Archaeologists have found a very mysterious painting in north-east China. Dozens of skeletons of women and children buried in Neolithic pits have one striking feature: they were decapitated. An unusual practice that would indicate violent clashes between tribes in antiquity.

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The dead can sometimes speak. The discovery of dozens of decomposed skeletons at the Honghe archaeological site, in northeastern China, impressed researchers. A real mass grave, a mass grave bringing together women and children, testifies to the violence of conflict between people during the Neolithic period. Faced with the brutality of the treatment meted out to exhumed individuals, scientists are questioning the scope of such acts: simple blind cruelty, targeted attack or ritual death? Or all of it at once?

neolithic headhunters

Since its discovery in the 1990s, the Honghe site, located in Heilongjiang province, has been excavated several times. Over three decades, discoveries have proved abundant. In addition to various artifacts such as pottery, archaeologists excavated 68 skeletons. One peculiarity: 41 of them are missing their heads. Some skulls have been found in nearby areas, but most of the heads are missing.

Of the 41 mutilated skeletons, only women and children. As if the latter had been the subject of targeted anger from enemy tribes. In a study published in September archeology and anthropology, several theories have been put forward. The individuals were reportedly attacked when the men of the tribe were away from camp. A privileged view given the analyzes conducted on cadavers. In the mass grave, researchers determined that 32 skeletons were brutally treated and killed in a single attack. Returning to camp, the tribesmen could bury the corpses in separate cavities before leaving the place permanently.

anthropological puzzle

The skeletons of Honghe arouse the interest of anthropologists. This unique discovery highlights the violence of conflict between nomads in China during antiquity, with attacks being targeted. The reasons for such outrage are yet to be understood. Some people in Neolithic China removed the heads of corpses for ritual purposes. Decapitation was a way for the conqueror to absorb the soul and life energy of the person killed in battle. The tribe that invaded Honghe 4,100 years ago was a community of hunter-fishermen who built a defense system around their place of life. The area may have been the subject of secret conflicts between different societies that lived around 2000 BC.

The study published in September provides an analysis of the intentions behind these beheadings, drawing on the history of others around the world to understand the reasons for such violence. Without more concrete elements, the thesis supported in the article remains merely speculative… shedding light on a rare phenomenon in the heart of ancient China.

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