Many of the people sacrificed in ritual killings more than 3,000 years ago in China were enslaved prisoners of war, archaeologists say.
Their skeletons, buried at the ancient Yinxu archaeological site, tell a story of victims in a foreign land who survived at least a few years before being killed. Scientists studied the composition of their bones to reconstruct their diets, a study in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology said, to determine their origin. That involved looking at the elements present in the bones of 68 human sacrifices — rather than their teeth because they had been decapitated — and comparing them to the remains of a few dozen locals from the same ancient place. The results suggest the victims “moved to Yinxu and adopted the local diet for at least a few years before being killed.”
The human sacrifices lived during China’s Shang Dynasty, which ran roughly 1600 B.C. to 1000 B.C., during the early Bronze Age. About halfway through the dynasty, the kings took residence at what is now the city of Anyang in Henan province in eastern China. That Shang capital was the ancient city Yin — today’s Yinxu historical site is what remains of it.
The World Heritage Convention says the Yin ruins are a record of “the golden age of early Chinese culture, crafts and sciences, a time of great prosperity of the Chinese Bronze Age.” They include palaces, royal tombs, shrines and numerous artifacts.
The researchers, who studied the human sacrifices, said ritual killings of both people and animals was not uncommon during this period of Chinese history. But their analysis speaks to the origin of the human victims and their social roles.
“Although oracle bone inscriptions…