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Historian claims funeral culture involving human sacrifices

Historian claims funeral culture involving human sacrifices

Posted March. 23, 2018 07:59,   

Updated March. 23, 2018 07:59


A Korean historian has raised the possibility that there was a funeral culture in Korea of burying the head of an enemy chief as a war trophy. A number of ancient tombs have been found indicative of “sunjang,” or the burial of the living with the dead, but the unique custom of buying other person’s head has not been found in Korea.

Shin Seok-won, a historian at the Samhan Institute of Cultural Properties, presented the results of a new research on an ancient stone-lined tomb No. 50 in Gacheon-dong, Daegu in a thesis published in a local archaeological journal.

The Gacheon-dong ancient tomb site underwent three large-scale excavation projects from 1998 to 2002. As the result, 260 stone-line tombs and seven stone chamber tombs that were believed to have been built in the fifth or sixth century. In addition, the excavation project has found over 3,000 pieces of jewelry, pottery and ironware relics, including a gilt-bronze crown. Along with them, human bones were also excavated from many of the tombs, drawing high interest from the academic community. However, newly found human bones got mixed with the previously excavated ones during additional research, prompting historians to sort them all over again.

One of the striking results is that human bones found in an outer coffin were confirmed to have belonged to a different person than the occupant of the tomb No. 50, in which only one person was believed to have been buried. In 1998, a skull fragment, a jawbone, teeth and a right pelvic bone were found in the tomb. A close scrutiny showed that the skull piece was found in the outer coffin, not the main coffin, meaning that it did not belong to the tomb’s occupant. Then, whose bone was it?

The answer lied in the size of the outer coffin, which was 65 centimeters long, 85 centimeters wide and 30 to 40 centimeters deep and was too small for a human body. “It is hard to see it as a case of sunjang, given that the skull piece was found near the center of the outer coffin,” Shin said.

An analysis of the skull fragment showed that the person was male. A 26.5-centimeter-long dagger was also found in the main coffin. Based on the findings, the historian raised the possibility that there was a unique funeral culture, in which the head of an enemy chief was buried along with the tomb’s occupant as a war trophy. “As there was no similar previous example, I hope that the findings provide an opportunity for brisk research on ancient funeral culture involving human sacrifices.

Won-Mo Yu onemore@donga.com