Archaeologists talk about a terrible execution that was carried out in China 2,500 years ago

In a grave in an ancient cemetery in the Chinese province of Henan, archaeologists have discovered an unusual burial about 2,500 years old. The graves contained the remains of two people belonging to the local elite. What was unusual were the strange, identical mutilations on each of the skeletons. Recent research suggests that the injuries were inflicted as punishment for a crime. According to researchers, this discovery reveals the details of a brutal execution called “yue”. This type of punishment was widespread in Ancient China, but at some point it was abandoned.

Archaeologists have spoken about a terrible execution that was carried out in China 2500 years ago. Scientists have revealed the details of the execution of two ancient Chinese warriors. Photo.

Scientists have revealed details of the execution of two ancient Chinese warriors

Archaeological find in an ancient cemetery

In addition to the skeletons themselves, archaeologists discovered many artifacts in the cemetery, such as copper belt hooks, ceramics, stone tablets and etc. The skeletons themselves were found inside two-tiered coffins. In addition, scientists pay attention to the special orientation of the burials – from north to south. This all indicates the high social status of the buried people.

Both remains had a lower leg amputated—one skeleton had a damaged left leg, the other had a damaged right leg. Surprisingly, the lower parts of the bones (tibia and fibula) indicate that the wound has healed well. In addition, the bones showed no signs of cuts or damage. These features indicate a deliberate and skilled amputation performed by a specialist, as well as subsequent proper wound care.

An archaeological find in an ancient cemetery. One of the skeletons, 2500 years old, with an amputated leg. Photo source: Photo.

One ​​of the 2500-year-old skeletons with an amputated leg. Photo source:

Remains of ancient people 2500 years old

To obtain detailed information about the remains and their mutilation, scientists used computed tomography and radiocarbon dating. Both methods showed that the skeletons belonged to men buried around 550 BC. During this period, the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770–256 BC) ruled. It is also called the Warring States period.

At the time of death, one man was 40-44 years old, and the second man was 45-55 years old. The damaged two bones of the men fused with each other, resulting in the formation of a so-called bone lump. As mentioned above, there were no signs of damage on them that would indicate repeated blows or careless amputation.

Scientists also conducted a chemical analysis of the remains, which revealed that both men consumed a lot of protein. In addition, the bones were rich in carbon, which is present in some plants, including switchgrass. This diet confirms that the remains belonged to people of the aristocratic class. Examination of the coffins in which both men were buried suggests that these people most likely belonged to the lower officer ranks of the Zhou dynasty. Researchers report this in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Remains of ancient people 2500 years old. Graves in which the remains of people with amputated legs were discovered. Photo source: Photo.

Graves in which the remains of people with amputated legs were discovered. Photo source:

Unusual execution in China

Considering the social status of the men, as well as the Zhou Criminal Code, scholars have concluded that the most likely explanation for the absence of legs is the execution of “yue.” At the same time, the team claims that the injuries could not have been caused due to other reasons, such as diseases requiring amputation of limbs, sacrificial amputation, congenital disease, etc.

The “Yue” execution, which was a punitive amputation, was used in ancient China during the period from 2100 to 1600 BC during the reign of the Xia dynasty. It was abolished by the Han Dynasty in the 2nd century BC. According to the ancient criminal code, “Yue” was used for many crimes, such as theft, failure to fulfill one’s duties, deception of the monarch, etc.

In some cases, amputation was used in mitigation of punishment, that is, instead of the death penalty. According to scientists, for more serious crimes a person was deprived of the lower part of his right leg. If the crimes were less serious, the left leg was amputated.

An unusual execution in China. A study of the bones suggests that doctors were involved in the execution. Photo source: Photo.

Examination of bones suggests the involvement of doctors in the execution. Photo source:

High-quality amputation with subsequent recovery suggests that 2,500 years ago there was a clear execution protocol, which most likely involved doctors and nurses. Doctors also cared for the man after the execution. The absence of complications after amputation can also be confirmed by the fact that those executed were wealthy people.

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Finally, we note that ancient medicine more than two thousand years ago was not as useless and ineffective as many imagine. Let's remember that scientists recently recreated an ancient drug consisting of dozens of different ingredients and found that it was really effective. Read more about it at the link.