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Mass grave of headless skeletons in China linked to largest headhunting massacre in Neolithic Asia

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Ancient headless skeletons discovered in mass graves in China, dating back 4,100 years, are believed to be victims of the largest known headhunting massacre in Neolithic Asia.

Headless skeletons: According to a study published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, there were 43 victims found in the mass grave, with 32 believed to have been killed during the same event.

The skeletons were recovered at the Honghe site in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China, which was first discovered in the 1990s and excavated multiple times since 2013.

In total, researchers found 68 skeletons, including 41 who were headless, dating to 4,100 to 4,400 years ago. Additional skulls of men were found in a pit outside a house. The excavation also revealed contemporary cultural artifacts like pottery and tools.

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Who were the victims?: All 41 analyzed skeletons reportedly belonged to women and juveniles, suggesting a brutal attack on the settlement involving “a high level of cruelty.” The victims displayed evidence of cut marks on their neck vertebrae, indicating the brutality they faced.

The study also highlights the consistency in the perpetrators' technique, likely using bone-handled knives with stone blades.

Unknown reasons: The study proposes scenarios of rival attacks targeting vulnerable populations or a ritualistic selective decapitation. The reason for targeting women and children instead of adult men remains unclear, with suggestions of conflict with other tribes or attacks while men were away.

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The findings reveal a grim episode of catastrophic interpersonal violence and trophy-taking in ancient China. The scientists hope that the study will help further knowledge surrounding the history of violence in Northeast Asia.

“The study of headhunting culture would help not only reconstruct the history of violence in Northeast Asia but also probe into the thinking and ideology of human societies of hunter-gatherer-fishers during the Neolithic Age,” the researchers wrote.

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