Jarus Owen assesses the work of professor Zhichun Jing of the University of Columbia who has been working on an excavation project aimed at studying Huanbei which is believed to have been the capital of Shang dynasty at one time before it was relocated to Yinxu. The excavation has made a significant finding on a speculative cultural practice during the Shang dynasty to make human sacrifices. The research findings from the excavation have found out that Huanbei palace temple which was large enough to accommodate 10,000 people and served both as a temple and a palace.
Huanbei according to Jing had approximately 60 buildings within it which were all constructed at a 13 degrees orientation to the east which is in accordance to the Shang Cosmology. There is the need for further investigation according to the author to identify why all the buildings within Huanbei excavation site were oriented to 13 degrees to the east. The study points out that the city was destroyed using a single fire that burnt down the whole city. However, the research rules out an external invasion and instead argue that the city was set on fire by its leaders and another capital was established on the other side of the river to accommodate the people and the ruling dynasty.
Within the Huanbei temple, many human remains were discovered, and the research has pointed out it could be human sacrifices a practice common during the Shang dynasty. Human sacrifices remains that were discovered in Huanbei temple tombs confirms that human sacrifice could have been a common practice. This has been backed by the evidence left behind in the Huanbei temple excavation site. Professor Zhichun Jing suggested that the inhabitants abandoned and torched the city themselves because there were no valuables that were found in the remains. The remains of the people found in the Temple shows that they were left deliberately to die in the fire after everyone else had evacuated from the site. Jing considered the concept of human sacrifices by observing that there were only a few pieces of jewellery and pottery found at the site when making his observation. The absence of evidence of a battle or invaders at Huanbei is a clear indication that the inhabitants moved out of the city in advance before the fire. A single layer of red burnt earth on the entire site indicates that a single fire destroyed the city.
Further studies conducted on the bodies involved the discovery of oracle bone inscriptions at other Shang sites. The inscriptions suggest that the human sacrifices were prisoners of war. At the end of the dynasty, the prisoners of war were the main source of human sacrifices. However, Professor Jing suggested that further scientific analysis should be done on the bodies. Identifying the human sacrifices as prisoners of war is unlikely since archaeologists have not been able to determine the actual source of the human sacrifices at Huanbei. Alternatively, there is a possibility that the human sacrifices were criminals who were later punished for their crimes. According to strontium analysis of the human bones discovered at Huanbei site, after the city was abandoned, most of the human sacrifices were the local people. However, the inhabitants might have moved out along with them and later punished them differently if the human sacrifices were prisoners of war. The author argues that more information will be ravelled as the excavation continues in Yinxu an adjacent site which can help determine the reason why the rulers burned Huanbei and the identity of the human remains found in the site.
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