New study sheds light on mysterious hanging coffins

  • China
  • Thursday, 16 Apr 2020

Scientists from China and Thailand have conducted mitochondrial whole genome analyses of human remains sampled from hanging coffin sites to shed light on the mysteries of the peculiar ancient burial custom.

The study was based on 41 human remains from 13 sites dating back from 660 years ago to 2,500 years ago in southern China and northern Thailand, and the paper was recently published in the journal iScience.

The matrilineal genetic diversity of the ancient people who adopted the custom from southern China is much higher than those from northern Thailand, which fits the dispersal route showed by archaeological evidence, according to the paper.

Based on genetic analyses and archaeological and historical evidence, scientists speculated that the hanging coffin custom could date back to the Baiyue people, an ancient ethnic group who lived in China’s southeastern coast area some 3,600 years ago, and the custom spread to Southeast Asia about 2,000 years ago.

The hanging of coffins on cliffs is an ancient burial custom. It was practiced in south China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, according to Zhang Xiaoming, the first author of the paper and associate researcher with the Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The special burial custom has attracted widespread attention, and there have been many disputes related to the hanging coffins, such as the origin and spread pattern of the custom and population affinity, Zhang said.

Researchers noted that the study made a preliminary discussion on the origin and history of hanging coffins from the matrilineal genetic perspective.

They will provide more systematic evidence to reveal the mysteries of hanging coffins based on more representative samples of human remains and interdisciplinary research. -— Xinhua

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