More than One Hundred Ancient Hanging Coffins Discovered in China
A cluster of 113 hanging coffins dating back 1,200 years have been discovered on cliff-faces and in caves in Zigui county, Hubei province, close to the site of the Three Gorges Dam in China. The finding constitutes one of the largest sets of cliff burials that have been found in China so far.
According to the English China News Service (ECNS), most of the wooden coffins were found packed into man-made caves known as “Caves of the Fairies”, located about 100 meters up the side of a cliff near the village of Yanglinqiao. Other coffins were wedged between rocks in the cliff-face.
Archaeologists say the coffins were made by the Bo people, an ethnic minority living astride the borders of modern day Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. There they created a rich culture as early as 3,000 years ago. They are thought to have died out around 400 years ago, taking the secrets of their burial customs with them.
In the latest discovery, some coffins were found wedged between rocks on cliff faces. Hanging coffin at the Shen Nong Stream, Hubei, China (public domain).
Hanging coffin burials linked to the Bo people have been found in several of China’s southern provinces, including Yunnan, Sichuan, Jiangxi and Fujian.
According to Cui Chen, curator of the Yibin Museum, hanging coffins come in three types. Some are cantilevered out on wooden stakes. Some are placed in caves while others sit on projections in the rock. All the three forms can be found in Gongxian, where most of China's hanging coffins are located.
Each coffin is made from a hollowed out single tree trunk and was originally protected by a bronze cover.
The hanging coffins are somewhat of a mystery, as it is not clear how the heavy wooden coffins were carried up the cliffs. Some believe the coffins must have been lowered down with ropes from the top of the mountain. Some think the coffins had been put in place using wooden stakes inserted into the cliff face to be used as artificial climbing aids. Others believe that scaling ladders or timber scaffolds were used. However, investigators have failed to find even a single stake hole.
The reason for hanging the coffins is also not known for certain, though it is speculated that they were hung on cliffs to be within reach of the gods. Others theorize that it was to keep animals away from their dead.
Hanging coffins have also been found in Sagada, Luzon Island, Philippines, made by an indigenous tribe known as the Igorots.
Hanging coffins at Sagada, Philippines.(public domain).
Following the discovery of the coffins, the Zigui Cultural Relics Bureau have said that the coffins will now be protected under cultural heritage laws.
Featured image: Hanging coffins of the Bo people in China (public domain)
By: April Holloway