Enigmatic ancient human sacrifice unearthed in Korean palace

The two people were sacrificed in the 5th centuryGyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage/AFP / Taemin CHOI

The remains of an ancient human sacrifice have been unearthed in South Korea, in the ruins of a palace. Two people appeared to have been put to death, in the hope that it would ensure the success of construction projects.

Seoul's Cultural Heritage Administration announced the discovery, saying that skeletal remains had been found under the walls of the Wolseong, or Moon Castle. This was the royal palace compound of the Korean Silla monarchy, and it was located in Gyeongju, their capital.

The Silla was in fact one of three kingdoms of ancient Korea. It ended up unifying the whole of Korea in 668 under the Unified Silla dynasty (which lasted until 935).

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The sacrificial subjects discovered here probably lived in the 5th century.

They were laid to rest side by side. One was found facing upward, while the other was turning its face and arms slightly towards him.

A different kind of sacrifice

Archaeologists already knew that in ancient Korean cultures, living victims were sometimes buried with dead kings to serve them in the afterlife.

However, this appears to be a different kind of sacrifice. Spokeswoman Choi Moon-Jung of the Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, told AFP: "This is the first archaeological evidence that folklore about humans being sacrificed for the foundations of buildings, dams or walls were true stories."

It remains unclear how the two victims died and more research will now begin to solve this mystery. Nevertheless, it appears that they were not buried alive here, as they don't appear to have fought for their lives.

"Judging from the fact that there are no signs of resistance when they were buried, they must have been buried when they were unconscious or dead," senior researcher on the excavation Park Yoon-Jung commented. "Folklore indicates humans were sacrificed to appease gods and plead with them to ensure the structures being built lasted a long time."

Future research will focus on conducting DNA and stable isotope analyses to determine the physical characteristics of the deceased as well as what their health and diets were like.

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