The past is filled with all sorts of terrifying and bizarre occurrences. Some of these events make their way into the history books, but many more are lost to time. Every now and again, though, archaeologists unearth something that reminds us of history’s little-known secrets—ones some may have wished would stay hidden.

One research team in China was thrilled to excavate the ruins of an ancient settlement in Inner Mongolia; they knew they would likely uncover some interesting artifacts. Unfortunately, their mood would soon change. After they found pottery and tools, just as they expected, they began to uncover something much more sinister. That’s when they realized just what it was they’d stumbled on…

Recently, a research team from China’s Jilin University and the Inner Mongolian Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics began excavation of a site near the town of Shebotu, located in the autonomous Chinese region of Inner Mongolia.

The team believed the site was home to an ancient village that was around 5,000 years old. As they excavated, however, researchers began to suspect that the site was much more significant than they had originally thought.

The location, called Hamin Mangha, was the “largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement site found to date in northeast China.” The researchers hoped it would offer unprecedented insights into the prehistoric people who had lived there.

They soon determined that they were uncovering the central village of a much larger settlement. At its peak, it may have covered as much as one million square miles, which included desert, forest, and lake regions.

After their initial discoveries, the scientists limited their investigation to an area of around 30,000 square feet, which was still the largest excavation of an ancient settlement ever attempted in this region of China…

Quickly, the archaeologists began to piece together a picture of everyday life in the village. They found the foundations of 43 separate dwellings, as well a number of individual burial sites.

They also came across numerous artifacts like fragments of pottery, tools, and weapons. The settlement was thought to be so old that it predated the use of the written word, but its inhabitants still possessed fairly sophisticated methods of farming and hunting.

The dwellings the archaeologists found varied greatly in size. The smallest were about 75 square feet and consisted of a single room with a fireplace for cooking; the biggest were around five times that size and contained multiple rooms.

The archaeologists and researchers were thrilled with their findings at Hamin Mangha. But as they began to unearth an area they designated “F40,” their enthusiasm quickly gave way to shock once they uncovered a spine-tingling scene…

In the ruins of the small structure, the researchers unearthed almost 100 deformed skeletons! Worse still, it seemed the building had caught on fire at some point… with all the bodies inside.

It was obvious to everyone involved that these bodies weren’t stacked this way naturally, and the remains seemed to conflict with what was already understood about the ancient people’s burial traditions. The team was eager to figure out what happened.

They determined that the remains of at least 97 people were present, that the bodies had been stacked several layers deep, and that there was a vague pattern to the way they were arranged…

The archaeologists’ report describe the grisly scene: “The skeletons in the northwest are relatively complete, while those in the east often [have] only skulls, with limb bones scarcely remaining. But in the south, limb bones were discovered in a mess, forming two or three layers.”

Tests of the remains revealed that the average age at the time of death was 27, and while the bodies of young children had been buried there, there were no remains of older people in the community. For this reason, researchers assumed they had been buried elsewhere.

What continued to puzzle the scientists was the fact that the bones were blackened and burned. A fire had obviously engulfed the structure, but they were unsure whether it had been intentionally set or whether it was an accident.

The researchers continued to debate whether the collection of remains represented some sort of ritual burial that they were previously unfamiliar with or if the remains ended up the way they did for another reason.

The team members from Jilin University published a paper asserting their theory that this burial was the result of some large-scale disaster that swept the community, like the outbreak of a deadly illness that older settlers may have already been exposed to. Were they right?

The researchers also drew a parallel between Hamin Mangha and another excavation location at Miaozigou in northeastern China. There, another mass burial site had been found with the remains of roughly the same age as at Hamin Mangha.

At Miaozigou, it was clear that a disease had swept through the settlement and that the mass burial was the result of the illness’s swift destruction of much of the population. It seemed that there simply hadn’t been time for a proper burial at either site…

They were confident about the disease theory, but less clear about the cause of the fire. Some argued that it was set deliberately to stop the diseased bodies from causing further harm. Either way, the researchers would never forget the gruesome find at Hamin Mangha.

It must have been really alarming for the archaeologists to be expecting pottery and tools only to come across a mass grave! The entire scenario really is quite strange.

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