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viernes, 18 de junio de 2010

Human Sacrifices Found at Ancient China Complex

Sacrificial remains of humans and animals, believed to be at least 2,700 years old, have been found in central China's Luoyang city (map), Chinese archaeologists say.

The bones are part of a recently discovered burial complex covering nearly a quarter acre (945 square meters) and containing 14 tombs, a water channel, and 59 pits from the Western Zhou dynasty. During the Western Zhou period (1100 B.C. to 771 B.C.), the sacrifices of animals—and sometimes humans—to ancestors or deities were a routine part of Chinese culture. The sacrifices were often made to bless houses, said David Sena, a China historian at the University of Texas at Austin.

"In general, there's been a tendency to describe Western Zhou as a more humanistic period, when the practice of human sacrifices"—which were commonplace during the preceding Shang Dynasty—"were waning," Sena said.

"But I think the archaeological evidence shows quite clearly that human sacrifices persisted throughout the Zhou period as well."

A broken tortoise shell found at the Luoyang excavation site was likely used for psychic practices thousands of years ago.

Not much is known about tortoise-shell divination during the Western Zhou period, Sena said, but during the preceding Shang dynasty, the process involved heating the shell and interpreting the cracks that formed.

"Holes are bored in the back of the shell to make it easier to crack during the divination process," Sena explained.

"Someone then 'reads' the cracks. We don't know how exactly—it may be the shape of the crack or the sound it makes when it's heated," he added.

"The diviner would ask a question and the crack provided an answer."

Many of the sacrifices unearthed at China's new Luoyang archaeological site, pictured on June 6, would have been intended to bless the foundations of homes, buildings, and tombs, Sena said.

"For people of that time, to walk into a building that hadn't been properly consecrated would have been seen as much more dangerous than walking on top of [buried] sacrificial victims," he said.

Animals sacrificed during the Western Zhou period—such as the Luoyang specimens, pictured with a Chinese archaeologist—included horses, dogs, pigs, and other types of farm animals.

Large, elaborate bronze vessels were often used during the sacrifice ceremonies to "offer meat, grain, ale, and other types of alcohol to ancestors," Sena said.

During the Western Zhou period, ancestor worship may have been practiced only by members of the aristocracy. The practice likely spread to other segments of society much later, Sena said.

"That's another reason why this period is very important," Sena said. "Even if [ancestor worship] began as purely aristocratic, the ideology behind it really becomes woven into Chinese civilization."

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