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Radiocarbon Dating Helped Solve a 1,300-Year-Old Crime

Thanks to radiocarbon dating and extensive analysis of a human skeleton, experts were able to solve a crime dating back 1,300 years. The remains, which were of a 25-year-old man, were discovered in a shaft that led to an ancient tomb at a cemetery in Shiyanzi village in the Ningxia region of China.

When his remains were found back in 2010, researchers believed that the man was a grave robber who died while committing the crime. At the time, this theory made sense as his bones were discovered on top of the tomb that was constructed about 700 years prior to his arrival.

The cemetery with around a dozen tombs was unearthed back in 2002 by construction workers on a gas pipeline and the site was later excavated by archaeologists. One of the large tombs, which measures 194 square feet (18 square meters), contains the remains of an adult male, an adult female, and a juvenile (the gender is unclear) – believed to have been a wealthy family.

(Not the tomb mentioned in this article.)

Since the skeletal remains were found in the looters shaft, researchers initially assumed that he was a grave robber, especially since the majority of the artifacts that were put in the tomb were stolen. In an email to Live Science, Qian Wang, who is a professor of biomedical sciences at Texas A&M University’s College of Dentistry, explained, “The grave goods must have been very rich, which led to a large-scale grave robbery evidenced by the large vertical robbery shaft.”

However, new analysis has revealed that the man in the shaft was probably murdered and whoever killed him dumped his body at the site in order to cover up the crime. The researchers came to this conclusion by using radiocarbon dating to calculate that the victim died during the 7th century (those buried in the bomb were from approximately 2,000 years ago). Furthermore, they analyzed the body in greater detail and found that he had numerous slashes/cuts and injuries to his front and back that suggested he was probably murdered – possibly by several people. They also found a sword near his body which may have been the murder weapon.

The man was believed to have been murdered.

“We conclude with confidence that the [victim] was not part of the original robbery team based on the fact that the filling of the vertical robbery shaft is accumulated naturally, and the victim was found about 4.5 m [14.8 feet] above the floor of the burial chamber — which means it should be a significantly long time after the robbery,” Wang stated.

In their study, the researchers wrote in part, “The case indicates that the strategy of hiding victims’ bodies in existing tombs or graveyards as a means of disposal, akin to ‘hiding a leaf in the forest,’ has been practiced since antiquity.” Their study was published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences where it can be read in full.

Pictures of the victim’s skeleton can be seen here.

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Jocelyne LeBlanc works full time as a writer and is also an author with two books currently published. She has written articles for several online websites, and had an article published in a Canadian magazine on the most haunted locations in Atlantic Canada. She has a fascination with the paranormal and ghost stories, especially those that included haunted houses. In her spare time, she loves reading, watching movies, making crafts, and watching hockey.