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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.

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.

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.”