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Prehistoric Disaster: Nearly 100 Bodies Found Stacked in Ancient House in China

The skeletal remains of nearly 100 bodies have been found crammed into the ruins of a tiny wooden house in northeast China, and archaeologists are trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened.

Anthropologists believe a “prehistoric disaster” killed potentially hundreds of people 5,000 years ago, and forced the village to stuff the house full of the dead instead of burying them. At some point the house was set on fire, or caught on fire, as evidenced by the state of the remains. Some of the skulls and limb bones were charred and deformed, and it’s thought the fire caused the wooden roof to collapse, damaging the bodies within.

At least 97 bodies from the pile have been unearthed. They were ranging in ages between 19 and 35 years, reports LiveScience. The many skeletons were found in a disorderly tangle, within the ruins of a crypt-type house dubbed F40—a small structure that was only 210 square feet (20 square meters) in size.

The “Hamin Mangha” site in northeast China dates back 5,000 years and is the largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement site found to date in northeast China, according to archaeologists in a published study in the journal Chinese Archaeology.

The mass grave was contained within a small wooden house which eventually burned down.

The mass grave was contained within a small wooden house which eventually burned down. Credit: Chinese Archaeology

After the fire, the remains were never reburied, and this allows modern archaeologists the opportunity of studying the gruesome find.

The American Association of Physical Anthropologists website hosts the Jilin University study on the remains of the Hamin Mangha victims.

Study authors Ya Wei Zhou and Hong Zhu write that the treatment of the 97 bodies is consistent with other locations which had suffered prehistoric mass deaths in China. The researchers compared the Hamin Mangha site with “Lajia” and “Miaozigou” groups—sites in northeast China related by the possible outbreak of “an acute infection disease (pestilence).”

As the victims died they were placed in the house successively and stacked in a pile. It is assumed the living did not have the ability or resources to bury the dead, as there were simply more deaths in the village than they could handle.

In 2011, researchers at the Hamin Mangha site unearthed foundations of 29, one-room houses with hearths and doorways. The houses were orderly and laid out in rows.

The prehistoric settlement of Hamin Mangha was laid out in an orderly fashion.

The prehistoric settlement of Hamin Mangha was laid out in an orderly fashion. Credit: Chinese Archaeology

In addition, researchers recovered more than 100 pieces of pottery, jade works, stone implements, and artifacts of bone, shell and horn. Three tombs were located, as well as 10 ash pits, and a ditch or moat which surrounded the area.

Other significant archaeological burial finds in northeast China include the Niuheliang Goddess Temple, the most mysterious site of the ancient Hongshan from 5,000 years ago, in which beautiful relics of unknown deities, and larger-than-life statues were found. As well, the ancient tombs from the Qijia Culture in northwest China date to 4,000 years ago and reveal evidence of human sacrifice.

These shocking and sad discoveries at Hamin Mangha give researchers insight into the prehistoric peoples of northern China and how they coped with catastrophic events and mass disasters.