The Hanging Coffins of China (ca. 720 BC –1100 AD)

By: The Scribe on Saturday, June 2, 2007

Chinese hanging coffinFor several centuries in China, a minority group called the Bo people had a very peculiar burial practice: hanging the coffins of the dead on the side of a cliff. Some can be found in cliff caves, others sit on projections in the rock, while the most perplexing coffins are suspended on stakes or boards that protrude from the rock face. Their height along the cliff faces vary anywhere from 10 to 130 meters high, leaving experts baffled as to how some of the coffins were lifted and placed that high!

Although there are at least five sites in China where the hanging coffins have been found, as well as one site in the Philippines, the majority of the coffins were placed around Matangba and Sumawan, where there are over 100 visible coffins.

While not much is known about the Bo people, their hanging coffins have certainly shed some light on their rather different way of doing things: the coffins are unpainted and undecorated except for a few studs, and in many cases the coffins were hewn from one single piece of wood. Inside several of the coffins, archaeologists found blue and white porcelain bowls from the Ming Dynasty, a simple iron knife, and several iron spear points. Some coffins contained small remnants of linen and silk, but nothing that could help historians to determine status, rank, or social organization of these people.

more pictures of hanging coffins

There are rumors that several cliff paintings have been identified near the coffins, however due to concerns over their preservation, they have not yet been discussed or published in reports for the general public. Presumably, these will eventually reveal some small details about the Bo people, perhaps shedding some light on why they felt the need to hang their dead in coffins along the faces of cliffs.

The practice of ‘burying’ the dead along cliffs disappeared at the same time as the mysterious Bo people, leaving many questions behind about why they did this, and why they disappeared seemingly without warning. Their entire culture seems to have disappeared, leaving only a slew of hanging coffins along the Chinese landscape

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