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Sacrificial Altar in China

Sacrificial altar uncovered in ancient Neolithic city in China

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Archaeologists have uncovered a number of altar relics, including jade artefacts and pits for offerings, at the Shimao ruins, a Neolithic city in China.  The findings suggest a religious culture at the time in which human sacrifice played a part.

The Shimao ruins, located in China's Shaanxi Province, were first discovered in 1976.  Until 2012, they were believed to be part of a small town. However, last year, archaeologists realised that the ruins were part of a much larger city extending over an area of 4.25 square kilometres.  It was built about 4,300 years ago and abandoned roughly 300 years later during the Xia Dynasty (2100-1600 BC), the first dynasty in China described in historical chronicles.

The city contains a central area with inner and outer structures and walls surrounding the outer city.  Remains of palaces, houses, tombs, sacrificial altars and handicraft workshops are scattered around the site. The discovery of many important remains like the earliest preserved murals, partial jade ware and large quantities of pottery shards indicated that the Shimao site played an important core position in the Chinese northern cultural sphere.

The sacrificial altar, located outside the walls of the Shimao Ruins, measures 8 metres in height and had a three-tiered structure with a stone base 90 meters long. The pits for offerings, which are up to 3 metres deep, were found nearby, said Sun Zhouyong, deputy head of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

One of the pits of skulls unearthed last year

One of the pits of skulls unearthed last year. Photo credit: CNWEST

Last year, archaeologists excavated over 80 human skulls dumped in groups – and the rest of their bodies were nowhere to be found. The grisly discovery was made in two pits, with 24 skulls in each, in front of the east gate of the city ruin while others were later uncovered along the eastern city wall.  An analysis on the remains revealed that most of them belonged to young women, who may have been sacrificed as part of the rituals

Based on the location of the skulls, archaeologists believe that they are related to the construction of the city wall and may have been part of a religious ritual or foundation ceremony launched before construction of the inner city began. 

Featured image: A bird's-eye view of remnants of Shimao ancient city. Photo credit: CNWEST

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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