Archaeological Discoveries
in 2001
Archaeological Discoveries
in 2000
Top Ten Archaeological Finds
for 1999
Archaeological Discoveries
in 1999

Ancient Evidence Similar to Indian Scalping Found in China's Hinterland

  Five skulls with special cutting traces, dating back to around 4,000 years ago, were found in China's remote areas, suggesting that ancient Chinese, similar to the American Indian, participated in the practice of scalping.

  "The bloodcurdling practice was popular in the history of the northern area of Eurasian continent and American Indian culture, but it was seldom recorded in Chinese documents," said Chen Xingcan, a researcher with the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

  The skulls were discovered near Handan, Hebei Province, and Wuzhi County, Henan Province, respectively.

  "By comparison, the traces on the two skulls found in Henan are more analogous with the traces left by scalping practice by Indians," said Chen.

  The cutting traces on the skulls were probably made by blunt stone tools, Chen presumed.

  According to researchers of American Indian culture, not all the cutting traces on skulls were left by scalping. Only the cutting trace, which was in a circle, especially around the top of the skull, can be explained as scalping practice.

  The process of scalping was that a person would cut through the scalp, aponeurosis, and periosteum, and reached the skull, and then the scalp could be easily peeled off from the skull.

  It is usually believed that scalping was executed on a dead person, but some research suggested that it could also be executed on living person, said Chen.

  So far, the scalping evidence in China is the oldest found in the Eurasian continent, which was as ancient as the earliest scalping trace in America, dating back to BC2500 to BC1000. Archaeologists are still not certain about the origin and spreading routes of the custom.

  American researchers argued that there are about three purposes of Indian scalping. First, it was relevant to the religion. The peeled off scalps were dedicated to super natural gods. Second, the scalp represents a person's life. Scalping an enemy could appease the hatred of the dead relatives and friends. Third, the practice of scalping symbolized the courage and strength of the person who won the conflict.

  The Indian scalping custom emerged with the fights between groups, which means social inequality was rooted as early as that ancient time, said Chen.

  However, the scalping practice in China happened in a society in which classes were differentiated. Archaeologists cannot explain the social and cultural meanings about scalping in China and its relation with similar discoveries in central Asia until more evidence can be found, Chen added.

  (Xinhua 03/19/2001)