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Hanging Coffins

My particular area of study was Western Civilization, for whatever reason I’ve simply found the history of Europe and to some extent, North Africa and the Middle East interesting. However, I am also a prodigious reader, averaging 2-3 books a week and usually well over 1200 pages of material, primarily non-fiction. There is only so much stuff out there to consume in my usual areas of interest, so I’ve been increasingly branching out into other things, or at least the same things but with different geography.

One subject that has always been of particular interest to me is all the stuff that goes with the death of a human being. That may sound kind of morbid, but you must remember that there are only really two universal human experiences, the first is birth, and no one can tell us much about that experience, and the second is death, which for all of it’s commonality and all the focus placed on the dead and dying, we know even less about that experience than we do about the first. For that reason it continues to hold my interest, it isn’t often that something that happens to everyone, in front of nearly everyone, and everywhere, every day, and we simply know nothing.

A while ago I put together a post about a practice somewhat common in parts of Asia, and in this post I’ll return to the same continent, again regarding piles of bones and again with regard to the unusual treatment of them (by my/our standards, ‘unusual’ is of course a relative term).

Until about 400 years ago, in what is today southern China, a group of people known as the Bo placed their dead in coffins. That isn’t so unusual of course, almost every people on earth do that, even those who cremate their dead typically take whats left and box it up in some form or another. What makes the Bo practice unusual is that they placed these coffins on cliffs, more specifically on cliff faces.


What devil possessed them  to do this, I have no idea. I can tell you a little about how they got these things up there though.

As an experienced climber I can say this would be difficult. There are several locations where expeditions trying to study these “burials” simply cannot get to them, even with modern climbing equipment. The only real possibility seems to be that these people free climbed to these locations and hauled the coffins up with ropes of some kind, I would hazard a guess at bamboo ropes, which can be comparable in strength to steel cables.

There is another problem and that is that the coffins themselves are remarkable. Please recall that I said the Bo people did this until about 400 years ago (there was some kind of massacre that isn’t relevant to this post that wiped them out). Think about the furniture in your home, or the one you grew up in. I don’t suppose any wooden items ever decided to split or separate did they? They did? Well I’ll be damned. Wood absorbs moisture and loses it, in doing so it expands and contracts and eventually any joint will work its way apart, especially when exposed to the atmosphere as these coffins obviously are. They are almost all intact because there are no joints, these things were made out of single pieces of wood.

In and of itself, that isn’t remarkable, but are damned good reasons we tend to make things out of several pieces of lumber, and one of them is that it cuts down on weight. Some of these coffins weigh, by themselves, 500 pounds or more. I said it would be hard, perhaps impossible with modern gear to get to some of these locations, and I was talking about living people, 150-250 pounds apiece, another 500 pounds of material, dead weight, makes the task significantly harder.

You can check out the Wiki page regarding these “hanging coffins” but it is uncharacteristically bare. I’m going to keep researching this subject and probably come back and expand this post, I may try and do something for the pitiful showing over at Wikipedia.

Personally, from my standpoint of having a decent working knowledge of rigging and a significant historical knowledge base, I’m more impressed with the placement of these remains than I am with the building of the pyramids. In that case, there are dozens of ways it could be done, we just don’t know which one or which ones they might have used. In the case of these hanging coffins, there doesn’t seem to be any way they could have done it, and yet, there they are, thumbing their noses at us from hundreds of feet up.

The cliffs are literally crumbling away, and have been doing so for thousands of years. I’ll be damned if I can see how it was done, at least without having to “bury” a few more people for every one they stuck up there. Hell of a thing. Legend says the Bo people could fly, and honestly it’s a better, maybe even more believable, explanation than anyone seems to have today.

It is true that in some places they appear to have used some kind of scaffolding, not unlike the way large churches were built in the west. Beams were inserted in holes, upon which planking was placed. In other areas it’s clear that a hauling sytem might have been used. Some one would climb up first, rig a hauling system and the coffin was just hauled up. There are many locations in which neither method, nor any other known, would have been possible. Obviously it can be done, but how?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. 2012/12/14 at 00:36

    I recently watched a great special on Easter Island and how they moved those statues with ropes and momentum. They called them walkers or some such thing because they would move them upright (which is why so many are found laying face down along pathways). You may be interested in it.

    Incidentally, it remains a mystery as to how they move your mother at all.

  2. 2012/12/14 at 00:47

    I’ve heard that about the Moai, that they may have rocked them like a refrigerator.

    And they simply use a bigger mother to haul her, yours.

  3. 2012/12/14 at 01:03

    Well done.

    The special I watched recreated the rocking motion. They were pretty successful, actually. In addition, they had some convincing arguments regarding the way the statues fell and the way they were carved that indicated they were rocked.

  4. 2012/12/14 at 13:20

    At least there are ideas about how they did it, they have no idea when it comes to a large number of these coffins. It’s quite apparent that it couldn’t be done, yet…

  5. Karry
    2013/02/22 at 12:01

    This website really has all of the information and facts
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