China’s Mysterious Hanging Coffins Have Archaeologists Scratching Their Heads

Just about every culture on Earth agrees that it’s important to provide the recently departed with a proper burial. Not only is it a sign of respect, but it also gives their family and friends the peace of mind that their bodies are now resting safely in a place that won’t be disturbed.

That said, each culture has a different way of honoring the dead. Some prefer to scatter their ashes in a sacred or meaningful place after cremation, while others have been known to keep the bones of their loved ones in hope that it will bring them good fortune from the beyond.

However, none are quite as bizarre as what the Bo people of Southern China used to do thousands of years ago. Experts were left with more questions than answers once they learned about this strange practice, and you will be, too…

Each culture across the globe has its own unique way of honoring the deceased. Some prefer cremation, while other rituals are a little more strange, like keeping the bones of loved ones for good luck. Perhaps the most bizarre ritual of all, however, was once performed by the Bo people of Southern China thousands of years ago.

There isn’t a lot known about the Bo people, though their burial rituals have left experts especially puzzled. That’s primarily thanks to what can be seen lining the Yangtze River, suspended from cliffs, meticulously placed inside difficult-to-reach crevices.

For those who haven’t figured it out, those dark, oblong-shape boxes are dozens of caskets. No one knows for sure exactly why the Bo chose such an impractical way of honoring the dead, but experts have several working theories that attempt to shed some light on their mysterious custom…
Many Asian cultures believed that divine spirits inhabited every aspect of nature, such as rocks, mountains, and waterfalls. One of the theories suggests that placing the bodies as high up towards the heavens as possible was the ultimate sign of respect; the cliffs served as a stairway to the spirit realm above.
Another theory states that the goal of the hanging coffins was to help preserve the bodies for as long as possible. In order to ensure a soul’s immortality, it needed to remain undisturbed, and placing the caskets out of the reach of animals and people ensured they wouldn’t be tampered with.
Because of the immense amount of work and risk that went into getting one of these coffins to safely hang off the rock face, this type of burial was most likely reserved for the wealthy and elite. The coffin itself was fashioned out of Nanmu wood, which was incredibly heavy but also slow to decay.
Together, the corpse and coffin could easily have weighed several hundred pounds. There are a few theories as to how the Bo people managed to lug such cumbersome objects up the cliffs, but they’re still all speculation at this point.
The first theory is that the Bo built dirt ramps that served as footpaths along the face of the cliffs. The coffin was then carried up the paths by a handful of men. Many experts discount this idea, however, because the amount of labor required to build such an enormous dirt incline was inconsistent with small rural populations.
The second theory proposes that the Bo used climbing aids to help them reach tough locations. They may have constructed makeshift scaffolding using large poles tied together tightly with rope. However, there is no actual evidence that supports this claim.
The third theory—and the one with the most actual physical evidence—suggests that members of the Bo used an intricate pulley system to either lower the coffins from atop the cliffs or hoist them up from the ground level. Pieces of rope have been found in surrounding caves, giving this theory even more legitimacy.
There are probably many different reasons why the Bo suspended their coffins from cliffs, but a definitive answer has yet to be discovered. The last of the Bo died out about 400 years ago, and since then, many of the caskets have been robbed. Luckily, there are still some that are hidden deep in the crevices, too difficult for thieves to reach. Perhaps they hold some answers!
It doesn’t seem plausible that such heavy caskets were able to be carefully placed on these cliffs. The Bo found a way to do it, however, and their strange custom will forever fascinate the world!