Category Archives: CHINA

A Library Discovered Behind a Wall in the Sakya Monastery Has 84,000 Unread Manuscripts!

A Library Discovered Behind a Wall in the Sakya Monastery Has 84,000 Unread Manuscripts!

In 2003, an ancient library was discovered, hidden behind a wall inside the Buddhist Sakya Monastery. The Sakya Monastery stands in the Tibet Autonomous Region, in the Southwestern part of the People’s Republic of China. Located around 300 miles west of Lhasa, Tibet, Sakya remains one of the foremost centers for Tibetan Buddhism and learning.

With more than 80,000 untouched manuscripts, this library was safely tucked away behind a wall. Historians suggest that this was probably to protect it from Chinese Communist attacks.  This enlightening historical discovery can reveal a lot about the history of the region!

Let us unravel some truthful and not-so-truthful facts about the Sakya Library.

The Sakya Library, with 84,000 manuscripts, dates back 10,000 years – fact check.

A Library Discovered Behind a Wall in the Sakya Monastery Has 84,000 Unread Manuscripts!
The manuscripts at Sakya Library are stacked.
The manuscripts at Sakya Library.

Most social media posts and articles mention that the library has 84,000 manuscripts that contain 10,000 years of human history and secrets of ancient civilizations. Since then, many scholars and experts have come forward to clarify the claim.

They all believe that 10,000 years would predate the earliest recorded writing in human history. According to an editor and researcher for the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Joshua J. Mark, the oldest known written literature is the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh, the great Sumerian work that dates back to 2150 to 1400 BCE. This fact has also been corroborated by other experts and scholars who all agree that the oldest written work in human history was indeed invented in Mesopotamia by the Sumerians. That was around 5,500 years ago. Therefore, the 10,000 years claim is unlikely to be true.

(Left) Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11: Story of the Flood. Known as the “Flood Tablet.” (Right) Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The manuscripts, or paper on which these scrolls are written, are unlikely to be as old as 10,000 years. Ancient Egyptian scrolls on papyrus are around 5,000 years old. Also, the paper was first discovered in China only around 2,000 years ago.

The fact that this secret library contains 84,000 manuscripts was verified by a few news agencies. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China mentions on its website that there are 80,000 volumes in the collection of centuries-old texts at Sakya Monastery. Therefore, 84,000 manuscripts do not seem to be far-fetched, and this could very well be true.

The Sakya Library has a book that weighs 1,102 pounds.

Inside the Main Chanting Hall of the Sakya Monastery.

The Commission also mentions that the books are stacked in 200-foot-long and 30-foot-high racks in near complete darkness in a storage facility that is 250 feet from the monastery’s main hall, in a chamber behind the main altar. However, all these books were untouched and remained in one place for hundreds of years. Therefore, it will still take a lot of time for experts to go through all of them. But the work has started!

Most of the books in the Sakya Library are Buddhist scriptures. They are handwritten in Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Sanskrit. The books also include works of literature, astronomy, mathematics, art, agriculture, history, and philosophy. Interestingly, the Sakya Library is known to have a scripture that weighs more than 1,100 pounds.

The Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences (TASS), the leading organization responsible for all of the Tibetan Digital Library’s fieldwork in the Tibet Autonomous Region, examined the Sakya Library in 2003. TASS is still checking and categorizing the huge collection of books and palm-leaf manuscripts in the library. As of 2022, all the books are indexed, and more than 20% of books have already been digitized.

Historical accounts describe books written in gold letters, bound in iron.

Even before the new hidden library was discovered in 2003, Sakya Monastery always had a rich collection of scriptures. Sarat Chandra Das was an Indian Scholar of the Tibetan language and culture who journeyed to Tibet in 1879 and 1881. He writes in his account that there are volumes written in gold letters in the Sakya Library. Some manuscripts are six feet long and 18 inches in breadth. There are books with illuminated margins and also books bound in iron. Some are even adorned with images of a thousand Buddhas. Such fascinating, rich accounts of the Sakya Library make the place even more enigmatic. According to historians, these extraordinary manuscripts were made under the direct orders of emperor Kublai Khan and presented to the fifth leader of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, Phagpa Lama.

A Very Brief History of the Sakya Monastery

Sakya monastery, a pious place of worship, is a hidden treasure trove in the barren mountains. It is a seat of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, situated in the Tibet Autonomous Region, around 78 miles west of Shigatse.

The northern part of the monastery, built in 1073 CE, was grand, with over 100 buildings. It was built by Khön Könchok Gyalpo, a Nyingmapa monk from the powerful Tsang family. He became the first Sakya. The southern monastery was founded in 1268 CE across the Zhongqu River, which separated the southern part from the northern one. It was colored red, white, and gray in honor of the three Buddhist Tulkas. But, most of this southern monastery was burned down in the 16th century and restored only in 1948.

After the Lhasa uprising in 1959, which intended to protect the 14th Dalai Lama from the Communist Party of China, most of the monks fled the monastery. However, during the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the northern monastery was totally destroyed. What remains now is a two-story hall overlooking the southern monastery. It is said that the Sakya Library was spared at the behest of Premier Zhou Enlai. It was rebuilt only in 2002.

Corridor with two rows of prayer wheels along the walls in Sakya Monastery, Tibet, China.

Today, most experts believe that the Sakya Library is the largest surviving account of the history of the Tibetan areas of China and therefore holds immense importance.

Archaeologists Are Too Terrified To Look Inside Tomb Of China’s First Emperor

Archaeologists Are Too Terrified To Look Inside Tomb Of China’s First Emperor

In 1974, farmers stumbled across one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time in an unassuming field in the Shaanxi province of China.

Archaeologists Are Too Terrified To Look Inside Tomb Of China's First Emperor
The Terracotta Army was buried near the tomb of Qin Shi Huang to protect him in his afterlife.

While digging, they found fragments of a human figure made out of clay. This was just the tip of the iceberg. Archaeological excavations revealed the field was sitting above a number of pits that were jam-packed with thousands of life-size terracotta models of soldiers and war horses, not to mention acrobats, esteemed officials, and other animals.

It appears that the mission of this Terracotta Army was to guard the nearby mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the formidable first emperor of the Qin dynasty who ruled from 221 to 210 BCE.

While large parts of the necropolis surrounding the mausoleum have been explored, the emperor’s tomb itself has never been opened despite the huge amount of intrigue that surrounds it. Eyes have perhaps not peered inside this tomb for over 2,000 years, when the feared emperor was sealed inside. 

A prime reason behind this hesitancy is that archaeologists are concerned about how the excavation might damage the tomb, losing vital historical information. Currently, only invasive archaeological techniques could be used to enter the tomb, running a high risk of causing irreparable damage. 

One of the clearest examples of this comes from the excavations of the city of Troy in the 1870s by Heinrich Schliemann. In his hastiness and naivety, his work managed to destroy almost all traces of the very city he’d set out to uncover. Archaeologists are certain they don’t want to be impatient and make these same mistakes again.

Scientists have floated the idea of using certain non-invasive techniques to look inside the tomb. One idea is to utilize muons, the subatomic product of cosmic rays colliding with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, which can peer through structures like an advanced X-ray. However, it looks like most of these proposals have been slow to get off the ground. 

Tomb of the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, Xi’an, China.

Cracking open the tomb could come with much more immediate and deadly dangers too. In an account written by ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian around 100 years after Qin Shi Huang’s death, he explains that the tomb is hooked up to booby traps that were designed to kill any intruder. 

“Palaces and scenic towers for a hundred officials were constructed, and the tomb was filled with rare artifacts and wonderful treasure. Craftsmen were ordered to make crossbows and arrows primed to shoot at anyone who enters the tomb.

Mercury was used to simulate the hundred rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow River, and the great sea, and set to flow mechanically,” it reads. 

Even if the 2,000-year-old bow weapons fail, this account suggests a flood of toxic liquid mercury could wash across the gravediggers. That might sound like an empty threat, but scientific studies have looked at mercury concentrations around the tomb and found significantly higher levels than they’d expect in a typical piece of land. 

“Highly volatile mercury may be escaping through cracks, which developed in the structure over time, and our investigation supports ancient chronicle records on the tomb, which is believed never to have been opened/looted,” the authors of one 2020 paper conclude. 

For the time being, the tomb of Qin Shi Huang remains sealed and unseen, but not forgotten. When the time is right, however, it’s possible that scientific advancements could finally delve into the secrets that have been lying here undisturbed for some 2,200 years. 

An earlier version of this story was published in January 2023.

World-First Fossil Shows Dinosaur Sitting On Clutch Of Eggs Like A Bird

World-First Fossil Shows Dinosaur Sitting On Clutch Of Eggs Like A Bird

The ~70-million-year-old fossil in question: an adult oviraptorid theropod dinosaur sitting atop a nest of its fossilized eggs. Multiple eggs (including at least three that contain embryos) are clearly visible, as are the forearms, pelvis, hind limbs, and partial tail of the adult.

It’s hard to imagine a mighty T. rex kneeling delicately above a clutch of eggs, but new research surrounding a fossilized oviraptor suggests that this behavior may have indeed been practiced by some dinosaurs.

The first non-avialan dinosaur (species outside of the clade of dinosaurs related to living birds) fossil to feature an adult dinosaur sat on top of a clutch of eggs that contain embryonic remains has been detailed in Science Bulletin.

What’s more, the embryos were at different stages, suggesting the eggs would hatch at different times, something that is usually determined by when the parent starts incubating.

An attentive oviraptorid theropod dinosaur broods its nest of blue-green eggs while its mate looks on in what is now Jiangxi Province of southern China some 70 million years ago.
The partial skeleton of the oviraptorosaur was found on a nest of at least 24 fossilized eggs.

“This isn’t the first time an oviraptorid has been found in such a way, nor are these the first-ever oviraptorid embryos,” study author Shundong Bi, a professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, told IFLScience.

“But it is the first time that an adult has been found atop embryo-bearing eggs. It’s also the first nesting oviraptorid to be discovered outside the Gobi Desert.”

Brooding, seen in chickens that sit on their eggs to incubate them during development, was thought to be an unlikely behavior in non-avialan dinosaurs whose heavy bodies would surely squish their progeny.

However, this new fossil found near Ganzhou, China, is the first discovered having preserved a non-avialan dinosaur atop an egg clutch that still contains embryonic remains.

The researchers believe the presence of an adult on eggs containing embryos at advanced growth stages provides strong support for the brooding hypothesis in some non-avialan dinosaurs.

Interestingly, the embryos inside the eggs are at different developmental stages, which points to the possibility that had they survived the eggs would’ve hatched at different times.

“The asynchronous hatching was not widespread among dinosaurs,” said Bi.

“This phenomenon, known as asynchronous hatching, is pretty peculiar and uncommon even in modern birds, the living descendants of dinosaurs.”

The researchers say their findings demonstrate that the evolution of reproductive biology along bird-line archosaurs (a large group of vertebrates that includes dinosaurs and pterosaurs and is represented today by birds) was complex and not the linear, incremental process it’s previously assumed to have been.

They theorize that some aspects of non-avialan theropod reproduction may have been unique to these dinosaurs and not passed to the avialan ancestors that eventually gave rise to modern birds.

Recent research detailed how the avialan feature of flight likely evolved twice in dinosaurs before the clade containing modern birds’ ancestors came into the picture.

This new insight presents a further trait of avialan dinosaurs and animals that may have been shared by some of their distant cousins.

Tiny, 540-Million-Year-Old Human Ancestor Didn’t Have an Anus

Tiny, 540-Million-Year-Old Human Ancestor Didn’t Have an Anus

The Oldest Signs of Modern Humans From 86,000 Years Ago Found in Laotian Cave
A scanning election microscope (SEM) took this detailed image of the deuterostome with the extra-large mouth. 

A speck-size creature without an anus is the oldest known prehistoric ancestor of humans, a new study finds. Researchers found the remains of the 540-million-year-old critter — a bag-like sea organism — in central China.

The creature is so novel, it has its own family (Saccorhytidae), as well as its own genus and species (Saccorhytus coronaries), named for its wrinkled, sac-like body. (“Saccus” means “sac” in Latin, and “rhytis” means “wrinkle” in Greek.)

S. coronaries, with its oval body and large mouth, is likely a deuterostome, a group that includes all vertebrates, including humans, and some invertebrates, such as starfish.

“We think that as an early deuterostome, this may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves,” Simon Conway Morris, a professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. “To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail is jaw-dropping.”

At first glance, however, S. coronaries do not appear to have much in common with modern humans. It was about a millimeter (0.04 inches) long, and likely lived between grains of sand on the seafloor during the early Cambrian period.

While the mouth onS. coronaries were large for its teensy body, the creature doesn’t appear to have an anus.

“If that was the case, then any waste material would simply have been taken out back through the mouth, which from our perspective sounds rather unappealing,” Conway Morris said.

Tiny ancestor

Other deuterostome groups are known from about 510 million to 520 million years ago, a time when they had already started to evolve into vertebrates, as well as sea squirts, echinoderms (starfish and sea urchins), and hemichordates (a group that includes acorn worms).

However, these incredibly diverse animals made it hard for scientists to figure out what the common deuterostome ancestor would have looked like, the researchers said.

The newfound microfossils answered that question, they said. The researchers used an electron microscope and a computed tomography (CT) scan to construct an image of S. coronaries.

“We had to process enormous volumes of limestone — about 3 tonnes [3 tons] — to get to the fossils, but a steady stream of new finds allowed us to tackle some key questions: Was this a very early echinoderm or something even more primitive?” study co-researcher Jian Han, a paleontologist at Northwest University in China, said in the statement. “The latter now seems to be the correct answer.”

The analysis indicated that S. coronaries had a bilaterally symmetrical body, a characteristic it passed down to its descendants, including humans. It was also covered with thin, flexible skin, suggesting it had muscles of some kind that could perhaps help it wriggle around in the water and engulf food with its large mouth, the researchers said.

Small, conical structures encircling its mouth may have allowed the water it swallowed to escape from its body. Perhaps these structures were the precursor of gill slits, the researchers said.

An artist’s interpretation of Saccorhytus coronaries, which measured about a millimeter in size.

Molecular clock

Now that researchers know that deuterostomes existed 540 million years ago, they can try to match the timing to estimates from biomolecular data, known as the “molecular clock.”

Theoretically, researchers can determine when two species diverged by quantifying the genetic differences between them. If two groups are distantly related, for instance, they should have extremely different genomes, the researchers said.

However, there are few fossils from S. coronaries’ time, making it difficult to match the molecular clocks of other animals to this one, the researchers said. This may be because animals before deuterostomes were simply too minuscule to leave fossils behind, they said.

The findings were published online in the journal Nature.

In another paper, researchers reported on the discovery of another type of tiny animal fossil from the late Cambrian. These creatures, called loriciferans, measured about 0.01 inches (0.3 mm) and, like S. coronaries, lived between grains of sand, the researchers said in a study published online today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The newly identified species, Eolorica deadwoodensis, discovered in western Canada, shows when multicellular animals began living in areas once inhabited by single-celled organisms, the researchers said.

4,800-Year-Old Fossil of Mother Embracing Baby Found in Taiwan

4,800-Year-Old Fossil of Mother Embracing Baby Found in Taiwan

It is a fitting discovery as Mother’s Day approaches.

Archaeologists have uncovered the ancient remains of a young mother and an infant child locked in a 4,800-year-old embrace. The remarkable find was among 48 sets of remains unearthed from graves in Taiwan, including the fossils of five children. 

Researchers were stunned to discover the maternal moment, and they say these Stone Age relics are the earliest sign of human activity found in central Taiwan.

Preserved for nearly 5,000 years, the skeleton found in the Taichung area shows a young mother gazing down at the baby cradled in her arms.

Researchers turned to carbon dating to determine the ages of the fossils, which they traced back to the Neolithic Age, a period within the Stone Age.

Excavation began in May 2014 and took a year for archaeologists to complete.

But of all the remains found in the ancient graves, one pair set stood out from the rest.

‘When it was unearthed, all of the archaeologists and staff members were shocked. 

‘Why? Because the mother was looking down at the baby in her hands,’ said Chu Whei-lee, a curator in the Anthropology Department at Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science.

According to the researchers’ measurements, the mother was just 160 cm tall, or 5 foot 2 inches.

The infant in her arms is 50 cm tall – just over a foot-and-a-half.

This breathtaking discovery came as a surprise to the researchers on sight, but it isn’t the first of its kind.

In the past, archaeologists have dug up remains of similar moments which have been preserved for thousands of years.

Preserved for nearly 5,000 years, the skeleton found in the Taichung area shows a young mother gazing down at the baby cradled in her arms. Researchers were stunned to discover the eternalized maternal moment, and they say these Stone Age relics are the earliest sign of human activity found in central Taiwan

Notably, Chinese archaeologists unearthed the interlocked skeletons of a mother and child last year from an early Bronze Age archaeological site branded the ‘Pompeii of the East’, the People’s Daily Online reported.

The mother is thought to have been trying to protect her child during a powerful earthquake that hit Qinghai province, central China, in about 2,000 BC.

Experts speculated that the site was hit by an earthquake and flooding of the Yellow River.

Photographs of the skeletal remains show the mother looking up above as she kneels on the floor, with her arms around her young child. Archaeologists say they believe her child was a boy. 

4,800-Year-Old Fossil of Mother Embracing Baby Found in Taiwan
Researchers turned to carbon dating to determine the ages of the fossils, which they traced back to the Neolithic Age, a period within the Stone Age. Excavation began in May 2014 and took a year for archaeologists to complete
According to the researchers’ measurements, the mother was just 160 cm tall, or 5 foot 2 inches. The infant in her arms is 50 cm tall – just over a foot-and-a-half

22 ancient tombs were discovered in Central China’s Henan

22 ancient tombs were discovered in Central China’s Henan

A cluster of 22 ancient tombs spanning nearly 1,600 years have recently been found in Central China’s Henan province.

22 ancient tombs discovered in Central China's Henan
Aerial photo of a cluster of 22 ancient tombs spanning nearly 1,600 years in Central China’s Henan province.

Specifically, two tombs dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), 12 built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and eight others from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties were discovered on a hill in Laozhuangshi Village of Weishi County in Kaifeng city, the then-capital city during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).

The Song tombs, mainly made of brick-chamber structures with stairways, are believed to belong to a family.

Archaeologists have found delicate decorations inside, as the chamber walls were adorned with colorful murals themed on flowers, birds, mythical creatures, furniture, weapons, and more.

Doors and windows crafted in imitation wood structures were also discovered inside the chambers.

“Among the discoveries were chairs, tables with tableware as well as wine or teapots placed atop, alongside other items such as scissors, flat irons, clothes racks, and wardrobes,” said Chang Hongjie, who works with the provincial cultural relics and archaeology institute.

Chang added that the interior setting vividly provides a glimpse into the daily life of the tomb owners, offering valuable insights into the social life and burial customs during the Song Dynasty.

The interior decoration and exterior design of the tomb chambers replicate the residential houses and yards in reality, which helps to understand the life scenarios in Kaifeng during the Song Dynasty, according to the researchers.

Shang-Dynasty Town Discovered in Northern China

Shang-Dynasty Town Discovered in Northern China

Shang-Dynasty Town Discovered in Northern China
This bronze part from a horse chariot was unearthed from one of the tombs, suggesting the entire chariot and perhaps the horses that drew it were also entombed there.

The mysterious origins of ancient bronzeware found in a part of northern China may have been uncovered, with the discovery of the ruins of a complete Bronze Age town in the area.

Archaeologists have now recovered hundreds of astonishing artifacts — including bronze drinking vessels, painted pottery, ornaments inlaid with turquoise and carved pieces of jade — at the vast Zhaigou archaeological site, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of the modern city of Yulin in Shaanxi province. 

The relics, dating from more than 3,000 years ago, were made during the Shang Dynasty, which ruled northern China from about 1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C.

This bronze bird figurine inlaid with pieces of turquoise is among the roughly 3,000-year-old artifacts unearthed from the elite tombs at the Zhaigou site.

Archaeologists described the find at a news conference in Beijing by China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration.

Experts said that local people had been unearthing ancient artifacts on their farmland since the 1940s, but their origins were unknown. Now, the discovery of the entire Bronze Age settlement at the Zhaigou site, spread over 11 hills and covering more than 1.2 square miles (3 square kilometers), explains their history, the archaeologists said.

“All of the basic elements of a central settlement have been discovered at the site,” Xu Lianggao, a researcher with China’s Institute of Archaeology, told the state-owned newspaper China Daily. “We found some tombs and large-scale structures in this area in the past, but this time the complete face of a settlement has been unveiled.”

A bone delicately carved with designs that represent a catfish and inlaid with pieces of turquoise.

Ancient settlement

Shaanxi along with neighboring Henan and Shanxi, make up the so-called  “cradle” of ancient Chinese civilization in the Yellow River basin; and the Shang Dynasty is the earliest for which there is archaeological evidence, although the Xia Dynasty is said to have preceded it between 2070 B.C. and 1600 B.C.

A total of 13 ancient Chinese dynasties had their capitals in Shaanxi over more than 1,000 years, explaining why the modern province has been a source of many major archaeological finds.

Excavations at the Zhaigou archaeological site started in June 2022, and the ancient town is now recognized as the largest in the region, with some of the wealthiest tombs yet discovered, according to reports of the news conference.

At least seven elite tombs have been found at the Zhaigou site since excavations started in June 2022. This bronze star inlaid with turquoise is among the hundreds of artifacts found there.
The Zhaigou site is one of the largest ever found from this early period; the grave goods in the 3000-year-old tombs include these earrings made of gold and jade.
Archaeologists think the site consists of an entire settlement with tombs, central buildings, and artisan workshops spread over 11 nearby hills. The finds include this carved bone.
The Zhaigou site includes several elite tombs with wealthy grave goods, like this jade carving of a bird. Archaeologists think it may have been the capital of a state assimilated by the Shang.
The archaeological site dates from the period of the Bronze Age Shang Dynasty, between about 1600 and 1000 BC. This tortoise shell may have been used for divination.

Archaeologists have already found nine aristocratic tombs at Zhaigou, of which seven are rectangular tombs with passages, indicating they belonged to local leaders, Sun Zhanwei, a researcher at the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology, told China Daily.

“Tomb passages symbolize a high social status,” he said. “In this hierarchy, those without a high status could not have a tomb passage.” 

The Bronze Age town’s center was made with rammed-earth, a building technique in which a mix of damp soil is compacted inside a mold or framework. Buildings with different functions have also been discovered there, including artisan workshops and pottery kilns.

According to the Chinese state-owned television channel CGTN, archaeologists at Zhaigou have also unearthed several bronze pieces of horse chariots and the remains of horses, which will be “crucial evidence for exploring the emergence of chariots in China and the development of chariot burial customs.”

Archaeologists have now unearthed more than 200 items from tombs there, such as lacquerware, that are similar to those found at other Shang dynasty sites.

Experts at the news conference said that the ruins at Zhaigou may have once been the capital of a separate state that had been conquered by the Shang, who was based in the city of Yinxu in Henan, and thereafter paid tribute to them. 

12,000 Years Ago, Mysterious Egg-Headed People Inhabited China

12,000 Years Ago, Mysterious Egg-Headed People Inhabited China

Archaeologists excavated 25 human skeletons with elongated skulls dating back perhaps as long as 12,000 years ago from Houtaomuga archaeological site in northeast China.

The strange shape of the skulls symbolizes a part of the ritual in ancient China. The discovery provides additional proof that cranial alterations were prevalent in ancient East Asia and was a customary practice throughout the world during prehistoric times.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2019, a team of researchers, led by bioarchaeologist Quanchao Zhang and paleoanthropologist Qian Wang, discovered 25 skeletons at a location known as Houtaomuga.

The remains were dated between approximately 12,000 and 5,000 years ago. Out of the 25 skeletons, 11 had skulls that had been intentionally elongated, with flattened bones at both the front and back of the head.

The researchers from China’s Jilin University and Texas A&M University who conducted the excavations were surprised at the abundance of “anomalies” and suggested that many were “egg-shaped.”

Study co-researcher Qian Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Texas A&M University College of Dentistry said: “This is the earliest discovery of signs of intentional head modification in Eurasia continent, perhaps in the world.

If this practice began in East Asia, it likely spread westward to the Middle East, Russia, and Europe through the steppes as well as eastward across the Bering land bridge to the Americas.” 

12,000 Years Ago, Mysterious Egg-Headed People Inhabited China
The M72 skull is between 6,300 and 5,500 years old.

The Chinese civilization is one of the most ancient and continuous in the world. While their recorded history can be traced back to the 5th century BC, with the emergence of the Zhou dynasty, there is archaeological evidence that suggests their history dates back even further.

The earliest documented records refer to semi-mythical people called the “Yellow Emperor” and his beastly advisors – known as the “Foolish Old Men.”

Currently, the Chinese egg-shaped skulls are considered to be the oldest in the world. Besides, it was noted that the tradition of stretching heads had been formed long before the Neolithic Revolution (First Agricultural Revolution) took place. It was believed that the tradition of skull modification started around 9,000 years ago.

According to Archaeology, the discovered skulls exhibited artificially elongated braincases and flattened bones at both the front and back of the head.

The researchers identified three different types of cranial deformations in eleven of the skulls. Out of these 11, five were adults, with one female and others male. The remaining skulls belonged to children, and the ages of the individuals varied from 3 to 40 years old.

Scientists still do not know why in ancient times people deliberately pulled their skulls out and where it started. The children’s heads were clamped in a special vice or in a device of two boards. In the process, not only the bones of the skull were stretched, but also the inside structure deformed. At the same time, the bones of the skull became very thin.

It is still unknown how the tradition of artificially modified skull start.

Archaeologists believed that humans with deformed skulls were trained to perform important social roles. For example, to become priests of a certain cult.

They believed that elongated skulls would open some unusual abilities, and allow them to communicate with higher powers. At least, people probably thought that by pulling back their heads, they acquire a strong social status in their society.

For centuries, our ancestors utilized various wooden, rag, and rope techniques to scar their own and their children’s heads, seeking aesthetic enhancement. The desire for such body modification has persisted worldwide for thousands of years, with some still practicing it, especially in Africa.

The reason behind this practice remains uncertain, puzzling scientists who can only surmise that some compelling motivation drove our forebears to endure such pain. Even though the Houtaomuga man is the oldest known case of deliberate skull reshaping in history, it is a mystery whether other known instances of deliberate skull reshaping spread from this group, or whether they rose independently of one another, Wang said.

An excavation at the site during 2010.
An excavation at the site in 2010.

Oddly shaped, intentionally modified skulls have been discovered in various regions across the globe. While assertions from the 1980s contended that two Neandertal skulls, estimated to be around 45,000 years old, had been reshaped during infancy, numerous scholars have since refuted these claims.

The most ancient skulls that exhibit widely acknowledged indications of cranial modification date back to approximately 13,000 to 10,000 years ago in the western areas of Asia, southeastern Australia, and most recently, East Asia. On the other hand, this practice began over 8,000 years ago in the Americas.

Despite the popular belief that the elongated skull, thought to be around 12,000 years old, was intentionally altered, some experts disagree. Although the skull does display some elongation, it is not significant enough to suggest intentional deformation. In fact, evidence only supports forced skull modification in those dating back 6,000 years ago.

The peculiar case of “Paracas skulls” is another discovery of elongated skulls, however, it is different from the rest of skull elongation cases.

The size of the cranium of Paracas skulls is significantly larger, by 25% and 60% heavier than typical human skulls, which indicates that they were not artificially altered through head flattening. Moreover, these skulls possess a single parietal plate, instead of two. Due to the absence of any cranial deformation, the elongation of these skulls remains unexplained and has been so for many years.

The significance of the discovery in Houtaomuga remains noteworthy, irrespective of the ongoing controversy. It highlights the existence of deliberate skull alterations during the Neolithic period in the region. Additionally, the findings offer insights into the community’s culture and convictions during the latter phase of the Stone Age.