During the Western Zhou period (1100 B.C. to 771 B.C.), the sacrifices of animals—and sometimes humans—to ancestors or deities were a routine part of Chinese culture. The sacrifices were often made to bless houses, said David Sena, a China historian at the University of Texas at Austin.
"In general, there's been a tendency to describe Western Zhou as a more humanistic period, when the practice of human sacrifices"—which were commonplace during the preceding Shang Dynasty—"were waning," Sena said.
"But I think the archaeological evidence shows quite clearly that human sacrifices persisted throughout the Zhou period as well."
Photograph from Imaginechina/AP
Ancient Psychic Shell?
A broken tortoise shell found at the Luoyang excavation site was likely used for psychic practices thousands of years ago.
Not much is known about tortoise-shell divination during the Western Zhou period, Sena said, but during the preceding Shang dynasty, the process involved heating the shell and interpreting the cracks that formed.
"Holes are bored in the back of the shell to make it easier to crack during the divination process," Sena explained.
"Someone then 'reads' the cracks. We don't know how exactly—it may be the shape of the crack or the sound it makes when it's heated," he added.
"The diviner would ask a question and the crack provided an answer."
A Chinese archaeologist handles a broken pottery vessel unearthed at the Western Zhou-era sacrificial relic site recently uncovered in modern Luoyang city.
Thousands of years ago, during the Western Zhou, the Luoyang area was home to a secondary, eastern capital of China.
Regarded by Confucius and other philosophers as a "golden age" of Chinese history, the Western Zhou period ushered in many of the characteristic political and cultural institutions of Chinese civilization, Sena said.
For example, the Shangshu, or "book of history," which purportedly records the speeches and deeds of the Zhou dynasty's first kings and which later became a classic, can be traced back to this period.