The two skeletons that were recently found in Gyeongju, South Korea are believed to have been victims of human sacrifice.

Shocking Discovery Shows Ancient Koreans were Sacrificed for Building Project


Local authorities from South Korea announced recently that they have found proof of human sacrifice for the foundation of buildings for the first time at a Korean site. Experts suggest that the victims were sacrificed in order to ensure the successful construction of ancient buildings.

Stories of Human Sacrifice for the Foundations of Buildings in Korea Appear to be True

Seoul's Cultural Heritage Administration statement, as Channel NewsAsia reports, says the two newly found skeletons date from the 5th century and were discovered under the walls of the Wolseong Palace in Gyeongju, South Korea, the capital of the former Silla kingdom.

"This is the first archaeological evidence that folklore about humans being sacrificed for the foundations of buildings, dams or walls were true stories," spokeswoman Choi Moon-Jung of the Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage told AFP.

It’s not clear yet how the victims were executed and further research is needed in order to uncover the mystery surrounding their deaths, but according to the experts there are no signs which could justify that they were buried alive. As senior researcher Park Yoon-Jung said:

"Judging from the fact that there are no signs of resistance when they were buried, they must have been buried when they were unconscious or dead. Folklore indicates humans were sacrificed to appease gods and plead with them to ensure the structures being built lasted a long time."

The grave site.

The grave site. (The Hankook-ilbo)

Human Sacrifice Was Not Uncommon in Korean History

As April Holloway reports in a previous Ancient Origins article, the burial of living victims with dead kings in order to serve them in the afterlife was pretty common in ancient Korean cultures. In 2015, archaeologists in South Korea uncovered a 1,500-year-old tomb of a noblewoman containing the ancient remains of a woman and a man. The discovery of precious grave goods and the circumstances of the burial suggested that the man was sacrificed to join the noblewoman in death, possibly to act as her guard in the afterlife.

Dating back to between the 5th and 6th centuries, the main chamber of the tomb contained the remains of a man and woman in their 20s or 30s. The woman was wearing a belt decorated with golden decorations, a finely decorated gold earring, and was buried with jade green jewels and a threaded necklace made of beads. The man was buried without adornments and lay in a parallel position, his head adjacent to hers.

The Silla dynasty tomb with bones and artifacts.

The Silla dynasty tomb with bones and artifacts. Credit (Left): Cultural Heritage Administration, South Korea. Credit (Right): The Chosun Ilbo

In a separate room within the tomb, archaeologists found a sword, pottery, and the harness of a horse. The Cultural Heritage Administration in South Korea stated that the grave goods suggest the female was a noblewoman who rode horses and used weapons, and that the burial was intended for her, while the man was sacrificed in order to protect and serve her in the afterlife. Additionally, the Cultural Heritage Administration added that burying the dead with a human sacrifice was not uncommon in the Silla dynasty, so a royal member would be safely accompanied even in death.

Example of a Silla tomb – the Royal tomb of King Heongang located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, South Korea

Example of a Silla tomb – the Royal tomb of King Heongang located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, South Korea (CC BY SA 4.0)

DNA Tests Conducted on the Skeletons

The two recently unearthed skeletons were discovered alongside one another, under a western corner of the castle's earth and stone walls, with one facing upward while the other had its face and arms turned towards the first. DNA tests and further analyses were conducted on the remains in order to determine their physical characteristics, diet, health, and genetic characteristics.

The two skeletons that were recently found in Gyeongju, South Korea.

The two skeletons that were recently found in Gyeongju, South Korea. (Segye.com)

As AFP reports, additional finds in the tomb include wooden inscription tablets and 6th century animal and human figurines. Interestingly, archaeologists noticed that a figurine’s turban and clothes resembled those used in the ancient Central Asian civilization of Sogdiana.

6th century animal and human figurines found at the site in Gyeongju, South Korea.

6th century animal and human figurines found at the site in Gyeongju, South Korea. (The Hankook-ilbo)

Top Image: The two skeletons that were recently found in Gyeongju, South Korea are believed to have been victims of human sacrifice. Source: Cultural Heritage Administration

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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