Human sacrifices are a terrifying facet of our shared history. While most archaeologists would agree that human sacrificial practices were probably not as widespread as reported, they did (and do) still occur. Many sacrificial stories were propaganda made up by opposing states, but others were documented by the very people who carried out the rituals. Focusing on archaeological findings and the resulting inferences, let’s take a look 10 unsettling discoveries of human sacrifice.
10. Mass Female Sacrifice in China
China’s Neolithic period lasted for 8,000 years, starting around 10,000 BC. This prehistoric era was distinguished by a move towards animal domestication (primarily pigs) and agriculture. Communities that were once nomadic hunter-gathers settled in one place and became farmers. Gorgeous painted pottery from this period, found along the Yellow River, is a landmark in China’s cultural and artistic development. The burial pottery was markedly different from that for every day use (although with multiple groups living near the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, there certainly was not a homogenous cultural revolution occurring). The end of the Neolithic saw the development of larger stone cities and the domestication of more animals.
The largest of these cities was Shimao. Founded about 4,300 years ago, Shimao was only inhabited for 300 years. In the ruins of this ancient stone town, archaeologists made a grisly discovery of over 80 human skulls—with no bodies in sight. The skulls were all of young women who died around 4,000 years ago. Further examination of the skulls showed evidence of violent deaths involving blunt objects and fire. As to why so many young women were beheaded and buried in a mass grave, researchers believe that the girls were probably from enemy groups and sacrificed as part of ceremonies to mark the founding of the city.
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