Liu Xinhua/Xinhua via Getty Images
Scientists in Peking announced the discovery of a nearly 3000-year-old skeleton of a young woman whose leg was amputated. The discovery, the researchers say, is rare evidence for the practice of yew, an ancient practice in which a person’s leg was amputated as punishment for a crime. This, he says, is the oldest archaeological evidence for the practice.
search, first reported by south china morning post, was discovered at the Zhouyuan site, a tomb in northwestern China’s Shaanxi Province. Comprehensive osteoarchaeological examination estimated that the woman lived five years after amputation and was about 30–35 years old when she died. The biomedical analysis further revealed that there was no evidence of disease causing the woman’s organ to be amputated on medical grounds. The researchers said the cuts in the bone were made roughly and, thus, do not seem to indicate a medical amputation.
Li Nan, an archaeologist at Peking University in China, told Live Science’s Tom Metcalf that the team of archaeologists “excluded other possibilities and agreed that penal dissection is the best explanation of the remains”. Although the woman appears to be poor, she lived for about five years after the amputation.
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In the absence of evidence of disease, scientists have concluded that the woman was punished under the “five punishments” (wuxing) system, a set of punitive measures dating back to the 2nd century BC. According to legend, the five puns were originally created by the Miao tribes after Chiyou, one of the three great founders of China, who inaugurated a period of chaos. The 4th century BCE Confucian text Shangshu or Book of Documents writes, “[The Miao] Created five penal engines of repression, called them laws. They killed innocent people and were also in the forefront of nose slitting, ear slitting, castration and scarring.”
The Xia dynasty also reportedly used this system, and the Yu in particular used it to control enslaved people. During the Zhou dynasty (1045–221 BC) the five punishments were refined to include the amputation of the nose. [yi]tattoo on face [mo]amputation of one or both legs [yue]castrate [gōng]and the death penalty [da pi], Ancient Chinese artwork also shows many depictions of people whose legs, feet, or legs were amputated.
While this practice was enforced for a long time, it was also controversial. Not only was physical amputation something that left people mutilated and disabled for life, but it also had religious consequences. Confucian beliefs state that a person’s body is inherited from their ancestors and parents and must be returned to them upon death. The mutation made it impossible to fulfill this obligation, as Brian McKnight puts it, because a mutilated body was a sign of a deformed soul.
A ninth-century essay by the Tang poet Bai Xui links the tyrannical abuse of dissection to the downfall of various dynasties. A translation of Bai’s essay by Norman Ho reads: “The Miao people began to abuse her; because of this heaven brought down the sufferings [on them] to punish them. why [third-century BCE] Dynasties also used them violently and ruthlessly… and Qin fell.” Qin Dynasty tombs from the Longgang site in Hubei contain the remains of people whose legs were amputated in the 3rd century BCE.
The practice was abolished by Emperor Wen of the Han dynasty in 167 BC. A 2019 review of the practice by Norman Ho showed that centuries ago there were many crimes that were punishable by amputation. Li Nan told LiveScience that there were more than 500 different crimes punishable with amputation at the time. Up to that point, as Dr. These punishments, Jesse Chapman has argued, served as advertisements of power and permanently linked victims to criminality. Those who suffered under five punishments, Chapman writes, were put on display: those who had tattoos were sent to guard the gates. Those whose feet were cut off had to take care of the gardens.
The use of physical mutilation (including amputation) as punishment for crimes is hardly unique to ancient China. In Roman times, for example, face tattoos were used to mark enslaved people who attempted self-liberation (or “run away” in Roman terms). Nasal dissection was employed in ancient Iraq, Egypt, India, and Israel. This continued into the Byzantine and medieval times. Emperor Justinian II was captured and mutilated by cutting his nose in 695 CE. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Sicily (1194-1250) imposed rhinos on those who committed adultery; Pope Sixtus V punished highway bandits with equal treatment in the 16th century; And those who spread slander about the king in 17th-century England were at risk of having their noses or ears cut off. Beloved novel author Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe, He was narrowly saved from this fate.
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The most common reference to mutilating others is wartime. It was not because people were trapped in the moment, it was a ritual that deliberately let people down. As Dr. Tracy Lemos, a professor of theology at the University of Huron, wrote in a series of important studies on ancient Israel: Forced physical deformities in warfare dehumanize people, demonstrate dominance of one group over another, and subjugate those people. There was a way that dared to protest.
The association of criminality and the amputation of body parts is best known from the Hebrew Bible’s axiom “eye for eye”, but it is also present in the New Testament. In Mark 9, Jesus told his followers that if any part of your body “stumbles” you, you should cut it off: “For it is better to enter into eternal life than to be thrown into Gehenna, That fire in an imperishable where the worm never dies.” Jesus may well have seen this practice of auto-mutilation as therapeutic, but it created a legacy in which blinding and amputation were used as punishment for theft in medieval Europe.
Physical amputation is not just about the formal or official exercise of power. Lynchings of black and Mexican men in the American South regularly included castration, ocular excision, and amputation of hands and feet. Even today, forced physical modification can be violently and illegally a means of asserting power and dominance: as a 2017 CNN report revealed, young women who are trafficked and sexually assaulted in the US Forced to work, they are regularly branded or tattooed.
In “In the Penal Colony” in 1919, Franz Kafka told the story of a traveler who witnessed the execution of a condemned man. The slanderers had insulted their superior officer for falling asleep on duty and failing to stand up for the hour and salute. His execution was administered by a machine that inscribed the nature of the crime on the man’s body over the course of 12 hours. (The machine has been the inspiration for Dolores Umbridge’s Black Quill in Harry Potter.) The story clarifies, notes Chapman, what is rooted in historical practices of anatomically dissecting: It allows the victim’s body to be dissected in a culturally legible way. Marks. You can read his sentence, related crimes and moral failings from his body. Mutation renders a person less than human. But, from the point of view of our convenience, such inscriptions serve only to curse the writer, not to the condemned.
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