Team finds skeletons of 5,000 year old Chinese ‘giants’

Bones recently discovered at a series of graves in East China’s Shandong province suggest that people living in the region were once significantly taller than those who currently call the nation home, a team of archaeologists leading an ongoing excavation in the area have revealed.

Led by Fang Hui, head of the Shandong University school of history and culture, the researchers have unearthed the remnants of 104 houses, 205 graves, and 20 sacrificial pits at Jiaojia village in Zhangqiu District, Jinan City, the capital of Shandong, Xinhua News reported earlier this week.

Among their discoveries, IFL Science added were the bones of at least one male who was 1.9 meters (6.2 feet) tall, as well as several others who were at least 1.8 meters (about 5.9 feet) tall. While that might not seem all that tall, the website also pointed out that the average height of a modern Chinese man is just 1.72 meters (5.64 feet).

Some of the bodies were dated to around 5,000 years ago, and the taller men had been laid to rest in larger tombs than their shorter counterparts, the archaeologists said. They believe that this was because the taller men were members of a higher social class (possibly due at least in part to their height) and were able to acquire better food than the smaller citizens.

“Already agricultural at that time, people had diverse and rich food resources,” Fang told Xinhua News, “and thus their physique changed.” While the primary crop of the era was millet, some of the graves were also found to contain pig bones and teeth, the professor added.

Evidence of power struggle amongst the elite also discovered

The discovery of the remains of taller men in Shandong province should not come as a complete surprise, Xinhua News said, considering that modern residents consider height to be one of their distinguishing characteristics. In fact, as of 2015, the average height of 18-year-old men living there was 1.753 meters, while the national average in China was just 1.72 meters.

As for the ruins themselves, the houses suggest that the residents lived “quite comfortable” lives, with separate kitchens and bedrooms, the news service said. The region is thought to have been a political, cultural and economic hub some 5,000 years ago, according to the researchers, and clay embankments, colorful pottery, and items made from jade were also found.

The new excavations at Jiaojia provide new insight into the culture of those living in the lower reaches of the Yellow River between 4,500 and 5,000 years ago, Wang Yongbo of the Shandong Provincial Institute of Archeology told Xinhua. The researchers also reported finding damage to some of the head and leg bones, as well as to some of the artifacts, suggesting that there had been a power struggle amongst the higher-ranking citizens of the region.

Work at the site has recently been expanded from an initial area of 240,000 square meters to one square kilometer, the news service said. Only 2,000 square meters of that have been excavated so far, and “further study and excavation of the site is of great value to our understanding of the origin of culture in east China,” said Zhou Xiaobo, deputy head of Shandong’s provincial bureau of cultural heritage.


Image credit:  Xinhua News