UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The archaeological investigation of human sacrifice at Xibeigang in Anyang during the late Shang dynasty Ying, Meng


The Late Shang dynasty is well-known for its intensive practice of human sacrifice. Headless skeletons and bodiless skulls have been found by archaeologists working at Xibeigang in Anyang, once a royal cemetery in the Late Shang dynasty. Based on the contexts in which they were found, these remains have come to be seen as a result of human sacrifice. While human sacrifice has been a topic of the Late Shang study for many decades, it lacks a thorough study rooted in archaeological materials. Therefore, the characteristics of human sacrifice in the Late Shang remain unclear and the function of human sacrifice has not been thoroughly examined against the archaeological record. In this thesis, I present a systematic qualitative and quantitative analysis of published data of sacrificial human remains at Xibeigang. I analyze the characteristics of human sacrifice at Xibeigang (i.e. physical conditions, gender and age profiles, burial postures and spatial and temporal patenting). Based on these observations, I examine the function of human sacrifice especially within the broad ritual development happening in Anyang during the Late Shang. By doing so, I suggest that Shang rulers were increasingly being honored by human sacrifice which, in earlier times, was dedicated to certain deities. It was under this process that human sacrifice became a powerful instrument for Shang rulers to legitimize their political power and transform their status – in effort becoming divine kings.

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