How did anyone even think of doing this study?
During the final two centuries of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) in China, thousands of people were sacrificed at the state capital of Yinxu. Some were dispatched with great fanfare, buried with rich grave goods, while others appear to have been sacrificed with extreme prejudice and mutilated after death. Now, a new study sheds some light on these victims. Simon Fraser University bioarchaeologist Christina Cheung and her colleagues reconstructed these ancient people’s’ lives by discovering what they ate and when, based on chemical signatures left in their bones.
Human sacrifice was a common ritual among the people of almost every ancient civilization, from China and Europe, to Mesopotamia and the Americas. Though archaeologists have analyzed the graves of these sacrifices, they have many questions about the victims’ lives. Were they revered and celebrated before death, or were they outcasts? Were they prisoners from far away, or were they the sons and daughters of their executioners?
Cheung and her team answered a number of these questions with a chemical analysis of the bones of 68 sacrificial victims at Yinxu, which were compared with the bones of 39 locals.
So, okay, this *is* interesting. In a fairly disturbing way.
I knew human sacrifice was not really rare, but I wonder if it’s fair to say: common among almost every ancient civilization. If you’re up on ancient history, please weigh in.
Archaeologists typically find rensheng in mass graves that they divide into “skull pits,” “headless pits,” and “mutilated pits.” As you might guess, these are pits full of skulls, decapitated bodies, and partial bodies, respectively. … We can’t say for sure what was happening in Yinxu that made human sacrifice seem appealing. Were these early leaders of China trying to build a new state, based on their ruthless strength? Or were they worried that their control was slipping and offering sacrifices to regain an earlier greatness?
All we know is that the Shang Dynasty kept a prison full of outcasts readily available so that at any time the public could be witness to the public sacrifices of people their leaders called foes.
Well, I’m happier and happier to have given that particular society a miss. Along with basically all other ancient societies.
I can tell you that if mass human sacrifice takes place in one of my books, it’ll be just the bad guys doing it and they will ultimately be crushed by the good guys. Too bad the real world doesn’t follow the conventions of heroic fantasy.
Well, it is an interesting article, although after reading it you may want to check out something warm and fuzzy, like these police rescuing ducklings or these fishermen rescuing a dog from a freezing river.