the decapitated victim is thought to be evidence of important social and spiritual customs during the Shang Dynasty.

    The skeletons body was facing north with its arms folded in front and its hand clasped together.

    It's in keeping with descriptions in ancient Chinese scriptures of sacrificed people being buried in an upright position.

    An "oracle bone" found at a different Chinese site has ancient Chinese writing etched onto it that describes these practices.

    A fragment of an oracle bone was also found at the Chaizhuang site and it contained a symbol thought to represent the practice of sacrificing people or livestock in pits.

    The ancient script referring to a sacrifice is known as "Kan".

    Liang Fawei, leader of the Chaizhuang site excavation project, told Xinhua that they found a "well-preserved human bone [that's] shaped like the oracle bone inscription of the character ‘Kan'."

    However, despite scripture referring to upright burials, most sacrificed skeletons from this period have been found lying down.

    This is why the new discovery is so important for piecing together ancient Chinese ritual practices.


    Ancient decapitated skeleton found on its knees after ritualistic sacrifice

    A decapitated skeleton, believed to be the result of a ritualistic killing, has been found in China.

    The remains were found in a kneeling position which experts believe is the final resting state of the long-dead citizen.

    Archeologists found the bones at the Chaizhuang dig site in central Henan Province, according to state-run media service Xinhuanet.

    They believe it dates back to the Shang Dynasty which ruled China from 1600BC to 1046BC.

    Not only does this archaeological site date back to that time period but ancient Chinese scripts report that this method of killing may have taken place back then.

    It’s reported that a Shang Dynasty practice was to bury sacrificed individuals in an upright position, which would explain why these remains were found kneeling. The scientists actually found the victim inside a sacrificial pit at the site.

    Liang Fawei, head of the Chaizhuang site excavation project, told the local media that studies on skeletons discovered elsewhere in China have shown inscriptions carved into bones.

    These ‘glyphs’ have been found on animal bones, tortoise shells and even human bones. They are some of the earliest known fully-developed written characters in ancient China.

    Liang said according to these other findings, sacrificial culture prevailed in the Shang Dynasty and glyphs such as “She,” “Shi,” “Tan” and “Kan” were used to describe sacrificial activities of different rituals.

    Among them, the word “Kan” depicts the way of offering sacrifices of people or livestock in pits.

    This latest finding seems to add more evidence to support the grim practice carried out centuries ago in ancient China.


    Kneeling decapitated skeleton found in ‘sacrificial pit’ is eerie evidence of brutal ancient Chinese ritual

    AN ANCIENT decapitated skeleton buried in an kneeling position has been discovered in central China.

    Archaeologists think it could be evidence of a particular sacrificial practice that is mentioned in Chinese scriptures.

    The skeleton was found in the Chaizhuang archaeological site in Jiyuan, near China’s Henan province.

    This is according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.

    Previous excavations at the site have revealed houses, wells, stoves, roads, tombs and more.

    They all date back to the Shang Dynasty, which ruled in China from around 1600 BC to 1046 BC.

    Pottery, jewellery, seafood and even evidence of ancient fireworks has reportedly been found there.

    Excavations have been occurring at the Chaizhuang site since 2019.

    The recent sacrificial burial discovery was made by archaeologists from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Jiyuan Municipal Cultural Relics Team.

    The pit containing the decapitated victim is thought to be evidence of important social and spiritual customs during the Shang Dynasty.

    The skeletons body was facing north with its arms folded in front and its hand clasped together.

    It's in keeping with descriptions in ancient Chinese scriptures of sacrificed people being buried in an upright position.

    An "oracle bone" found at a different Chinese site has ancient Chinese writing etched onto it that describes these practices.

    A fragment of an oracle bone was also found at the Chaizhuang site and it contained a symbol thought to represent the practice of sacrificing people or livestock in pits.

    The ancient script referring to a sacrifice is known as "Kan".

    Liang Fawei, leader of the Chaizhuang site excavation project, told Xinhua that they found a "well-preserved human bone [that's] shaped like the oracle bone inscription of the character ‘Kan'."

    However, despite scripture referring to upright burials, most sacrificed skeletons from this period have been found lying down.

    This is why the new discovery is so important for piecing together ancient Chinese ritual practices.


    Decapitated Skeletons Show Ancient Chinese Kept Prisoners Of War As Slaves

    Many of the people sacrificed in ritual killings more than 3,000 years ago in China were enslaved prisoners of war, archaeologists say.

    Their skeletons, buried at the ancient Yinxu archaeological site, tell a story of victims in a foreign land who survived at least a few years before being killed. Scientists studied the composition of their bones to reconstruct their diets, a study in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology said, to determine their origin. That involved looking at the elements present in the bones of 68 human sacrifices — rather than their teeth because they had been decapitated — and comparing them to the remains of a few dozen locals from the same ancient place. The results suggest the victims “moved to Yinxu and adopted the local diet for at least a few years before being killed.”

    The human sacrifices lived during China’s Shang Dynasty, which ran roughly 1600 B.C. to 1000 B.C., during the early Bronze Age. About halfway through the dynasty, the kings took residence at what is now the city of Anyang in Henan province in eastern China. That Shang capital was the ancient city Yin — today’s Yinxu historical site is what remains of it.

    The World Heritage Convention says the Yin ruins are a record of “the golden age of early Chinese culture, crafts and sciences, a time of great prosperity of the Chinese Bronze Age.” They include palaces, royal tombs, shrines and numerous artifacts.

    The researchers, who studied the human sacrifices, said ritual killings of both people and animals was not uncommon during this period of Chinese history. But their analysis speaks to the origin of the human victims and their social roles.

    “Although oracle bone inscriptions from the site of Yinxu mentioned that many of these victims were war captives, little archaeological evidence could support or confirm this assertion,” the study said. But their change to the local diet only a few years before their deaths and the fact that their diets were “more restricted” while they were at Yinxu suggests the inscriptions were true, that these people were prisoners of war kept as slaves.

    A report on the research said the victims were buried in the city’s royal cemetery as well as other places, which supports the idea that they were considered members of different classes. Experts previously have demonstrated the victims were either “rensheng,” who were mutilated and buried in mass graves, or “renxun,” who were buried individually — a sort of upper class of human sacrifices. All but one of the skeletons analyzed in this study were rensheng.

    “The victims were kept as a store of sorts, allowing the king to call for sacrificial rituals even during times of peace,” the report said.

    Ancient Chinese nations were not the only ones to practice ritual killings. The Aztecs in Mexico sacrificed thousands of people to the sun, and archaeologists recently found the bones of two human sacrifices beneath an ancient South Korean palace, likely killed to guarantee the construction’s success for the kingdom. There also have been cases of servants being buried alive with dead kings to attend to them in the afterlife.

    This study says the information about the human sacrifices’ origins speaks to life and rule during this important period in Chinese history: “This discovery has significant implications for understanding the various tactics used by the Shang kings to consolidate power over their subjects, including the display of violence through mass sacrificial rituals.”


    Introduction

    Decapitation, in other terms, beheading, is a pervasive worldwide ancient practice which is implemented in different cultural contexts as a cultural phenomenon or social behavior (Aldhouse-Green 2006 Armit 2012 Chacon and Dye 2007 Pearson 2005). Anthropological and historical records have provided several social reasons that may have motivated the ante- or post-mortem head removal in different individual circumstances and cultural contexts (Carty and Gleeson 2013 Harman et al. 1981 Buckberry 2008 Borsje 2007 Boylston et al. 2000 Buckberry and Hadley 2008). By severing the head from the body, decapitation could be a ritual mortuary practice in order to destroy the soul a consequence of armed confrontation to kill the foe a form of trophy to dishonor the dead a form of sacrifice and a consequence of judicial executions (Philpott 1991 Carty 2015). In order to distinguish and identify the motivation behind the decapitation, it will be an effective way to combine the osteological evidence with the archaeological and historical contexts in which they occur (Carty 2015).

    The removal of heads is recognized as early as in the Neolithic period (Simmons et al. 2007 Talalay 2007). In the Levant of the northern Syria, the postmortem decapitation is implemented using stone tools during the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, roughly 12,000–10,500 BP as a ritual mortuary practice before the body was totally decomposed (Kanjou et al. 2015). In America, the case study of the earliest mortuary ritualized decapitation could be dated back to cal. 9100–9400 BP which is found in east-central Brazil (Strauss et al. 2015). And in Capsian of Algeria in North Africa, decapitation is also observed dating to cal. 8000 BP, which is attributed to either utilitarian or ritual purposes (Haverkort and Lubell 1999). More recently, decapitation burials have been identified more frequently from the Bronze Age to the early modern period in the Europe (Philpott 1991 Müldner et al. 2011 Bush and Stirland 1991 Mckinley 1993 Anderson 2001 Pitts et al. 2002 Carty 2015 Kozakaitė et al. 2018 Gardeła 2013 Ström 1942 Tucker 2012, 2015 Harman et al. 1981 Armit 2006 Tracy and Massey 2012), the Near East (Dolce 2018), the America (Moser 1973 Lessa 2007 Chacon and Dye 2007 Tung 2008 Conlee 2007 Valdez 2009 Proulx 1971, 1999, 1989 Browne et al. 1993 Verano 2001, 2003), and the Asia (Krohn 1927 Hutton 1928 Gohain 1977 Morimoto 1987 Morimoto and Hirata 1992 Tillema 1989 Phelan 1994 Hoskins 1996 Needham 1976 Nagaoka and Hirata 1992 Lee et al. 2017 Nagaoka et al. 2009) attributed to the interpersonal conflict, cult of the head, and headhunting rite. The portability and importance of a severed head makes it an ideal trophy of war to display one’s status, power of heroism, and prowess, harvests, rebirth, and military supremacy, and is considered as a military merit with an honor to be knighted and gifted (Ó Donnabháin 1995, 2011 Goldsworthy 1996 Carty 2015 Ogburn 2007 Proulx 2001 Petersen and Crock 2007 Toyne 2011). Besides, decapitation is frequently employed during the medieval and early modern period in Europe as a form of judicial execution (Waldron 1996).

    Decapitation has been recorded in ancient Chinese historical documents for a long time. All types of decapitation have been identified in archeological discoveries (Qian 1994 Sun 1998). During the Neolithic period, ritual skulls are found buried under the foundation of the houses and rampart or in the individual sacrifice pits in Banpo site, Wangchenggang site, Yinjiacheng site, and Shimao site in Shaanxi, Henan, Shandong provinces (Jin 2005 Chen et al. 2016). Besides, headless skeletons are also found in burials in Beishouling site, Liuwan graveyard, Gamatai site, and Dahecun site in Shaanxi, Qinghai, Henan provinces, which could be attributed to sacrifice, conflict, or headhunting rite (Jin 2005 Wang 2015). During the Shang Dynasty in the Bronze Age, thousands of skulls and headless skeletons of young males are found in the sacrifice pits or burials, which are located close to the Kings’ tombs in the last capital of the dynasty (Jin 2005 CASS 1977). Notably, the severed skulls are found in the bronze sacrificial vessels as grave goods (Sun 2015). Meanwhile, from the Zhou Dynasty to Ming Dynasty, another type of decapitation is implemented by the victors of the war. The heads of their enemies are collected as trophies to construct a mound named “Jinguan” or the skulls are made into cups to show military achievement and express contempt to the enemies (Zhou 2005 Zhu 2011 Shi 1996 Zhao 1996 Zhao and Wang 2016 Shi and Song 1996). Even till recently, the headhunting rite is still preserved in some ethnic minorities as a sacrificial ritual in Southwest China in Yunnan province (Li 1987 Wang 1994).

    In 2011, a high-status tomb dating back to the Bronze Age is scientifically excavated in Lu’an, Anhui province, which is the last capital of the Chu State called “Shou Chun” during the Late Warring States Period in China (Qin 2012). Warring States Period at the late phase of Chinese Bronze Age is a crucial transformative period as wars and conflicts between different principalities constantly occurred during this period of ancient Chinese history. The well-preserved headless skeleton in this tomb represents one of the most complete and recognizable decapitation cases during that period in China. Although there are abundant archaeological discoveries related to the ancient Chinese decapitation, however, due to the poor preservation and the insufficient awareness in the past, no scientific osteological analysis has ever been conducted regarding the reconstruction of ancient Chinese decapitation. The archaeological excavation of M585 provides a valuable opportunity to look into the phenomenon of ancient execution in China. By analyzing the morphology and direction of the cut marks on the skeleton, the aim of the present study is to speculate the hacking implement and to reconstruct the process of execution, which will contribute to our understanding of the cause of death, the lethal implement, and the process of the decapitation, and further enrich our knowledge of the decapitation phenomenon in terms of war and execution in ancient China.


    Why did a 3,000-year-old dynasty practice ritual killing?

    11·20·2020 | by --> Sam Davies

    As archeologists dug beneath the soil on the northern edge of Anyang, Henan province, in the 1970s, they began to unearth dark secrets from ancient history.

    One after the other, 3,000-year-old skeletons were found beneath the ground—some kneeling, some with wounds consistent with torture. Others were decapitated, their skulls discarded in pits nearby.

    These findings and the accompanying “oracle bone” inscriptions, the first known examples of ancient Chinese writing, showed that the remains came from thousands of ritual human sacrifices that took place during the Shang dynasty (1600 — 1046 BCE), pouring further mystery on the already murky history of the oldest Chinese dynasty for which conclusive archeological evidence has been found.

    Shang society, it turned out, was extremely violent, but also deeply spiritual. Controlling an area around the Yellow River Valley, which included parts of present-day Henan, Shanxi, and Hebei provinces, the Shang kings acted as both military leaders and high priests, personally overseeing rituals involving human sacrifice and divination.

    The discovery in 1928 of the late Shang’s capital, Yinxu (殷墟), at Anyang revealed a treasure trove of bronzeware, weapons, and the outlines of building foundations. Archeologists also found thousands of turtle shells and animal bones that were used for divination. Inscriptions were carved into the bone or shell, which were then heated until cracks appeared on its surface. The diviner would interpret these patterns to make predictions about the future, or answer the inscribed question.

    Inscriptions on thousands of tortoise shells and animal bones reveal the importance of human sacrifice to Shang society (VCG)

    These inscriptions, which researchers are continuing to decipher, make thousands of references to human sacrifices. At Yinxu, archeologists discovered hundreds of burial pits, and more at other Shang sites, each containing up to a dozen human skeletons and countless more remains of animals, including pigs, dogs, and even elephants. Researchers have estimated that over the course of about 200 years, more than 13,000 people were sacrificed at the Yinxu site, usually males aged 15 to 35. Each sacrificial ritual likely claimed around 50 human victims on average one sacrifice involved the death of at least 339 people.

    One type of sacrifice, known as renxun (人殉), was performed for the burial of kings or nobles. The victims were likely servants or family members of the deceased who would accompany them in the afterlife, as their remains were found in tombs alongside other treasured possessions like bronzeware, weapons, and cowry shells (thought to have been used as currency). These sacrifices may have been voluntary, or at least accepted as part of tradition for those serving the elite.

    Chariots and horses were also buried with nobles when they died

    But the majority of sacrifices were not of this category. Instead, the victims were killed as part of ritual ceremonies. While the victims sacrificed in renxun burials usually included women, most of those killed in ritual sacrifice, or renjisi (人祭祀), were young males.

    Those sacrificed are referred to as “羌 (qiāng in today’s pronunciation)” in oracle bone inscriptions, a term that seems to have been used to describe tribes of pastoralists to the northwest of Shang territory. These peoples, considered barbarians, were likely prisoners of war, and were offered to the Shang gods. Some inscriptions suggest that Shang forces undertook military operations for the sole purpose of capturing Qiang for use in rituals.

    Most of those sacrificed were non-Shang people probably captured during war

    The method of sacrifice could be brutal. The character “伐 (fá)”, found on oracle bone inscriptions, appears to show an axe decapitating a person, and is the most common sacrificial method mentioned in writing. Some victims were first decapitated, and their head was boiled in a bronze pot. Other skeletons were found with their hands behind their backs, and their (still attached) skulls bashed in.

    Oracle bone inscriptions indicate that these ritual sacrifices were an integral part of Shang tradition. Humans were offered to the Shang gods to ask for bountiful harvests or good weather, or to communicate with their ancestors. The rituals may also have been an effective way to maintain political control—the Shang king took part in the ceremony, reinforcing a social hierarchy where he alone could communicate with the gods, while the sacrifice itself instilled fear into his subjects.

    Scholars believe that Yinxu was the last capital of the Shang, where several generations of kings resided for perhaps 200 years before King Wu of Zhou, with the help of legendary strategist Jiang Ziya, finally toppled the Shang rule and established the Zhou dynasty (1046 — 256 BCE). The Zhou appear to have been less concerned with sacrificing humans to placate the gods, and the practice seems to have died out under their rule. The tradition of funerary sacrifice, however, lived on—but with less beheading, at least.


    Kneeling, Decapitated Skeleton Offers Evidence Of Ancient Chinese Sacrificial Custom

    Archaeologists in central China have unearthed a decapitated skeleton still resting in its final kneeling position. Such practices were hinted at in ancient Chinese scripts, but this discovery is further proof of this particular sacrificial rite.

    The discovery was made at the Chaizhuang site in Jiyuan, located in China’s Henan province, reports Xinhua, the country’s largest state-run news agency. Archaeologists from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Jiyuan Municipal Cultural Relics Team have been digging through the site since 2019. To date, they’ve managed to comb through 6,000 square meters (64,600 square feet) at Chaizhuang.

    The site dates back to the Shang Dynasty, which ruled from around 1600 BCE to 1046 BCE. The site has yielded evidence of houses, water wells, stoves, roads, and a surprising number of tombs. The archaeologists have also uncovered various relics, such as pottery, bones, jewellery, and even evidence of seafood and fireworks, according to Xinhua.

    An ancient stove unearthed at the Chaizhuang site. (Image: Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology)

    The team also uncovered a sacrificial pit with a decapitated victim still inside. The skeleton was found in its final kneeling position, its body facing north with arms folded in front. Looking very carefully at the photo, it even appears that the individual’s hands are still clasped together. Wow.

    These grim remains are providing crucial evidence of the social and spiritual customs that were in place during this time period.

    In particular, the skeleton affirms a suspected Shang Dynasty practice in which sacrificed individuals were buried in an upright position. Evidence found at a different site, the Yin Ruins, suggested as much—specifically, the discovery of oracle bone inscriptions with glyphs describing the practice.

    Known in China as “Jiaguwen,” these scripts, or glyphs, represent some of the earliest fully developed characters in ancient China. Glyphs were often etched onto human and animal bones and even tortoise shells, reports Xinhua.

    An oracle bone remnant discovered at the Chaizhuang site. (Image: Xinhua)

    Importantly, a piece of oracle bone bearing the “Kan” glyph was found at the Chaizhuang site, a symbol associated with the sacrificing of people or livestock in pits, reports Xinhua.

    “This well-preserved human bone is shaped like the oracle bone inscription of the character ‘Kan,’” explained Liang Fawei, leader of the Chaizhuang site excavation project, to Xinhua.

    During the Shang Dynasty period, the scripts “She,” “Shi,” “Tan” and “Kan,” were used to denote sacrificial activities performed at different rituals, with Kan depicting burials in an upright position, Liang explained to Xinhua. The Kan glyph was somewhat of an oddity, given the prevailing archaeological evidence, as human sacrifices have primarily been found lying down.


    Contents

    Method of execution Edit

    Established practice Edit

    Vestal Virgins in ancient Rome Edit

    The Vestal Virgins in ancient Rome constituted a class of priestesses whose principal duty was to maintain the sacred fire dedicated to Vesta (goddess of the home and the family), and they lived under a strict vow of chastity and celibacy. If that vow of chastity was broken, the offending priestess was immured alive as follows: [2]

    When condemned by the college of pontifices, she was stripped of her vittae and other badges of office, was scourged, attired like a corpse, placed in a closed litter, borne through the forum attended by her weeping kindred with all the ceremonies of a real funeral to a rising ground called the Campus Sceleratus. This was located just within the city walls, gate. A small vault underground had been previously prepared, containing a couch, a lamp, and a table with a little food. The pontifex maximus, having lifted up his hands to heaven and uttered a secret prayer, opened the litter, led forth the culprit, and placed her on the steps of the ladder which gave access to the subterranean cell. He delivered her over to the common executioner and his assistants, who led her down, drew up the ladder, and having filled the pit with earth until the surface was level with the surrounding ground, left her to perish deprived of all the tributes of respect usually paid to the spirits of the departed.

    The order of the Vestal Virgins existed for about 1,000 years, but only about 10 effected immurements are attested in extant sources. [3]

    In Persia Edit

    A tradition existed in Persia of walling up criminals and leaving them to die of hunger or thirst. The traveller M. A. Hume-Griffith stayed in Persia from 1900 to 1903, and she wrote the following: [4]

    Another sad sight to be seen in the desert sometimes, are brick pillars in which some unfortunate victim is walled up alive . The victim is put into the pillar, which is half built up in readiness then if the executioner is merciful he will cement quickly up to the face, and death comes speedily. But sometimes a small amount of air is allowed to permeate through the bricks, and in this case the torture is cruel and the agony prolonged. Men bricked up in this way have been heard groaning and calling for water at the end of three days.

    Travelling back and forth to Persia from 1630 to 1668 as a gem merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier observed much the same custom that Hume-Griffith noted some 250 years later. Tavernier notes that immuring was principally a punishment for thieves, and that immurement left the convict's head out in the open. According to him, many of these individuals would implore passers-by to cut off their heads, an amelioration of the punishment forbidden by law. [5] John Fryer, [6] travelling Persia in the 1670s, writes the following: [7]

    From this Plain to Lhor, both in the Highways, and on the high Mountains, were frequent Monuments of Thieves immured in Terror of others who might commit the like Offence they having literally a Stone-Doublet, whereas we say metaphorically, when any is in Prison, He has it Stone Doublet on for these are plastered up, all but their Heads, in a round Stone Tomb, which are left out, not out of kindness, but to expose them to the Injury of the Weather, and Assaults of the Birds of Prey, who wreak their Rapin with as little Remorse, as they did devour their Fellow-Subjects.

    Staying as a diplomat in Persia from 1860–1863, E. B. Eastwick met at one time, the Sardar i Kull, or military high commander, Aziz Khan. Eastwick notes that he "did not strike me as one who would greatly err on the side of leniency". Eastwick was told that just recently, Aziz Khan had ordered 14 robbers walled up alive, two of them head-downwards. [8] Staying for the year 1887–1888 primarily in Shiraz, Edward Granville Browne noted the gloomy reminders of a particularly bloodthirsty governor there, Firza Ahmed, who in his four years of office (ending circa 1880) had caused, for example, more than 700 hands cut off for various offences. Browne continues: [9]

    Besides these minor punishments, many robbers and others suffered death not a few were walled up alive in pillars of mortar, there to perish miserably. The remains of these living tombs may still be seen outside Derwaze-i-kassah-khane ("Slaughter-house Gate") at Shiraz, while another series lines the road as it enters the little town of Abade.

    Mongolia Edit

    Immurement was practiced in Mongolia as recently as the early 20th century. It is not clear that all thus immured were meant to die of starvation. In a newspaper report from 1914, it is written: [10]

    . the prisons and dungeons of the Far Eastern country contain a number of refined Chinese shut up for life in heavy iron-bound coffins, which do not permit them to sit upright or lie down. These prisoners see daylight for only a few minutes daily when the food is thrown into their coffins through a small hole.

    Neo-Assyrian vengeance Edit

    The Neo-Assyrian Empire is notorious for its brutal repression techniques, not the least of those reasons being because several of its rulers congratulated themselves upon the vengeance they wrought by going into detail of how they dealt with their enemies. Here is a commemoration Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 BC) made that includes immurement: [11]

    I erected a wall in front of the great gate of the city. I flayed the chiefs and covered this wall with their skins. Some of them were walled in alive in the masonry others were impaled along the wall. I flayed a great number of them in my presence, and I clothed the wall with their skins. I collected their heads in the form of crowns, and their corpses I pierced in the shape of garlands . My figure blooms on the ruins in the glutting of my rage I find my content

    Revolution at Corfu Edit

    In book 3 of his History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides goes into great detail on the revolution that broke out at Corfu in 427 BC. Book three, chapter 81, passage five reads as follows: [12]

    Death thus raged in every shape and, as usually happens at such times, there was no length to which violence did not go sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the altar or slain upon it while some were even walled up in the temple of Dionysus and died there.

    Notable incidents Edit

    Death of an emperor Edit

    Flavius Basiliscus, emperor in the Eastern Roman Empire from AD 475–476, was deposed. In winter he was sent to Cappadocia with his family, where they were imprisoned in either a dry cistern, [13] or a tower, [14] and perished. The historian Procopius said they died exposed to cold and hunger, [15] while other sources, such as Priscus, merely speaks of death by starvation. [16]

    The patriarch and the doge Edit

    The patriarch of Aquileia, Poppo of Treffen (r. 1019–1045), was a mighty secular potentate, and in 1044 he sacked Grado. The newly elected Doge of Venice, Domenico I Contarini, captured him and allegedly let him be buried up to his neck, and left guards to watch over him until he died. [17]

    Moravia Edit

    In 1149 Duke Otto III of Olomouc of the Moravian Přemyslid dynasty immured the abbot Deocar and 20 monks in the refectory in the monastery of Rhadisch, where they starved to death. Ostensibly this was because one of the monks had fondled his wife Duranna when she had spent the night there. However, Otto III confiscated the monastery's wealth, and some said this was the motive for the immurement. [18]

    Paederasts in the Perlachturm Edit

    The actual punishment meted out to men found guilty of paederasty (homosexual intercourse with boys) might vary between different status groups. In 1409 and 1532 in Augsburg, two men were burned alive for their offences, but a rather different procedure was meted out to four clerics in the 1409 case, guilty of the same offence. Instead of being burned alive, they were locked into a wooden casket that was hung up in the Perlachturm, and they starved to death. [19]

    Guillaume Agassa Edit

    After confessing in an Inquisition Court to an alleged conspiracy involving lepers, the Jewry, the King of Granada and the Sultan of Babylon, Guillaume Agassa, head of the leper asylum at Lestang, was condemned in 1322 to be immured in shackles for life. [20]

    Elizabeth Báthory Edit

    Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian 1560–1614) was immured in a set of rooms in 1610 for the death of several girls, [discuss] with figures being as high as several hundred, though the actual number of victims is uncertain. Being labeled the most prolific female serial killer in history has earned her the nickname of the "Blood Countess", and she is often compared with Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia in folklore. She was allowed to live in immurement until she died, four years after being sealed, ultimately dying of causes other than starvation evidently her rooms were well supplied with food.

    Fugitive royal family from the Mughal Empire Edit

    In the late 1650s, various sons of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan became embroiled in wars of succession, in which Aurangzeb was victorious. One of his half-brothers, Shah Shujah proved particularly troublesome, but in 1661 Aurangzeb defeated him, and Shah Shuja and his family sought the protection of the King of Arakan. According to Francois Bernier, the King reneged on his promise of asylum, and Shuja's sons were decapitated, while his daughters were immured, and died of starvation. [21]

    Jezzar Pasha, the tyrant at Beirut Edit

    Jezzar Pasha, the Ottoman governor of provinces in modern Lebanon, and Palestine from 1775 to 1804, was infamous for his cruelties. When building the new walls of Beirut, he was charged with, among other things, the following: [22]

    . and this monster had taken the name of Dgezar (Butcher) as an illustrious addition to his title. It was, no doubt, well deserved for he had immured alive a great number of Greek Christians when he rebuilt the Walls of Barut..The heads of these miserable victims, which the butcher had left out, in order to enjoy their tortures, are still to be seen.

    Moroccan serial killer Edit

    In 1906, Hadj Mohammed Mesfewi, a cobbler from Marrakesh, was found guilty of murdering 36 women (the bodies were found buried underneath his shop and nearby). Due to the nature of his crimes, he was walled up alive. For two days his screams were heard incessantly before silence by the third day. [23] [24] [25]

    Human sacrifice Edit

    Entombed with the dead Edit

    In several cultures, it is attested that living persons were entombed along with a dead person, as part of the funerary ritual. Some such borderline cases between being buried alive and immurement are included here.

    Excavations at Ur Edit

    In the ancient Sumerian city of Ur some graves (as early as 2500 BC.) clearly show the burial of attendants, along with that of the principal dead person. In one such grave, as Gerda Lerner wrote on page 60 of her book The Creation of Patriarchy:

    The human sacrifices were probably first drugged or poisoned, as evidenced by a drinking cup near each body, then the pit was immured, and covered with earth [26]

    China Edit

    Legend states that, in 210 BC, the Qin Shi Huang died, and all the imperial concubines and the artisans who had worked on the mausoleum were immured alive along with him. [27]

    Burial of a Mongol Khan Edit

    The 14th century traveller Ibn Batuta observed once the burial of a great khan, and writes the following, pertinent to immurement: [28]

    The Khan who had been killed, with about a hundred of his relatives, was then brought, and a large sepulchre was dug for him under the earth, in which a most beautiful couch was spread, and the Khan was with his weapons laid upon it. With him they placed all the gold and silver vessels he had in his house, together with four female slaves, and six of his favourite Mamluks, with a few vessels of drink. They were then all closed up, and the earth heaped upon them to the height of a large hill.

    The Bonny Widows in Africa Edit

    Harold Edward Bindloss, in his 1898 non-fiction In the Niger country, writes the following transpiring when a great chief died:

    Only a few years ago, when a powerful headman died not very far from Bonny, several of his wives had their legs broken, and were buried alive with him [29]

    Forms of sacrifice Edit

    Incan child sacrifices Edit
    • Within Inca culture, it is reported that one element in the great Sun festival was the sacrifice of young maidens (between ten and twelve years old), who after their ceremonial duties were done were lowered down in a waterless cistern and were immured alive. [30]
    • The children of Llullaillaco represent another form of Incan child sacrifice.

    Asceticism and other religious practice Edit

    Anchorites Edit

    A particularly severe form of asceticism within Christianity is that of anchorites, who typically allowed themselves to be immured, and subsisting on minimal food. For example, in the 4th century AD, one nun named Alexandra immured herself in a tomb for ten years with a tiny aperture enabling her to receive meager provisions. Saint Jerome (c. 340–420) spoke of one follower who spent his entire life in a cistern, consuming no more than five figs a day. [31]

    Vade in pace Edit

    In Catholic monastic tradition, there existed a type of enforced, lifelong confinement against nuns or monks who had broken their vows of chastity, or espoused heretical ideas, and some have believed that this type of imprisonment was, indeed, a form of immurement. The judgment was preceded by the phrase vade in pacem, that is, "go into peace", rather than "go in peace". (Latin in can be translated to English as either "in" or "into", depending on the case of its object—ablative for "in" or accusative for "into", producing pace and pacem, respectively.) As Henry Charles Lea puts it, the tradition seems to have been that of complete, utter isolation from other human beings, but that food was, indeed, provided: [32]

    In the case of Jeanne, widow of B. de la Tour, a nun of Lespenasse, in 1246, who had committed acts of both Catharan and Waldensian heresy, and had prevaricated in her confession, the sentence was confinement in a separate cell in her own convent, where no one was to enter or see her, her food being pushed in through an opening left for the purpose—in fact, the living tomb known as the "in pace".

    In the footnote appended to this passage, Lea writes: [33]

    The cruelty of the monastic system of imprisonment known as in pace , or vade in pacem , was such that those subjected to it speedily died in all the agonies of despair. In 1350 the Archbishop of Toulouse appealed to King John to interfere for its mitigation, and he issued an Ordonnance that the superior of the convent should twice a month visit and console the prisoner, who, moreover, should have the right twice a month to ask for the company of one of the monks. Even this slender innovation provoked the bitterest resistance of the Dominicans and Franciscans, who appealed to Pope Clement VI., but in vain

    Although the vade in pace tradition therefore seems to one of perpetual, aggravated confinement, but not immurement where the individual was meant to starve to death, several have thought vade in pace was just that, a death sentence. For example, Sir Walter Scott, himself an antiquarian, notes in a remark to his poem Marmion (1808): [34]

    It is well known, that the religious, who broke their vows of chastity, were subjected to the same penalty as the Roman Vestals in a similar case. A small niche, sufficient to enclose their bodies, was made in the massive wall of the convent a slender pittance of food and water was deposited in it and the awful words Vade in pace, were the signal for immuring the criminal. It is not likely that, in latter times, this punishment was often resorted to but, among the ruins of the abbey of Coldingham were some years ago discovered the remains of a female skeleton which, from the shape of the niche, and the position of the figure seemed to be that of an immured nun.

    The practice of immuring nuns or monks on breaches of chastity has a long history, and Francesca Medioli writes the following in her essay "Dimensions of the Cloister": [35]

    At Lodi in 1662 Sister Antonia Margherita Limera stood trial for having introduced a man into her cell and entertained him for a few days she was sentenced to be walled in alive on a diet of bread and water. In the same year, the trial for breach of enclosure and sexual intercourse against the cleric Domenico Cagianella and Sister Vinzenza Intanti of the convent of San Salvatore in Ariano had an identical outcome.

    Japanese suicide tradition Edit

    Emile Durkheim in his work Suicide writes the following about certain followers of Amida Buddha: [36]

    The sectarians of Amida have themselves immured in caverns where there is barely space to be seated and where they can breathe only through an air shaft. There they quietly allow themselves to die of hunger.

    Punishments in folklore Edit

    Sweden, Finland and Estonia Edit

    According to Finnish legends, a young maiden was wrongfully immured into the castle wall of Olavinlinna as a punishment for treason. The subsequent growth of a rowan tree at the location of her execution, whose flowers were as white as her innocence and berries as red as her blood, inspired a ballad. [37] Similar legends stem from Haapsalu, [38] Kuressaare, [39] Põlva [40] and Visby. [41]

    Latvia Edit

    According to a Latvian legend as many as three people might have been immured in tunnels under the Grobiņa Castle. A daughter of a knight living in the castle did not approve of her father's choice of a young nobleman as her future husband. Said knight also pillaged surrounding areas and took prisoners to live in the tunnels, among these a handsome young man whom the daughter took a liking to, helping him escape. Her fate was not so lucky as the knight and his future son-in-law punished her by immuring her in one of the tunnels. Another nobleman's daughter and a Swedish soldier are also said to be immured in one of the tunnels after she had fallen in love with the Swedish soldier and requested her father to allow her to marry him. According to another legend, a maiden and a servant have been immured after a failed attempt at spying on Germans wanting to know what their plans were for what is now Latvia. [42]

    Mughal Empire Edit

    By popular legend, Anarkali was immured between two walls in Lahore by order of Mughal Emperor Akbar for having a relationship with crown prince Salim (later Emperor Jehangir) in the 16th century. A bazaar developed around the site, and was named Anarkali Bazaar in her honour. [43]

    Human sacrifice when constructing buildings Edit

    A number of cultures have tales and ballads containing as a motif the sacrifice of a human being to ensure the strength of a building.

    South-Eastern Europe Edit

    The folklore of many Southeastern European peoples refers to immurement as the mode of death for the victim sacrificed during the completion of a construction project, such as a bridge or fortress (mostly real buildings). The Castle of Shkodra is the subject of such stories in both the Albanian oral tradition and in the Slavic one: the Albanian version is The Legend of Rozafa, in which three brothers uselessly toiled at building walls that disappeared at night: when told that they had to bury one of their wives in the wall, they pledge to choose the one that will bring them luncheon the next day, and not to warn their respective spouse. Two brothers do, however (the topos of two fellows betraying one is common in Balkan poetry, cf. Miorița or the Song of Çelo Mezani), leave Rozafa, the wife of the honest brother, to die. She accepts her fate, but asks to leave exposed her foot (to rock the infant son's cradle), the breast (to feed him) and the hand (to stroke his hair).

    One of the most famous version of the same legend is the Serbian epic poem called The Building of Skadar (Зидање Скадра, Zidanje Skadra) published by Vuk Karadžić, after he recorded a folk song sung by a Herzegovinian storyteller named Old Rashko. [44] [45] [46] The version of the song in the Serbian language is the oldest collected version of the legend, and the first one which earned literary fame. [47] The three brothers in the legend were represented by members of the nobel Mrnjavčević family, Vukašin, Uglješa and Gojko. [48] In 1824, Karadžić sent a copy of his folksong collection to Jacob Grimm, who was particularly enthralled by the poem. Grimm translated it into German, and described it as "one of the most touching poems of all nations and all times". [49] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published the German translation, but did not share Grimm's opinion because he found the poem's spirit "superstitiously barbaric". [49] [45] Alan Dundes, a famous folklorist, noted that Grimm's opinion prevailed and that the ballad continued to be admired by generations of folksingers and ballad scholars. [49]

    A very similar Romanian legend, that of Meşterul Manole, tells of the building of the Curtea de Argeş Monastery: ten expert masons, among whom Master Manole himself, are ordered by Neagu Voda to build a beautiful monastery, but incur the same fate, and decide to immure the wife who will bring them luncheon. Manole, working on the roof, sees her approach, and pleads with God to unleash the elements, in order to stop her, but in vain: when she arrives, he proceeds to wall her in, pretending to be doing so in jest, with his wife increasingly crying out in pain and distress. When the building is finished, Neagu Voda takes away the masons' ladders, fearing they will build a more beautiful building, and they try to escape but all fall to their deaths. Only from Manole's fall a stream is created. [50]

    Many other Bulgarian and Romanian folk poems and songs describe a bride offered for such purposes, and her subsequent pleas to the builders to leave her hands and breasts free, that she might still nurse her child. Later versions of the songs revise the bride's death her fate to languish, entombed in the stones of the construction, is transmuted to her nonphysical shadow, and its loss yet leads to her pining away and eventual death. [51]

    Other variations include the Hungarian folk ballad "Kőmíves Kelemen" (Kelemen the Stonemason). This is the story of twelve unfortunate stonemasons tasked with building the fort of Déva (a real building). To remedy its recurring collapses, it is agreed that one of the builders must sacrifice his bride, and the bride to be sacrificed will be she who first comes to visit. [52] In some versions of the ballad the victim is shown some mercy rather than being trapped alive she is burned and only her ashes are immured. [53]

    Greece and Malta Edit

    A Greek story "The Bridge of Arta" (Greek: Γεφύρι της Άρτας ) describes numerous failed attempts to build a bridge in that city. A cycle whereby a team of skilled builders toils all day only to return the next morning to find their work demolished is eventually ended when the master mason's wife is immured. [54]

    Like many other European folktales, legend has it that a maiden was immured in the walls of Madliena church as a sacrifice or offering after continuous failed attempts at building it. The pastor achieved this by inviting all of the most beautiful maidens to a feast and the most beautiful one, Madaļa, falling into a deep sleep after he had offered her wine from a "certain goblet". [55]

    East Asia Edit

    There was a culture of human sacrifice in the construction of large buildings in East and Southeast Asia. Such practices ranged from da sheng zhuang (打生樁) in China, hitobashira in Japan, and myosade (မြို့စတေး。) in Burma.

    Animal sacrifice Edit

    Acknowledging the traditions of human sacrifice in the context of the building of structures within German and Slavic folklore, Jacob Grimm proffers some examples of the sacrifice of animals as well. According to him, within Danish traditions, a lamb was immured under an erected altar in order to preserve it, while a churchyard was to be ensured protection by immuring a living horse as part of the ceremony. In the ceremonies of erection of other types of constructions, Grimm notices that other animals were sacrificed as well, such as pigs, hens and dogs. [56]

    Quarantine Edit

    Scotland Edit

    There exist legends that the residents of Mary King's Close in Edinburgh had been immured and left to perish during an outbreak of the plague however, this is considered to be untrue.

    Immured skeletons Edit

    In several places, immured skeletons have been found in buildings and ruins. Many of these finds have been asserted, at one time or another, to be evidence of a historical practice in consonance with the tales and legends of sacrificing human beings when constructing a building, or as being the remains of persons punished by immurement, or possibly, victims of murder.

    Thornton Abbey Edit

    In the ruins of Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire, an immured skeleton was found behind a wall along with a table, book and a candlestick. By some, he is believed to be the fourteenth abbot, immured for some crime he had committed. [57]

    Castle in Dublin Edit

    In 1755, it is reported that in a castle belonging to the Duke of Dorset, the skeleton of a man was found behind the wall of a servant's room. No clothes were found, but a seal with a religious inscription was found, and the skeleton had a pair of wooden clogs on the feet. The author discusses the possibility of the person having been some sort of state prisoner immured, but opts for him being the victim of murder instead. [58]

    Cesvaine Palace, Latvia Edit

    In 1778, when some reconstruction was done at Cesvaine Palace, a skeleton in a woman's dress was found behind a wall. Old people assured the visitor August Hupel that she had been immured alive at the building of the castle, but Hupel regarded the whole story as rather fanciful, and remained skeptical. [59]

    The immured knight in Tiefburg, Handschuhsheim Edit

    In 1770, human remains were found at the medieval castle Tiefburg [de] in what is now a quarter of Heidelberg, then the village of Handschuhsheim. Going down a winding stair, the castle owner noticed one wall sounded hollow, and called for a mason to break it open. Inside was a niche that contained a skeleton in full armour at the opening, it collapsed. The helmet still carried traces of gilding, along with several sword strokes. It was assumed that the individual had been defeated in a feud, and had been immured alive at some remote time. [60]

    The monk in Malmö Edit

    In the 1770s, Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, 1st Baronet toured countries like Sweden and Denmark, and wrote a memoir on his journeys. He was wholly displeased with his visit to Malmö, and said the only thing of interest was that of the skeleton of a monk who had been immured in the church wall. According to tradition, the monk had been found guilty of fornication, and had lived nine days immured, having been fed eggs through a small hole. [61]

    Immured coffins of infants Edit

    In 1686 Bremen, when a 132-year-old city gate was rebuilt, a tiny coffin containing the skeletal remains of a child was found. A century earlier, in 1589, the city walls had been reconstructed. More than 200 years later, in 1812, there was discovered embedded in the walls some 50 tiny oak coffins. These were, however, empty. [62] At Plesse castle, close by Göttingen, a small child coffin with remains was found in the early 19th century. In 1819, when the city walls of Harburg were renewed, a whole series of child coffins were found, just as in the walls of Bremen. The coffins in Harburg, however, did contain skeletal remains. Several other such finds are attested. [63]