Archaeologists unearthed proof of a mother’s love in Qinghai province, China, when they discovered the 4,000-year-old skeletons of a mother and child still locked in a dying embrace. The two skeletons are frozen in time, preserved in the stance they took in their final moments before an earthquake wiped out China’s “Pompeii of the East” around 2,000 BC.
The mother’s arms are draped around her son in what archaeologists believe to be both an embrace and an attempt to protect her son as catastrophe hit.
This scene is reminiscent of the victims of the Roman city Pompeii, which was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.
While experts still do not know much about the scale of the disaster, they believe that the disaster may have wiped out an entire settlement, prompting comparisons to Pompeii. However, the site of the earthquake, Lajia, predates the Roman disaster site by more than 2,000 years.
One difference is that the Pompeiian people are shown with such humanity because they have been preserved by volcanic ash and mud, while the skeletal remains at Lajia inspire horror.
An earthquake shook the ground around them, triggering a mudslide that came down and demolished a Bronze Age building that the people had taken cover in.
The building was a family home that the people ran into thinking they would be safe. On one of the walls preserved for all of the eternity is a woman embracing her child, her skull looking upwards as she caresses the child in her arms.
Archaeologically, the entire site is stunning: it paints an incredibly well-preserved picture of an important ancient event.
Pompeii was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow: an extremely fast-moving cloud of rock and hot gas that can move at speeds of 450 miles an hour. Given these speeds, it is instantaneous death for those that chose to ignore the warnings given by Vesuvius.
It hugs the ground while it moves and spreads laterally, consisting of two parts: a hot ash plume that hovers above and the basal flow that consists of heavy rocks. The ash plume incinerates anything it touches while the basal flow destroys anything in its path. Herculaneum was also devastated when Vesuvius exploded.
It is unknown how many died when Vesuvius exploded but it is estimated to be between 10,000 and 25,000. Many victims perished at the city port while trying to take cover in warehouses that were near the dock.
Others tried to get to the last remaining boats while others ran for their homes, most likely then praying to their household gods.
The mother and child were discovered in what archaeologists call the House of the Golden Bracelet. The home of a wealthy family, the walls covered in frescoes and also contained a large garden. It was all carbonized when the 300 degree cloud hit.
“Even though it happened 2000 years ago, it could be a boy, a mother, or a family,” said Stefania Giudice of Naples National Archaeological Museum. “It’s not just archaeology; it’s human archaeology.”
Now branded as the “Pompeii of the East,” the poor town of Lajia is now one of the most important archaeology sites in China.
Mirrors, oracle bones, and stone knives are just a few of the artifacts found at the site.
The victims of Lajia were first found in 2000 in a loess cave, one of many in the settlement that consisted of caves and houses.
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The town priest was buried in the center of town; his burial spot seems to have been a sacrificial platform that was surrounded by many jade objects.
It is also very important because it holds early clues to an early Bronze Age civilization that lived in the upper Yellow River region and of which we know very little about. But from a human point of view, it’s just heartbreaking.
These people had a rough fate, they were killed by a disaster they could do nothing to protect themselves against; they couldn’t even protect their children, try as they might. It’s a testimony to nature’s strength, and how weak we sometimes are against it.
I just hope they don’t separate the two skeletons. I’m not sure why – it’s not for a religious reason – but it just seems wrong to separate the two.