Friday, February 01, 2008

Human sacrifice in early China

I found this article not only interesting from an archaeological perspective but from a cultural development view. I did not realize that human sacrifice was practiced in China up to the 17th century CE.

"A 2,500-year-old tomb containing nearly four dozen victims of human sacrifice has been excavated in eastern China, yielding a treasure trove of precious artifacts and new insights into ritual customs during the era of Confucius, archaeologists say.

The tomb was discovered in January 2007 after police caught looters plundering the site in the province of Jiangxi (see map), said Xu Changqing, who heads the excavation team. Ancient Chinese tomb and sword picture

The burial chamber was constructed for the patriarch of an aristocratic family and contains 47 dead buried side by side, Xu said.

Among the most impressive artifacts found in the tomb is a black, gold, and blood-red sword inscribed with pictures of dragons. Xu described it as "the most beautiful and best-preserved sword ever found in this part of China."

Also discovered among the dead were gold and bronze artifacts, along with elaborate silk gowns.

But the most startling discovery was that "most of those buried had been sacrificed to accompany their master into the afterlife," said Xu, a scholar at the Archaeology Institute of Jiangxi.

Some aristocrats arranged for the sacrifice of their servants, their concubines, or others closest to them upon their death so they could travel together into the next life, he said.

"At that time, some ruling elite believed that they could lead afterlives similar to their lives here on Earth," he explained..."

"...The practice of human sacrifice is recorded in China's earliest writings, dating back as far as the Shang dynasty 4,000 years ago, experts say.

"According to the pictographs archaeologists have been able to decipher, there were in the Shang era 37 categories of blood and food sacrifices," said Herbert Plutschow, an expert on China's Shang dynasty at UCLA.

But around the time the Jiangxi tomb was being built, the philosopher Confucius began denouncing human sacrifice and called for the practice to be banned..."